With BMW’s 100th birthday having just passed, we feel that it’s fit to look back on the brand and take a look at the ten best cars the Bavarian brand has ever produced. This was a lot harder that I thought it would be, as BMW has so many great cars, it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. There are so many parameters that go into picking a car for this list. Things like performance, handling, historical significance, fan response and longevity (how long its appreciation lasted) are all things that went into choosing the cars.
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But we’ve narrowed it down to ten after much debating. Let me first clarify that these are our ten best BMWs, and many of you might not agree and that’s fine. If you don’t agree, kindly let us know, which I know you will, and give us what you think should be on the list. So here we go.
10. E38 BMW 7 Series – This is the only 7 Series listing on here and that’s because it’s the only 7 Series that is pretty universally loved, it became a film icon, is the best handling 7 Series and possibly the best looking. It’s also probably the last of the pure 7 Series’, before they became massive techno-fests. The E38 7 Series is still gorgeous to this day, looking proud, powerful and elegant all at the same time. Its look is timeless and what lies underneath is equally as amazing. The E38 is capable of handling and dynamics that a car of its size shouldn’t be. It was also James Bond’s car and when something is good enough for Bond, it’s good enough for anyone.
9. E39 BMW M5 – All BMW M5s are good, but the E39 iteration is transcendent. It’s possibly the greatest M5 of all time and has one of the best four-door chassis ever made. Its looks are subtle yet aggressive and it’s still a very handsome car today. Its interior is simple and sensible, yet luxurious and comfortable. But that’s not what makes the E39 M5 so great. It’s the way it drives. The E39 M5 is, like the E38, the last of the pure M5s. Without any fancy techno-gubbins, it just drives so beautifully and gracefully. Its firm but not punishing and comfortable without being cushy. It simply dances across pavement with agility that belies its weight and size. Then there’s is engine, a 4.9 liter V8 that makes one of the best V8 noises of all time. Paired with a six-speed manual as its only option, the E39 M5 is the four-door performance car for any car enthusiast. The only reason it didn’t place higher is that it wasn’t fully appreciated until it was replaced.
8. BMW M1 – BMW’s first supercar has to make the list. The M1 has one of the most interesting stories of all time, having been started as a racecar with the body being designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Then the car was made in limited production, for racing homologation purposes and not many people bought it. Its racing series collapsed so BMW started its own, which eventually collapsed itself. It was a mess. But that doesn’t take away from how great the car was. With a 3.5 liter mid-mounted I6, it was the most amazing BMW ever made at the time. Its looks were astonishing and its handling was superb. It was a masterpiece and was also the first mid-engine supercar that you could drive everyday, but isn’t recognized as such because of its failure as a production car. The BMW M1 was, and is still, a legend.
7. BMW 1 Series M – When BMW developed the 1 Series M, many weren’t sure of how it would turn out. Made from what seemed like leftovers, the 1M was an amalgamation of the 1 Series chassis and some M Division parts from a couple of different M cars. So it didn’t seem like a proper M car to many fans. However, what we got was simple incredible. It took all preconceived notions of it being a Frankenstein car and through them out the window. The BMW 1M is still one of the best driving cars of BMW’s modern era. Its the car that other small M cars will look up to for the rest of the brand’s history. The little underdog BMW 1M went from a Frankenstein car to one of the most revered BMW’s in the last 20 years.
6. BMW i8 – When doing ‘greatest of all time’ lists, people typically think old-school. There’s no school like the Old-School, they’d say. However, there are some very good modern BMWs, even some great ones, and the BMW i8 is one of them. There’s no doubt that in future generations, car enthusiasts will look back on the BMW i8 as one of the most amazing BMWs, or cars of any kind, of all time. It pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible when it debuted. It has a 1.5 liter three-cylinder engine, paired with a couple of electric motors and all-wheel drive (a recipe that BMW fans would typically laugh at) and uses them to create a driving experience like no other. Not only is it fast, incredibly capable and fun to drive, but its so efficient and economical that it makes a Prius look like a diesel dump truck. It also has looks that will be astonishing for years and years to come.
5. E46 BMW M3 – While the E46 M3 doesn’t get as much attention as the famous E30 M3, it’s possibly the best driving M3 of all time. It’s also the car that nearly every BMW M3 is benchmarked against. Hell, even other companies benchmark the E46 M3, as Cadillac claimed it as the inspiration for its ATS-V. The E46 M3 has as design that will still look great in decades to come, handling that is simply breathtaking and an engine that almost all other M engines are compared against. The sound it makes is beautiful and aggressive at the same time. It’s just such a perfect driving car and is considered by many to be the best M3 of all time. That alone puts it high on this list.
4. BMW 507 – One of the most iconic BMW roadsters of all time, the 507 has to be on this list. Again, like the M1, its story is more tragic than anything else. It was built at a time when BMW wasn’t in great financial standing and it was so expensive to build that BMW almost went bankrupt because of it. And because it was so expensive to buy, more than the equivalent Ferrari at the time, only celebrities and the ultra rich bought it, so it wasn’t very profitable, if at all. However, it was, and still is, one of the most beautiful cars of all time and it epitomizes what a roadster should be. BMW tried to replicate the 507’s allure with the Z8 and, while the Z8 was very good, it never could live up to the 507. It’s a car that will live on in automotive history as one of the all time most beautiful roadsters and, for that reason, it must be high on the list.
3. E28 BMW M5 – The E28 M5 is the first M5 and the first mass-produced proper M Division car. The rumors of its origins are varied, but our favorite is that BMW’s CEO in the mid ’80s, during the Cold War, needed something fast for his body guards to drive so they could keep up with his turbocharged 7 Series if they every needed to flee. That’s just an awesome story and the car itself is even more awesome. Its 3.5 liter I6 engine, which came from the legendary M1, made it the fastest sedan in the world at the time and its 286 hp made it one of the most powerful production cars in the world, even more powerful than the Porsche 911 Carrera at the time. It also had this perfect blend of handling and comfort that has yet to be matches by any other car since, BMWs included. It looked great, was incredibly fast for its time, handled amazingly and was comfortable for five adults. It also started one of the greatest automotive lineages of all time, regardless of brand.
2. BMW 2002 – The BMW 2002 started it all, really. If the 2002 never came about, we wouldn’t have the 3 Series today. It may not have invented the small sport sedan (according to may Alfa Romeo fans), but it damn sure made it famous. The 2002 will go down in history as one of the greatest cars of all time, period. It was breathtakingly good and refreshing, even at the time. No one had really seen a combination of performance, fun and practicality like that before and it made the world go crazy. Ever since, every other automaker in the world has tried to create their own version, with various degrees of success. It also created BMW’s 3 Series model line, a model line that would go on to become its most famous and most important. This makes the 2002 one of the most important cars to BMW of all time.
1. E30 BMW M3 – It may seem like an obvious choice, but it’s one that needs to be made. The E30 M3 is quite possibly the most revered car in modern history, regardless of brand. You don’t even have to like BMW to appreciate the greatness that was the E30 M3. Created for homologation purposes so BMW could go racing, the E30 M3 shocked the world. Its combination of a buzzy little 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine, incredibly precise handling and nimble chassis made it an instant favorite among car enthusiasts. It rewrote the book on what small performance cars were supposed to be and has been the benchmark for small performance perfection ever since. It also started the M3 lineage, one of the most important if not the most important automotive lineages of all time, right up there with Porsche’s 911.
It’s also the face of BMW. When people think of great BMWs, the E30 M3 is always the first that comes to mind. When BMW launched its latest M2, a car that’s supposed to epitomize BMWs performance characteristics, BMW compared it to the E30 M3 and even had one on hand at the M2’s press launch. The E30 M3 is the BMW that most epitomizes what the brand stands for and is easily the greatest BMW of all time.