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Bavarian Motor Works was founded in 1916 initially as a manufacturer of aircraft engines, then motorcycles. It started making cars in the 1930s, becoming known as a driver-focused brand through its success in Formula One and various touring-car and rally championships. To this day, BMW's M (Motorsport) Division is considered the bar by which all sports-oriented consumer cars are measured. But BMWs reputation really emerged in the 1980s, when its 3-series exploded onto the market, becoming the ultimate status symbol for a new generation of young urban professionals. As the joke goes, "What's the difference between a BMW and a porcupine? Porcupines have pricks on the outside." That might be unfair to both BMW drivers and porcupines, but the stereotype has been set. Regardless, BMW offers a full slate of excellent cars.

The 3-Series remains the brand's standard-bearer, now on a seemingly unstoppable three-decade run. Detractors say that it's coasting on reputation, but enthusiasts are as passionate as ever, and with good reason. When it comes to sporty luxury driving, it's hard to beat.. Engines are available in gas, hybrid and diesel forms, with power going to the rear or all wheels. Nearly any combination of those can be had in sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon or GT body styles. And that doesn't even include the V8-powered M3 available as a coupe or convertible. To break things up a little bit, the 3-Series coupes will now be called the 4-Series, though two-door 3-Series are still for sale as the 4 makes its way into showrooms, further muddying the number salad that comprises the BMW lineup.

Moving downmarket, the 1-Series is BMW's smallest, most affordable. car and comes in six variations, with three engine specs available in hard- and soft-top models. Moving upmarket, the 5-Series offers 13 available four-door configurations (not including the M5), of high-powered luxury saloon. Once you hit the 5 Series, you've moved from aspirational to arrived. BMW also offers the 6-series, with powerful six- and eight-liter engines, two and four-door configurarations, and rear or all-wheel drive. The 560-horsepower M6 and M6 Gran Coupe, perhaps the finest consumer cars on the market today, are only available as rear wheel drive.

The 7-Series is BMW's executive class car, basically a high-powered limousine, albeit one that comes with an optional twin turbo 6.0-liter V12 than can get you to the moon and back. On the opposite end of the spectrum sits BMW's only specifically purpose-built sports car, the two-seat Z4 roadster, which offers a zippy drive, getting up to 335 hp depending on engine configuration.

BMW falters, like most luxury brands, in its SUV department, with the compact X1, the X3 crossover, the standard SUV-sized X5, and the bizarre GT-bodied X6, which only seats four and sacrifices space for style. These cars offer plenty of amenities, but pale in comparison with off-road offerings from Mercedes and Land Rover. Starting in 2014, BMW is also getting into the electric-car business, with its futuristic-looking compact i3, to be followed by a slick electric sportscar, the i8. No word yet as to whether the pricks will be on the outside.
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