The BMW Best Buys Guide

Most BMWs make good used purchases but some stand out as great used buys. These vehicles have sensible parts costs, aren't hard to work on and are pretty reliable. These are the cars to get if you want a fun to drive yet reliable car on a budget.

One thing about buying any BMW is to ensure it has been well maintained and to keep looking after it. Preventative maintenance on a BMW is cheaper than repairs later! Check out my buyers guide for a few pre-purchase tips.

In the UK check out Autotrader online for excellent classified ads or ebay. And don't forget my Bargain Of The Week page for crazy value BMW's you've spotted on sale.

If you buy any used BMW, especially older models, get one with heaps of extras. An older BMW with leather, A/C and electronic gizmos isn't going to be much dearer than a more basic model. Check all the bits work though!

Remember that manual cars are more fun and worth searching hard for.

I've not mentioned E28s, 635CSi or E21s here because you're not going to find a cheap one that's in good condition. These are collectors cars now and prices reflect that, E30s are mostly there too but a few bargains remain. But buy well and you'll see the car rise slowly in value.


BMW E36 325i

The E36 was a great BMW, good ones these days are hard to find as many have fallen prey to drifters and boy racers. If you find an unmolested one on good condition you're lucky.

The models to get would be the 318ti compact or 318iS coupe with the 16 valve M42 / M44 engines, also the 323i or 328i M52. The plain 318i M40 8 valve isn't powerful enough and whilst the M50 in the 325i was great the build quality in early cars interiors wasn't so good as the later M52 cars. A 320i won't set the world on fire but is OK if you find a nice convertible.

Cheap M3s will need work buy are worth it. 328i coupes are becoming collectible, especially genuine sport models.

On the coupe the folding rear seat allows you to carry surprisingly big loads so it's practical too. Even the fuel consumption is surprisingly good. A damn fine car. just be sure to get one that's been looked after.

Cars made after '94 are a lot better put together inside.

E36 318ti

BMW E36 318ti

The 318ti is an excellent car largely due to the rear axle. The Z axle from the rest of the E36 range would take up too much space in the hatchback so the older E30 semi-trailing arm design was used. This brings back much of the fun lost with the arrival of the Z axle. The Z-axle is "better" in most ways but for the enthusiastic driver the older design proves the rule that less can be more!

The ti uses the M42 1.8 or M44 1.9 engine. The older ones are easier to tune and have almost as much torque as their newer OBC-II equipped brothers. The Club Sport is the model to find. 318ti options included limited slip diffs, ASC+T (later standard), sports seats and many other goodies. Don't think for a minute this is some kind of poor mans bimmer.

The owner of my local dealership owns two cars, a 740i and a 318ti.

E34 525i/535i/540i

BMW E34 535i

The E34 535i is a very serious beastie indeed! Tons of power from the classic M30 six cylinder engine, excellent chassis and suspension, marvelous interior and supreme build quality.

Manual cars can be found and have a much higher grin factor than the auto model, which isn't to say the auto is a bad car by the way. You hear fewer complaints about the E34 than almost any other BMW, that speaks volumes about how well put together this machine is, 400,000+ miles is not uncommon on a well maintained car.

Folk are frightened by the big engine. I'll tell you a secret, you'll get 30 mpg (Imperial) on the motorway and 25 in country driving. Parts are cheap too. You just must buy one, it's silly not to!

But for most owners the 525i 24 valve from 91 on is the one to get. Almost a quick (especially in the US where the 535i was lower powered) and with class leading fuel economy. If you get a 540i try for a six speed manual, becoming collectible now.

E32 730i / 735i

BMW E32 735i

Most of what I've said about the E34 535i above applies here too. The E32 is a fine BMW with classic looks. The extra size and weight mean it's not as nimble as the 535i but it's no slouch either and handles far better than any Mercedes or Jaguar equivalents.

In europe most buyers prefer the 735i so 730i prices are lower than they should be. For most people the 730i (the M30 six cylinder model not the V8) has quite enough grunt and when you consider the lower price it's a steal! As with the E34 fuel consumption is surprisingly good and parts are plentiful. Keep it clean and nobody would ever guess how little you paid.

E38 Seven Series


It's hard to say which was better looking, the E32 or E38. Both are nicer than the later models, that's for sure. E38s handle better than E32s and are almost as well made. They're a great car for long distance driving and more economical than you'd think. I ran a 730i V8 for a while and it was surprisingly fast.

The 728i will get over 30mpg and is a fantastic cruiser. The V8s have immense power and are fantastic driver's cars. The V12 is silly value if you can look after it yourself and buy a good one. With any E38 check it all works and look at the history. Loads out so there so buy the best. The Sport pack cars had nice 18" alloys and handled even better, worth seeking out.

E30 318iS

BMW E30 318iS

So why is the 318iS so special? Why am I on my third in 25 years? Well it has the wonderful M42 16 valve engine which thrives on revs. In the later E36 models the extra weight of the car stifles the poor thing. It also had standard //M-Tech suspension, Recarro sports interior and a subtle set of spoilers. The car was wonderful to drive, one of the best I've ever driven. It truly was a case of the car being more than the sum of its parts. All the upgrades just worked really well together.

Some people say the 318iS is the spiritual successor of the 2002tii. I am happy to say that they are correct.

E30 Convertibles


The E30 convertible was a very special car in its day. Before this model all BMW convertibles had been converted by Baur, this was the factory's first attempt and they made a good job of it. The whole thing feels very well designed, definitely not a last minute job.

The first thing you notice when you sit in an E30 convertible are the strengthening girders on the inside of the sills. They intrude a little but do a great job of making up for the lack of a roof and help stiffen the car. The electric roof (not standard) is a great toy, but be sure it works well as it's not cheap to fix.

The convertibles are a little heavier than normal E30s so you really do need the 2.0 or 2.5 litre version. The 1.8 and 1.6 had the 8 valve M40 which I'm not a fan of.

E46 325i Coupe / Touring

BMW E36 325Ci

E46s are great drivers cars that were well built and the M54 six cylinder engine was perfect. The 330i is the pick of the bunch, but prices reflect that. The 325i is a lot cheaper and nearly as good, 330s have a taller final drive ratio so below 80mph the performance difference is less than you'd think. I find my 325i touring, just as fast as my old E36 328i but it revs much more eagerly.

The coupe or touring would be my choice but the unloved four door saloons can go for crazy low prices. Try to get the sport spec., it makes a huge difference to the handling and once you've used the thicker sport steering wheel the normal one will never feel right again. Don't be overly worried about mileage if it's backed up by history. Avoid four cylinder cars.

E39 530i Saloon / Touring

BMW E39 530i touring

Whilst they didn't have the looks of the E34 the E39 were great cars and benefited greatly from the adoption of the multi-link Z axle at the back. The V8s are superb cars but the 3.0 M54 six is all you really need, a 530i is a fast car and no mistake. Find a manual if you can, they're not rare.

The touring is a good buy as it's got a huge load area, assuming an E46 is too small for you. The 530i was generally well equipped so don't worry too much about the options list. The later facelift models have nicer lights but there weren't any major changes. They take the miles well if looked after, be patient and find a cared for example.

Z3 1.9 16 valve


So good I recently bought one myself for crazy money as it was snowing at the time! Winter is the best time to buy any rag top. I went for the 1997 1.9 M44 16 valve, that's all the car needs. It revs eagerly, especially if you slightly modify the horrible air intake. This is a car where you need to use the revs and it's damn good fun. Z3s drive in a surprisingly old school BMW sort of way, they feel like a really sorted E30 with better brakes.

The electric roof is a great option so try to get one and if the roof needs replacing make sure that's factored into the price. Avoid the later 8 valve 1.8 M43 cars, underpowered. The sixes are fine but the original M44 1.9 has better weight distribution. These are now so cheap it's nuts not to try open top motoring at least once in your car ownership story. No need to spend more for a Z4, the Z3 is all you need.

E63 Six Series

BMW E63 645i

Personally I wasn't a big fan of the looks when the "new" six was launched, but it's aged well. Often described as a poor man's Aston Martin the V8 cars packed performance to match, the but the six cylinder cars with their 3.0 M54 were great daily drivers. It's possible to find manual versions of both but they're rare.

Demand will never match supply for most of these and prices will continue to fall, in late 2015 they're dipping below 5000 for early cars. Don't worry overly about mileage if the history is good and the cars condition is excellent. Loads about so be picky and haggle hard.

E90 325i

BMW E90 325i

I personally think the E90's a bit too big, that's likely because I drive on a lot of very narrow and twisty roads. For most people who don't live in the remote backwaters of the Highlands it's a great car. Similar story here as with the E46, people either want an economy version or a 330. Result is that the 325i is a bit unloved and values suffer accordingly.

But the 325i is a great car in it's own right, it's not as quick as a 330i but due to the final drive gearing there's less difference than you'd think until you reach the illegal side of 70. If I wanted a more modern three series than an E46 the 325i would be my choice. There was a facelift around 2007 and the front grille looks much better on later cars, my wife says the early grille looks like Hitler's moustache!