Complaints About the Names of Cars

By Chris Haak

Ah yes, the “good old days.” Remember when cars had names like Comet, Monterey, Nova, Tempest, Metropolitan, and Zephyr? Though there is more diversity in the auto market today than there has been in decades (though no longer thousands of boutique automakers in the US as there were in the early days of the industry), vehicle names that are actual words found in the dictionary are becoming more scarce. That is not news. Some automakers, though not all, have decided that rather than building better, more sophisticated cars, they might just trick the buying public into believing that a DTS is more upscale than a Deville, that an MKZ is more contemporary than a Zephyr, or that a G6 outshines a Grand Am. Again, this is all old news. Today I’m more concerned about model names that once described engine displacement. If you read on, I have some solutions too.

Earlier this week, I poked a bit of fun at the BMW X6 M50d xDrive’s name. BMW’s naming problems go beyond their new M diesels (to say nothing of the M brand’s deviation far from its roots). Let’s break this down.

  • X6 is the model
  • M means it has been tweaked by BMW’s Motorsports division
  • 50 means that it has the power output equivalent to a 5.0 liter naturally aspirated engine (though it actually displaces just three liters)
  • d means it’s a diesel
  • xDrive means it’s all wheel drive

Remember when a 325i badge meant that the car was a 3 Series with a 2.5 liter engine? A 320i was the same car with a 2.0 liter engine? That was possible when BMW made a small, medium, and large sedan and no roadsters or crossovers/trucks. And when it didn’t have boosted motors that produced more power than their naturally-aspirated counterparts. Oh, and when it didn’t offer all wheel drive.

Perhaps the Z4 roadster has an even rougher time with its name. The latest model is the Z4 sDrive 28i. English translation?

  • Z4 is the model
  • sDrive means it’s rear wheel drive
  • 28i means it has the power output equivalent to a 2.8 liter naturally aspirated engine (though it actually displaces just two liters)

Audi slaps 3.0T badges on its A4, A5, A6, and A7 models. The T stands for turbocharged, right? Well, it actually is 3.0 liters, but it’s supercharged. So the 2.0T available in many of those same models is a 2.0 liter supercharged mill then, right? Nope – in that case, the T actually does mean turbocharged. Audi may be afraid of confusing buyers, because it has the S line, so a 3.0S might or might not have the S line tire and trim package.

Mercedes-Benz fudges its numbers too. The C63 AMG has a 6.2 liter engine, but the “63” has historical significance to fans of the three-pointed star. So the new E63 AMG also has a 6.2 liter engine, right? Actually, it’s a 5.5 liter turbocharged V8. But what’s under the hood of the S550? Surely that has a 5.5 liter engine? That would be a 4.7 liter turbo V8. Mercedes-Benz subscribes to the BMW school of giving equivalent naturally aspirated engine sizes on its downsized engines.

It’s not just the Germans. The new entry-level Acura sedan will be called the ILX. What the heck does that mean? The Integra became the RSX, the Legend became the RL. The Vigor became the TL. The TSX sort of spawned from the Integra four door, but is bigger. Why does the smallest current Acura have the “biggest” name (most letters, last in alphabetical order)?

And for heaven’s sake, what is the fascination with the letter X in car names? X Drive, Xterra, XTS, RDX, MDX, ILX, ZDX, X3, X5, X6, XC60, XC70, XC90, RX, GX, LX, and MKX. Need I go on? I’m sure I could find more. Words with Friends gives but a single X in the letter tray – and it’s worth at least 10 points – but the oddball letter has an outsize presence in vehicle names.

We’ve identified the problem. (Or, at least, my problem). Now onto the solution.

Techshake’s Car Naming Rules for 2012

  1. The use of the letter X shall be severely curtailed. No more than one model with “X” in its name per make.
  2. Model names with numbers must accurately describe either the number of wheels being driven or the actual size of the engine’s displacement.
  3. A single letter suffix is allowed after the engine displacement name to indicate the presence of any forced induction system. The letter has to accurately reflect the type of forced induction.
  4. Badges promoting “Direct Injection” or “GDI” are not permitted. In five years, they’ll be as hokey as “Fuel Injection” or “Overdrive” emblems seem to us today.
  5. Names cannot be manufactured words that aren’t found in the dictionary.
  6. The first letter is capitalized and the rest are lowercase. Don’t play games with capitalization.
  7. Keep the names reasonably short.

Here are a few examples of the above rules done right and wrong:

  1. Right: Integra. Wrong: ILX, MDX, RDX.
  2. Right: [Does anyone get this right?]. Wrong: BMW 328i. (Every BMW has had fuel injection for what, two decades? Do we really need the ‘i’ anymore? Why can’t this car be called the BMW 320T?)
  3. Right: 2.0T (turbocharged 2.0 liter). Wrong: 3.0T (supercharged 3.0 liter)
  4. Right: [No emblem] Wrong: GDI (Kia Optima).
  5. Right: Sonata. Wrong: Cruze.
  6. Right: Ford Fusion. Wrong: smart fortwo.
  7. Right: Dodge Dart. Wrong: MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS CLUBMAN. (Also violates rule #6)

Thank you in advance for your assistance as we promote the cause of better, more descriptive names for the cars we love. Sometimes, I am amazed that I can keep a series of random letters straight inside my mind. ILX means nothing, nor do any of the other alphanumeric names.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Techshake's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. For some reason, the letters from Lincon consistently confuse me. MKX vs. MKZ… I have to consciously reference the Zephyr to figure it out.

    AND… you forgot the 9-3x/9-4x in your X-tastic names; in that case of course the X indicates AWD I think… though the AWD 9-5 Aero also has AWD without an X. Do Saab names even still count?

  2. And let’s not forget the xD and xB and the now retired xA – all of which also break rule #6

  3. Oh come on, I bet you could come up with three made-up names that are kinda cool. Quite with you on capitalization.

  4. With regards to companies getting your suggested rule #2 correct: I believe the Infinti G25 and G37 refer to 2.5 and 3.7 liter engines.

    That being said, I think the Skyline name was more interesting.

  5. I’m still sad that Ford scrapped using their old name ‘Fairlane’ for what eventually became the Flex. Fairlane is a much cooler name.

  6. Ha, I’m with you Katy. The Flex is a cool car, but people often ask us if that means it runs on FlexFuel. It doesn’t, and I’m kinda getting tired of explaining it.

  7. 8. No names may end with the letter “A”.
    About half the vehicles on the road today do, and it’s WAY overused!

  8. 1. ‘X’ usually refers to AWD (which is becoming so prevelant these days), but agreed, there are way too many Xs around.
    2&3. Agreed again, but BMW may need to stick with ‘i’ at least to indicate a gasoline engine. They wouldn’t have to bother with ‘T’ for turbo, since pretty much every BMW engine is turbocharged.
    4. Absolutely, but what will the automakers slap on the fenders to let everyone else know you bought the ‘better’ model? MPG figures?
    5. Yes. But are older models grandfathered in? I have never figured out what Camry means (if anyone has the answer I’d love to hear it).
    6&7. Yes and Yes (unless the words ‘Turnpike Cruiser’ are used).

  9. 5. But it shouldn’t have to be an *English* dictionary! Moreover, as long as it’s not a “trendy” misspelling (e.g., “z” for “s”), I have no problem with manufactured words. For example:

    The Scirocco name derives from the Italian word for the Sirocco wind — and the period in its history when Volkswagen named vehicles after prominent winds, including also Passat (after the German word for Trade wind), Golf (after Gulf Stream), Bora (after Bora), Polo (after Polar Winds), and Jetta (after Jet stream).


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