Edric grapples with German model-numbering conventions.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room
My Reading Room

ONCE upon a time, the premium German carmakers badged their models according to engine capacity. A Mercedes E280, for instance, was an E-Class with a 2.8-litre engine, and a BMW 318i was a 1.8-litre 3 Series. Nice and logical.

Then for some reason around the mid-1990s, the Germans decided to base the model number on a “deemed” engine capacity pegged to the car’s output, rather than the actual engine capacity.

The first instance I can recall of this practice was the 1995 E39 BMW 523i, which despite its name, had a 2.5-litre straight-6, not a 2.3-litre. BMW, perhaps out of embarrassment at the slightly underwhelming 170bhp of their ultimate driving machine, had opted to “downbadge” it.

At that time, no other BMW models were similarly afflicted – a 520i was still a 2-litre, a 728i was still a 2.8-litre and so on.

But the virus soon spread, not just through BMW’s range (the 520i became a 2.2-litre, the 540i was a 4.4, the 323i was a 2.5), but across to rival Mercedes’ as well. The Stuttgart marque’s 2003 E240, for instance, was actually powered by a 2.6-litre V6.

It wasn’t all “downbadging”, though. The W211 E200 Kompressor was a 1.8-litre, but Mercedes reckoned that with its supercharged 163bhp output, it qualified to be badged as a 2-litre E200.

And with the proliferation of turbocharging, “upbadging” has now become the norm.

A 330i is a turbocharged 2-litre, a 640i is a turbo 3-litre, an S500 is a turbo 4.7 and so on.

But just as we’ve got used to BMW and Mercedes’ idiosyncratic numbering practice, Volkswagen comes along and messes with our minds again.

I noticed it first on a turbocharged 1.4-litre Touran that I was testing, which had a badge on the back that read “280 TSI’’. Baffled, I enquired further and discovered that locally (and in China as well), Volkswagen has seen fit to start badging its cars according to – wait for it – their torque output.

So that “280” badge on the Touran suggests that it delivers 280Nm of max torque. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t. Its maximum torque is 250Nm.

But because VW has decided that its cars will be badged not according to their actual torque output, but according to which pre-fixed band of torque output they fall into, the Touran’s 250Nm puts it within the band which stretches up to 280Nm. Hence the “280” badge.

Good luck to the salesman trying to explain all that to the ordinary buyer.


Mercedes- AMG A45 is an “upbadged” 2-litre 4-pot, albeit one with 381bhp.
Mercedes- AMG A45 is an “upbadged” 2-litre 4-pot, albeit one with 381bhp.