Everyone loves a list. Whether it’s a list of the top hair products, top Instagram posts of the past year, or the top smartphones, everyone loves a countdown. If nothing else, just to see where their favorite lands on said list. Also, just about nothing else sparks as much controversy. I’ve yet to come across a top-10 of anything where people don’t agree with the choices – and I don’t expect you, the dear reader, to wholeheartedly endorse my selections either. Nevertheless, here’s my first stab at making a Top 10 list – keep a check on more of these in the future. Or maybe not…
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the general consensus was that BMW design basically went off a cliff ever since one Chris Bangle first picked up a pencil in Munich. So I figured it’s time we looked at the top 10 most beautiful BMWs of all time. Remember, this isn’t a list of the “Ultimate Driving Machines” – rather, a simple subjective glance at the prettiest four-wheeled production cars. So yes, that strikes out all concept cars and one-offs. Righto then, on with it…
10. E31 8-Series (1990-1999)
When is a wedgey supercar not from Italy or Japan? When it’s an E31, that’s what. This was a classic super GT. The front was slim and low, with the customary and always-epic pop-up headlights, and probably the smallest kidney-grills ever (you seeing this, X7?). And it has a fat rear end that’d make Kim K jealous – wide fenders, blocky taillights and a quartet of exhaust tips. BMW hasn’t made anything like it since.
9. F87 M2 (2016-)
This is controversial, I’ll admit. I’m talking specifically about the M2 CS. The F22 isn’t a classically beautiful starting point, but the M2 somehow manages to bring together the ‘greatest hits’ of BMW’s design elements from over the years. Cue a small car, deep bumpers front and back, slap on some mega fender flares, 4 large exhausts, sizable carbon wing, sleek vented bonnet, and some slick wheels, and you’ve got one of the toughest looking compact performance cars out there.
8. E52 Z8 (2000-2003)
Ask anyone about the Z8, and they’ll tell you two things – that A) it was inspired by the 507, and B) it ran the M5’s glorious V8. In all honesty though, you could’ve sold this with a 4-cylinder and it’d still make this list. Pictures don’t capture the impact of the thing – all tightly wrapped around the wheels, high-set headlights, and a pert rear with crazy-slim tail lights and dual exhausts. It was even good enough for Bond…
7. E38 7-Series (1994-2001)
The high watermark for large BMW sedans. Against the bloated S-Class of its era, the 7-Series was chiseled, smart, and stylish. It looked expensive, but not overweight like every other car in the segment. Later models with their clear lights and painted rocket panels look magnificent, but even the earlier versions had a sense of classiness about them. We’ll disregard the weird L7 here, but the rest of the line-up was stunning. Once again, Bond obliged…
6. E24 6-Series (1976-1989)
“Shark-nosed” was probably a common term for BMWs in the 70s/80s, and this was the most exaggerated example of their design language at the time. A simple, boxy, coupe body with low bonnet and trunk, made it an instant gran tourer. Small kidney grills and classic 4-headlight arrangement in a negative-slant nose made it one of the most recognizable shapes of its era. And the M635CSi was definitely from the Stallone School of Design.
5. 507 Roadster (1956-1959)
You probably have noticed an absence of many older-model cars here, but then BMW weren’t really known as a design powerhouse back in the days. However, that all changed with the 507. At 4.85m in length, this was by no means a small car (an E39 sedan is shorter), but the clean curvaceous shape, low height, and intricate details like the size-vents made it an instant classic of the 50s and 60s. So good that it inspired the Z8 some 40 years later…
4. F06 6-Series (2011-2018)
Modern BMWs might find it tough to make it on any ‘most-beautiful’ list, but I think this one’s it. The proportions on the Gran Coupe work so much better than the regular Coupe/Convertible, and the clean lines and elegant detailing at both ends is a work of art. Have a look at the rear of the new 8-Series to see how to get carried away while designing – the F06 was simple, restrained elegance. The M6 version basically increased the butch factor, without messing up the lines too much. A four-door classic!
3. E46 3-Series (1998-2001)
Classy, aggressive, clean. The Sedan & Touring versions looked expensive, and the bigger wheels and bumpers of the M-Sport equipped versions made it look even better still. 2-Door versions were even sexier. The LCI update with their ‘up-turned’ indicators made the front end appear a bit fussy, but otherwise the rest of the car was simply beautiful. And let’s not forget the M3 – arguably the sexiest car to come out of Germany in the early 2000s.
2. E39 5-Series (2000-2004)
Seen by many as the most beautiful sedan of all time, and why not. This was peak BMW-design – strong proportions, clean detailing. Sedan or Touring, it didn’t matter, both were classy. M-Sport versions wore their aggressiveness with subtlety (you could barely tell the M5 apart either), and it was the first car that made a stylistic feature out of something as mundane as parking lights. The ”angel-eyes” slowly spread throughout the line-up (and the rest of the car industry), but it was the E39 that started the craze. Buy a low-km example and garage it – it might be worth quite a bit in the near future.
1. E92 3-Series (2007-2010)
Can you believe this came right in the middle of the Bangle era? After bottling the E90 sedan, the E92 was a breath of simplistic brilliance. Well-judged proportions, clean panels with a single character line on the side, fuss-free lighting at both ends, and a tastefully executed grill. Later LCI versions with their dopey headlights were less elegant, while the M3 versions upped aggression levels, but the best looking one has to be the pre-LCI M-Sport variants. The fact that it doesn’t share anything externally with the E90 was key – at no point in the 3-Series history was the coupe so different (even the following generation bought the looks of the F30 sedan and F32 coupe a lost closer). One of BMW’s prettiest of all time!
What gets your vote?