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  Super-Secret Car Name Decoder Story  
BMW You know what 'Mustang' means. How about 525i, TL, STS, ES300, 9-2X...

While those serial-number car names may look like someone threw a spoonful of chrome-plated alphabet soup at a car's deck-lid, they really do have meaning. Yes, 530i really does have a story to tell.

These are general rules, by the way, and there are some exceptions.


BMW's numbering system is fairly simple. Numbers, usually odd numbers, indicate the relative size and expense of cars. Everyone has heard of BMW's 3-series, 5-series and 7 series cars. In Europe, BMW sells the bargain-priced 1-series.

The next two digits indicate engine size. The BMW 325i has a 2.5 liter engine. The BMW 330i has a 3.0 liter engine.

The letter i is a holdover from times when fuel injection was something to brag about rather than something you would find in even run-of-the-mill economy cars. In Europe, where BMW sells diesel-powered cars, one can also see the 325d on the road.

Sometimes two letters appear after the number, as in the 325Ci and 325Xi. The first letter indicates a special type, as with the two-door 325Ci coupe or the all-wheel drive 325Xi.


The letters in front of Mercedes car names, like E320, indicate the "class." Sedans are C, for the least expensive, E or S, for the most expensive. SUVs are M or the more exclusive G. Convertibles are, in order of expense, the SLK, CLK and SL.

Like BMW, Mercedes scrapes the bottom of the alphabetical barrel in its home continent selling the A-class which is not available here.

The three numbers indicate engine size. An E320 has a 3.2 liter engine, for example.


Every car Saab makes has a name that starts with the number 9. The 9 simply means "this is not a military vehicle."

When the company was founded in the 1930s, Saab was an acronym for Swedish Aircraft, Ab (the Swedish equivalent of Inc.) After World War II, while Saab was still strictly an airplane company, it was decided that all civilian projects should be given numbers starting with 9. The Saab 90 and 91 were civilian aircraft.

Saab's next project was a car. Since it was not a military vehicle, the car was given the number 92. Since the numbers always had to start with 9 it didn't take too long before Saab was into three-digit, then four-digit, car names.

In 1998 came the car that would have been the Saab 90,000. At that point, Saab went back to double digits, but the numbers were now separated. In ordinary text, the numbers are written with a hyphen in between, like this: 9-5. On the back of a Saab, the second digit is offset in a slightly different typeface.

As with BMWs, the second number indicates the relative size and price of the vehicle. If it's followed by an X, as with the 9-2X, that means it has all-wheel drive.


The first letter in a Lexus name indicates the relative size and cost of the car. The higher in the alphabet the letter is, the higher the price. For some reason -- the R SUVs are an exception to this particular rule. They are actually the least expensive Lexus SUVs.

Let's take, for example, the Lexus LS 430. The second letter in any Lexus car's name indicates the body style. An S is a sedan, an X is a sport/utility vehicle and a C is a convertible. The 3-digit number is based on the engine size in liters. So the LS 430 has a 4.3 liter engine, and a GS 300 has a 3.0 liter engine.


Acura's two- and three-letter combinations mean absolutely nothing. They're just completely made-up combinations of letters.

One exception that rule -- or lack of one -- predates Acura's overall move to letters. When the Acura NSX sports car was in development in the 1980s that name stood for New Sports Experimental.

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