Ten best BMWs of all time: choosing the ultimate examples of the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’
It’s one of Germany’s “Big Three,” the automotive behemoth from Bavaria whose very own tagline is “the ultimate driving machine,” so you’d better expect the cars live up to the hype.
BMW is one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers when it comes to blending spectacle and luxury. Along the way, the brand has created some truly legendary, unique, and absolutely cutting-edge vehicles – along with one or two oddballs we can’t help but love. From all-out spectacle cars to quirky microcars and everything in inbetween, BMW’s reputation is well-earned, and has spawned dozens of future and current classics.
It wasn’t effortless picking the best of the best, but we’ve narrowed our list of the “Ten best BMWs” to the fine machines you see here:
Development of the five hundred seven Roadster almost ruined BMW. Yet when it was fresh in the mid to late-1950s, almost nothing could match the looks or spectacle of this stunning drop-top.
If you close your eyes and picture the classic convertible of your desires, chances are good you’re thinking of the BMW five hundred seven Roadster. Planned as a competitor against the Mercedes-Benz 300SL drop-top, the 140-horspower V8-powered five hundred seven had a lengthy list of celebrity clientele back in its day. The sad reality, however, is that the 507’s production costs almost bankrupted BMW. The brand lived on, gratefully, and the five hundred seven is still regarded as one of the most gorgeous German vehicles ever created. Even Elvis Presley wielded one, pictured above.
In the strange little world of micro-cars, the BMW Isetta three hundred remains a legend.
It may not be the ultimate driving machine, but how could the quirky Isetta not make our list? The diminutive 2-seater was frantically popular with the micro-car crowd and had a decent eight year lifespan. The 1-cylinder engine pumped out a wild 13-horsepower (hold on folks!) and could be shoved to a breezy fifty mph. The Isetta’s strange style still has its fans, even to this day, making it one of the most very sought micro-cars in the world.
Introduced in 1969, the BMW two thousand two tii set the mold for the modern sport sedan.
BMW’s “New Class” of cars arrived in the early 60’s to help revitalize a brand that was watching its entire range of luxury and economy cars burying quick. Sporting a brand fresh unibody design, these square-edged sedans had an independent rear suspension and quickly became BMW’s most popular vehicles. One of the best and rarest examples is the two thousand two tii, the touring model that also featured direct injection. Powered by a 130-horsepower Two.0-liter inline-4 engine, the ’02 tii is considered the very first of a fresh breed of luxury sport sedan.
Introduced in 1978, the mid-engine M1 sports car is one of the most visually striking cars ever to come from BMW.
The M1 is one of the most unique products in BMW’s history. Being the very first car produced by the carmaker’s M-division, the M1 is also BMW’s only mid-engine vehicle to date. The car was devised solely to accommodate homologation requirements for BMW’s Procar Championship series—meaning BMW had to build a limited-run consumer version of this race car. With 277-horsepower on tap, the M1 had a top speed of one hundred sixty one mph. The edgy Giugiaro-styled figure (and the fact that less than five hundred were produced) make this a very infrequent and valuable chunk of BMW history.
7 Series (E38)
With the E38 seven Series, BMW blended the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ practice together with a sumptuous full-size luxury sedan.
The cornerstones of BMW’s reputation have always been spectacle and driving engagement, but with the 3rd generation seven Series, its engineers proved they could do all-out luxury as well as the industry titans, without losing that joy spirit. Sporting looks that still hold up today, incredible interior space, and a pair of potent powertrains in the Four.0-liter (later Four.4-liter) V8 and Five.0-liter V12, as well as the seven Series’s very first diesel engine in Europe and elsewhere abroad, the E38 is the ultimate seven Series. In fact, it was so good that it was chosen to be James Bond’s rail of choice in the one thousand nine hundred ninety seven film Tomorrow Never Dies. If it’s good enough for 007, it’s good enough for us.
The E39 M5 instantly became the German luxury sports sedan to hit when it arrived in 1998.
A pinnacle of design and spectacle, the M-powered “E39” 5-Series was a sophisticated midsize sedan with explosions of power and agility. The V8 engine it housed produced almost 400-horsepower. Meantime, the M-tuned suspension, 4-wheel vented disk brakes, and more responsive electronic sport throttle settings made this one of the era’s must-have luxury cars. It also starred in BMW’s “The Hire” brief film marketing campaign, winning the hearts of gear goes around the world.
Inspired by the classic five hundred seven Roadster, the retro-themed BMW Z8 was a sensation when it arrived in 1999.
The Z8 was a love letter to BMW’s roadsters of the past; a confluence of classic design and modern engineering. The Z8 was made up of an aluminum space framework and housed a powerful 400-horsepower Four.9-liter V8, which made it clear this car was made more for driving not posing (tho’ it sure looked good, even standing still). The unique design was penned by Henrik Fisker, famed designer of the Aston Martin DB9 and founder of Fisker Automotive. When production of the Z8 ended, BMW tuner Alpina made a more relaxed version of the roadster. We still choose the harder-edged original.
How do you pick the best M3? They’ve all been superb, but we lean towards the phenomenal E46 M3 that went on sale in 2001. Of course, there is always the original E30 M3.
What should be an effortless decision ultimately turns out to be the hardest choice, particularly when choosing the best of the best. The M3 has been the last word for some time when it comes to a sophisticated European sports sedan, and we have to say our beloved is the E46. The E46 M3 suggested 333-horsepower (in U.S. spec) from a sublime Three.2-liter inline-6 cylinder engine. This permits for a sub-5.0 2nd zero to sixty mph sprint. It’s lauded to this day as a spectacular example of a true sports car.
1-Series M Coupe
Destined to be an automotive cult classic, the 1-Series M Coupe is a driving enthusiast’s wish.
Putting an M badge on a BMW takes a excellent deal of consideration and is usually reserved for the best the brand has to suggest. So the decision to give their entry-level coupe the M treatment was a head scratcher. What resulted was a car that won the hearts of everyone who drove it, and is destined to become a future classic. Powered by a Three.0-liter twin-turbo, direct injection straight-6, the mighty 1-Series M had 335-horsepower, channeled exclusively through a 6-speed manual gearbox.
The i8 proved that hybrids could actually be a lot of joy, and that the future of the sports car is not so bleak after all.
With the world’s gas supply commencing to dwindle and the effects of global heating growing more intense than ever – not to mention America’s undying thirst for SUVs and crossovers – the future of the high-powered sports car looked bleak. That is until BMW had its say, of course. With a total system output of three hundred forty nine horsepower and the capability to run twenty three miles gas-free, the i8 hybrid proved that hybrids don’t have to be boring, and the future of the sports car is pretty bright after all…and has kickass doors.
Check out more photos of the best BMWs of all time:
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