Top 5 BMW’s of the 21st Century
Staying consistently relevant in the auto industry is a tricky road to navigate. For some companies, the road has been less linear and not structured. For others, the road has always been well calculated and led to a very proud and iconic legacy. BMW is a perfect example of one of those automakers. Attention to detail and setting benchmarks are goals the company has pursued relentlessly since the very first model emerged.
Every decade since BMW started making performance-oriented vehicles, there has always been one or two models that set an engineering benchmark for other automakers to study and possibly surpass. Many end up coming very close but never hitting that sweet spot of perfection BMW engineering seems to easily master every time.
We thought it would be a fun idea to dig into the BMW model lineup from the beginning of the early 2000’s and select five models that put a special spotlight on the brand.
#1. BMW E39 5-Series
Back before the Bangle era BMW design theme (not a well-received period), BMW hit a slam dunk with the fondly dubbed E39. The engineering on this vehicle was so advanced that by the time this generation was ready to make a natural exit at the end of 2002, it still felt fresh and relevant.
With this generation, we were also lucky to get a choice of many body styles. The sedan was available in elegant trims which had design details to emphasize the luxury aura BMW does so well. The M5 and in Alpina versions had a little fun with exaggerated details such as more aggressive bumper designs, dramatic wheel arches and exciting wheel designs.
But, in a field where there is so much wealth of fun to be had with this generation, our pick of the best representation for this generation is the perfectly balanced 540i. Equipped with an entertaining six-speed manual transferring almost 300 horsepower from a brawny 4.4-liter V8, the 540i hustles with purpose and getting up to speed feels thrilling every single time. The 540i also does an impressive imitation of the second best in the range M5. Although not packing quite as much as a punch acceleration wise, it avoids the pitfalls of the M5 (engine reliability and electronic components) but still retains the sporty performance found in the M5.
Even now, with BMW having advanced the 5-Series line to a point of technological excess, the E39 still compares favorably as an old school example of how BMW builds timeless vehicles.
#2. BMW Z8
Apart from famously meeting a painful looking end in a popular early 2000’s James Bond movie, the Z8’s debut was a very exciting one for several reasons. BMW made it clear from the onset that, the retro-styled Z8 would have a limited run. The idea was to merge retro styling cues from BMW’s of the past with modern touches reminiscent with current BMW’s at the time. It was a way of the company acknowledging their arrival into the 21st century while honoring parts of their history that led them to that point.
Speaking of retro, the Z8 had some interesting ways of incorporating that into the way it looked and functioned. The standard removable hardtop had a unique feature: it had wheels you could attach to it to enable easy movement into a garage for storage. Also, the instrument panel and gauges are in the center of the dashboard and there is just a steering wheel in your view when driving. There is even an atypical window switch operation on the driver’s door meant to save space on the door armrest, but it also offers an entertaining way to control both driver and passenger windows electronically.
Power ratings were also very special – this is a BMW after all – a 4.9-liter V8 pumped out 395 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque through either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
Even after the short production run ended in 2006, the Z8 quickly became a car collector’s dream and the adventure of finding one in pristine condition was as exciting as the excitement of owning one.
#3. BMW M2
This is a car that requires you to wait at least a year for delivery. Seems like such an excessive sacrifice for a vehicle but, this BMW is worth every nail-biting moment of anticipation. BMW went with a very dominant blue theme for this vehicle. Every M2 has blue stitching on the seats, blue over-sized Brembo brakes and blue badging on the wheels and body surfaces.
Turbocharging was the main source of power for the M2 and the twin-scroll turbocharger helps the 3.0-liter engine generate 365 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque. A pair of excellent transmissions, a dual clutch seven-speed, and six-speed manual keep handling raw and alive.
The M2 makes no pretense about its rough around the edges personality. This is not a BMW that will coddle you while you drive it. The ride is punishing, and noise levels are very present but that only serves to enhance the raw sensation felt when driving this sports car at very high speed. There is such a dedication to driver involvement that the M2 feels like the automotive equivalent of wearing a very tight and comfortable jacket.
#4. BMW X5
BMW took a huge gamble with the introduction of the very first X5. The idea of the company releasing a high-riding off-roader was met with surprise and even in some cases, a lot of displeasure. But in the end, BMW successfully blended the capability of an off-roader with the sophistication of a luxury sports car.
There is a very inoffensive simplicity in the build quality of these vehicles. The exterior design was typical BMW, but the interiors were of an era where technological advances in vehicle interiors were just beginning to hit hard. Despite being a luxury car, gauges and interior functions/controls were very simple and geared towards functionality. Not to say the execution was boring though because of the use of convincing looking wood accents and leather trim made for a charming ambiance.
The X5 inspired BMW to even take more crazy risks with the idea of a crossover and right now, there are coupe versions of almost every brand of a BMW off-roader. We have this very first X5 to thank for allowing BMW to broaden their horizons and put their own spin on a growing segment without losing their way in the process.
#5. BMW i8
Finally, the great i8. BMW’s science fiction inspired coupe shows the company knows how to have fun with design. A plug-in hybrid supercar is a rare thing and even several years after launch, there are still no direct competitors to rival this futuristic BMW.
Despite the i8’s aesthetic ambition, a lot of things are kept straightforward because this vehicle’s power train is not meant to be revolutionary but rather is a simple gas and electric set up. Horsepower is mighty at 369 and the low 1535kg curb weight is a result of the formula one inspired treatment for the passenger compartment. Carbon-fiber is the primary component used and it makes this vehicle unique in that respect.
Plugging in to charge is a simple process (there are three standard pin plug charging points present alongside fast-charging capability with the cables supplied) and recharge time is approximately four and a half hours from a standard three-pin wall socket.
Continuing with the tradition of being a spy’s automotive companion in popular Hollywood spy movies, the i8 made a memorable appearance serving as one of Tom Cruise’s many vehicles. Even amid explosive action and exotic locales, the i8 was always the center of attraction in every scene it appeared in. Futuristic and taking a unique spin on the supercar scene, the i8 will still be turning heads for years to come.
Owning a BMW is both a joyful and a learning experience. These cars are as equally rewarding to drive as they are to maintain. Running costs are a little on the high side but the beauty in all of this is, there is nothing in the automotive world that drives quite like a BMW.
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