Differences Between US & European BMWs

There are a great many differences between US and Euro BMWs, some forced by legislation and some by consumer forces. I've listed a few below. Please feel free to add to my list.


US models have the infamous larger bumpers required by law. These ruined the looks of many 70's and 80's models and added a hefty weight penalty. More modern vehicles tend to use the same bumpers the world over due to refinements in bumper technology.

BMW E28 M353i

European E28 M535i sporting a subtle bodypack.

BMW E28 528e

American 528e sporting an unsubtle US specification bumper.


Many models in the US have much bigger airbags than euro models. This is because almost everyone in europe is intelligent enough to wear a seatbelt and airbags are regarded only as a Secondary Restraint System (that's why SRS is printed on your airbag).

In the US people seem to demand the right to be thrown though the windscreen in the event of a crash. As a result those nasty BMW engineers have made larger airbags to try and prevent this. These airbags need a larger explosive charge to deploy them and they impact the passenger at a higher velocity leading to a greater chance of injury.

Engine & Model Availability

Many of the small BMW engines have never made it to US shores as cheap petrol means there is little demand for them. Equally many of the very large or highly tuned engines have never passed US emissions regulations or would have too limited a market. Am I the only person to spot the paradox between the US calling for tough pollution regulations and yet not having a market for smaller engines?

Even engines which did make it to the US almost always produce less power than euro equivalents. This is particularly true of late '70s models, the E24 six series was especially badly hit as was the early five series.

Engines and cars which never made it over there
  • M43 1600cc 8 valve used in the 316i.
  • E34 518i.
  • 1502 and 1802.
  • M20 2.0 litre 12 valve in E28 & E34 520i, E30 320i.
  • E28 M30 525i.
  • M50 2.0 litre 24 valve in E34 520i, E36 320i.
  • E36 325td/s, E34 525td/s turbo diesels.
  • E36 318tds turbo diesel.
  • E30 Touring (too expensive for its size?)
  • Current E38 7 series 728i.
  • E36 323i, E39 523i 2.5 litre 24 valve.
  • E23 745i 3.3 litre turbo.
  • E24 628CSi.
  • Euro E36 M3, 321bhp double VANOS.
  • 2002 Turbo (I think?).
  • E21 420/6 and 323i with M20 engines.
  • E21 316 and carb 318
  • Almost all the good versions of the E12!
  • E3 2.5 litre coupe
  • Anything with a diesel engine.

BMW E30 touring BMW E30 touring

No US E30 Touring


US models have different ratings of headlights and in the case of the E36 three series totally different lenses. US lenses are made of a softer plastic and are more prone to pitting and damage Most US models do not have rear fog lamps, these are mandatory in europe.

US versions come with an assortment of different running lights (side lights in English).

Other Bits....

Euro cars come with a first aid kit and warning triangle as mandated by German law.

Euro models allow the windows to be opened/closed if the door is open. US models do not, you must have the key to the accessory position to operate the windows.

Smaller engined models often come without extras such as alloy wheels, sunroofs and colour coding in europe.

Electric windows and a sunroof are extra cost options on many euro models. Air conditioning is normally optional.

US models often have softer suspension, take the US E36 M3 for example.

German models must have rear head restraints by law I believe.

The speed limiters in the US have different settings. The US 318iS is limited to 118mph whereas the UK version manages an unrestricted 132.

All UK versions have V rated tyres I believe. In the US some have H rated tyres.