10 greatest BMW creations of the 1990s

BMW is one of the most popular automakers on the planet, creating some of the best sports cars and sedans in their respective segments. Luckily for us car enthusiasts, the 1990s saw some of the best BMW products ever made.

BMW has been around for a long time, but only really started to rise to prominence in the 1970s, building luxuriously sporty sedans and coupes. By the 1980s they had produced the first M3, the first M5, and had a glorious 7 Series V12 to fight Mercedes-Benzes. Step into the 1990s, when BMW emerged as a rival force in the premium automotive world, battling with Mercedes-Benz and Audi for Germany’s “big three” crown. The 1990s saw the second generation M3, the second and third M5, the second 7 Series, the better 8 Series, the end of the Z1 and the start of the Z3, the glorious Z8 and the start of the SUV segment as we know it. today, the X5. BMW was truly one of the companies that helped shape the automotive industry today.

So whether in the market for a fast sedan, a sleek coupe or convertible, or a big SUV, BMW in the 1990s had it all. With that, here are ten of the greatest BMW creations of the 1990s.

ten E30(Z) Z1

The BMW Z1 was the first in BMW’s line of Z cars (not to be confused with Nissan’s Z cars) and had a rather interesting trick up its sleeve. The Z1 was built on the E30 platform and was powered by the same 2.5-litre straight-six as the 325i – just in a more attractive and aerodynamic body.

The most interesting part of the Z1 is the doors. Rather than having conventional doors that open outwards or upwards, the Z1’s doors retract downwards, under the floor. Interestingly, the high sills offered enough crash protection whether the doors were up or down, making it completely legal – if a little frowned upon – to drive the Z1 with the doors retracted.

Related: Here’s What Made The BMW Z1 So Special

9 E31 850CSi

The original 8 Series was designed to be the ultimate in BMW’s GT line of cars, alongside the 7 Series in luxury, but sportier for the owner to want to drive. The 8 Series was available with two different engine configurations, including a V8 and a V12.

The top-end version was the 850CSi – which should have been called the M8, but BMW backed out of the idea. Instead, they put the 5.6-liter S70 V12 in a normal 8-series and made it one of the coolest manual-transmission grand tourers ever made.

8 E34 M5 Touring

The BMW E34 M5 was the second generation of the car that changed the sedan segment forever. BMW took what they learned from the E28 M5 and applied it to the E34, making it one of the best cars in the world (at the time) even better. Besides being sold as a sedan, the E34 was the first M5 to be sold as a station wagon.

The E34 M5 Touring is one of the rarest M-cars, with only 891 produced. The E34 M5 Touring also marked the last hand-built M car, fitted with the S38B36 3.6-litre straight-six. The E34 M5 Touring was the first of two M5 Touring models ever produced, with rumors that the next M5 will also have a Touring model.

Related: Here’s What The 1980s BMW E34 M5 Costs Today

seven E34 Alpina B10 Bi-Turbo

The BMW E34 M5 was the fastest production sedan in the world at the time of its manufacture, but then came the Lotus Carlton, surpassing the M5 in terms of top speed. Alpina came to the rescue and spent $3.2 million in the late 1980s to develop the ultimate version of the E34.

The result was the Alpina B10 Bi-Turbo, a twin-turbo version of the regular E34 535i. Alpina has increased power from the 535i’s 208 hp to an impressive 355 hp. Additional suspension and tuning upgrades put the B10 Bi-Turbo in the same class as the Ferrari Testarossa supercar. The B10 Bi-Turbo was capable of a top speed of 179 mph and thanks to production of just 507 units it is extremely rare.

6 E36 M3

The BMW E36 M3 was the second generation of the famous sports car and had a troubling time in North America. While the M3 did well in Europe, the E36 M3 was depreciated for the North American market due to the cost of the S50 and S52 straight-sixes.

Regardless of the version, the E36 M3 was the model that introduced the public to the true German sports cars. It’s thanks to the E36 that we currently have the M3 and M4 models, both of which enjoyed amazing success throughout production.

Related: Why Every Gearhead Should Drive A BMW E36 M3

5 E36/8 Z3 M-Coupe

The second BMW Z-car was the Z3, introduced in 1995 and remained in production until 2002. The Z3 was available with a series of 4- and 6-cylinder engines, with the US only getting straight-sixes. The highlight of the range were the M versions, the Z3M Coupé and the Roadster.

The Z3M coupé – also known as the “Clownshoe” – was based on the E36 M3 and featured the same engine, transmission and suspension setup, but in a 2-door shooting brake body style. The Z3M Coupe is one of BMW’s coolest creations – one they tried to recreate with the Z4 M-Coupe, but it wasn’t quite the same.

4 E38 750Li

The E38 7 Series is probably the best of the 7 Series generations, not in terms of technology and power, but style and design. The E38 was introduced in 1995, but the best version of the car was the LCI model, introduced in 1998, and featured updated exterior styling, new technology and better engines.

Top of the line was the 750Li, a 5.4-liter V12-powered luxury sedan built specifically to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The V12 Series 7 produced 320 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the luxurious German machine to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds.

Related: 1995-2001 BMW 7 Series E38: Costs, Facts & Figures

3 E39 M5

The BMW E39 M5 was the third generation of the top sports sedan and was finally available with a V8 engine. Gone was the 3.8-litre straight-six and in its place was a brilliant 4.9-litre V8, mated to a manual transmission and driving the rear wheels only. The E39 M5 produced nearly 400 bhp and could reach a top speed of over 186 mph with the M-Driver package.

The best thing about the M5 wasn’t the engine – although it’s an impressive piece of engineering – rather the best part of the car was the chassis tuning. It was so good that several automakers tried to copy it with relative success, but didn’t get exactly the same. Even more impressive is the fact that automakers are always trying to improve it, including BMW themselves. The E39 M5 is the standard for sports sedan tuning and probably will be forever.

2 E52 Z8

The BMW Z8 was a homage to the original 507 Roadster of the 1950s. It was introduced in 1999 and was based on the E39 M5 and shared its engine and most of its drivetrain, getting only bodywork and a bespoke interior. The Z8 was built as a grand tourer, but many reviewers found it outperformed the Ferrari 360 Modena – then the norm in the sports car segment.

The Z8 was only available with a manual, so Alpina got their hands on it and turned it into a true GT. They swapped the 4.9-liter S62 for the X5’s 4.8-liter M62 and mated it to a 5-speed automatic torque converter, further softening the suspension. The Z8 was also used by Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in The World Is Not Enough, where it was sawn in half by a helicopter with saw blades.

1 E53 X5

The BMW X5 was introduced in 1999 and took the world by storm. It was available with two straight-sixes and three V8 engines. The initial 6-cylinder was a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre, the other being a turbo diesel of the same capacity. The smaller V8 was a 4.4-liter, which grew to 4.6-liter as the sportiest version.

The top-end X5 – before the next-gen X5M was a thing – was the 4.8is, which produced 360bhp. All X5 models were all-wheel drive. The X5 redefined the SUV segment and helped start the current sporty SUV trend. It is truly one of the greatest BMW creations of the 1990s.

Marjorie N. McClure