Small hatch, sporty coupé, refined GT, exec all-rounder or luxury car: there’s a BMW for you and your budget
26 January 2016

BMW's have a reputation for mixing luxury with performance, and the modern line-up caters for almost every taste. The used car market can offer up a decent bargain, too. Here are five of our favourites.

1 - BMW 3 Series (1998-2005)

Some consider this generation of the 3 Series (E46) as the best looking to date. The two-door coupé version was — and still is — a very popular car and it retains a sleek and smart appearance.

BMW has always ensured that the 3 Series drives well, and the E46 is no exception. In 320Ci guise, it will get you from standstill to 60mph in 8.3sec and return 31.7mpg. Ride quality is top notch and the car is spacious and has a top-quality finish inside.

There are few reports of major problems with the 3 Series, because it is well engineered. Servicing costs are reasonable, too.

We found a 2.2-litre 320Ci Sport showing 49,000 miles for £4950.

2 - BMW 6 Series (2003-2010)

After an absence of 14 years, the 6 Series was reintroduced to the BMW line-up in 2003 with equal amounts of hype, anticipation and bewilderment. Based on the excellent E60 5 Series, the E63 6 Series Coupé became the headline act of the controversial styling era under design chief Chris Bangle.

The styling divided opinion, and that has pushed used prices lower than one might expect, even though the car looks less controversial today. It’s great to drive, covers long distances in proper GT style and has a high-quality interior. Servicing costs are reasonable, although spares and tyres can be costly. 

We found a 10-year-old, 60,000-mile 645Ci automatic for £7795.

3 - BMW 1 Series (2004-2011)

BMW’s first attempt at a family hatchback was a popular buy among middle classes taking their first steps into a premium brand car.

Often criticised for its small boot and a shortage of rear leg room, the 1 Series delivers an excellent driving experience, with fine balance and good steering. Only a poor ride on rough roads lets it down.

The 3.0-litre petrol version is a riot, sprinting to 60mph in just 6.1sec and on to a top speed of 140mph.

Look out for wear on the front tyres as well as the driven rears, and beware of faulty manual gearbox and clutches.

Our research found that a 56-plate 130i M Sport with 57,000 miles on the clock can be yours for £6650.

4 - BMW 7 Series (2002-2008)

The 7 Series was possibly Chris Bangle’s biggest blunder. The design was awkward but, as with the 6 Series, the divisive styling means that used car buyers get a bargain today. What’s more, a mid-life facelift softened some of the original’s harsh edges and restored a modicum of elegance.

As you’d expect, the 7 Series is huge, inside and out. The large cabin is lavishly equipped and you’ll be whisked between meetings in imperious comfort.

There are faults relating to electrical issues, with the iDrive infotainment interface suffering the most. The air-con and boot release can also be glitchy.

You can put a 58,000-mile 730d Sport on your driveway for £10,000.

5 - BMW 5 Series (2004-2010)

Whether you want to carry five people in comfort, style and luxury, or knit together a series of corners on a challenging country route, the E605 Series does it all with ease.

It delivers a sporty driving experience, yet its ride quality remains compliant and composed. The cabin looks stylish, feels upmarket and is well bolted together, too.

Running costs are low, with economical engines, and reliability is good.

Issues that arise are likely to be related to axles and electrics. You should also listen out for clonks, bumps or strange noises from the suspension during a test drive.

A 525d M Sport typifies this all-rounder’s ability, and a 2006 model with less than 60,000 miles is about £7500.

Matthew Griffiths

Our Verdict

BMW 3 Series saloon
BMW 3 Series is priced from £24,975

Revised saloon icon gets a superb engine and a more upmarket interior but less than definitive handling

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Comments
12

26 January 2016
These buying guides could be so much more interesting and informative, but unfortunately are written in the house style of a local rag's motoring page. Phrases like 'sporty driving experience' should never make it past Autocar's editor.

26 January 2016
On a BMW over 10 years old you have to be prepared to manage the oil leaks, failing suspension components and expiring electrics, and be prepared to scrap it when the head gasket or automatic gearbox goes... I speak from experience.....

26 January 2016
jensen_healey wrote:
On a BMW over 10 years old you have to be prepared to manage the oil leaks, failing suspension components and expiring electrics, and be prepared to scrap it when the head gasket or automatic gearbox goes... I speak from experience.....
Agree with all that! Plus an added world of pain if it's a diesel.

26 January 2016
The 4cyl engines in the E46 were disastrous, with plastic timing chain components breaking and the valvetronic system going wrong. 6cyl engines are ok, but plastic radiator parts will blow and need replacing, the valve covers will leak oil and need fixing regularly, the Vanos system oil seals go brittle, etc.. I don't know in what world a 6 or 7 series can be considered safe to buy either - the electrics are utterly bonkers and the big engines had numerous problems, particularly cooling issues. Finally, the diesels are great until 120k or so when they need new injectors (good luck getting those out) and timing chains. There are some great cars out there, but as a used buy they can be massive money pits.

26 January 2016
I've been toying with the idea of running an older second car and an E46 seemed an interesting proposition, however every time I look at one I have this nagging doubt in my mind about reliability and perhaps more importantly the cost and difficulty of fixing it. Certainly wouldn't touch a 10 year old diesel, particularly as you're getting into the era of DPFs. The only conclusion I've reached is either buy a BMW and budget for some pricey repairs (but hope to be pleasantly surprised) or buy a Lexus. 2006/7 GS300 prices are tempting...

26 January 2016
Oldest son bought a 57,000 miles 2003 316i in 2013.. So 10 years old and low mileage. New ignition coil, complete rebuild front brakes, then rear brakes, and new tyres.. That 's the extent of repairs. (Big bills though £2k plus).. I did warn him.. Faultless otherwise so far.

Mike

26 January 2016
Mine kept blowing its right tail light and my uncle's X5 of similar vintage had a similar problem. The power window motor packed up on both rear doors and front passenger door at different times. If I hadn't gotten an extended warranty I would've been out several thousand dollars. Great riding car with plenty of power from its 2.5 straight six but it had more than its share of electrical problems for a "premium" car.

26 January 2016
My E46 2.2L smooth 6cyl 53,000 mile 320Ci SE bought new is now 10 years old and has been very reliable. Apart from regular servicing it's had new front disks and abs valve replacement. Despite never being garaged paint is still excellent, interior unmarked. Always an enjoyable drive and local dealership are very efficient. Probably best value car I have ever owned.

26 January 2016
What a load of pap some people write. Cant autocar do something about the trolls!? I had a 2002 E46 320d Sport bought new. The car was regularly serviced by BMW until about 125,000 when it was done by an indie but they were so poor, I went back to BMW. Its original front Michelin Pilots did nearly 120,000 miles before an MOT saw them off. When I sold it on recently, it had done over 217,000 miles on its original engine, clutch, exhaust and gearbox. I had the turbo refurbed at 160,000 miles. I had the swirl flaps removed at just over 100,000 miles. It had the discs replaced 3 times. I hardly every had to replace bulbs. It did develop the annoying airbag light coming on if you moved the driver's seat roughly but a £14 resetter corrected that. Do all those people with so called horror stories ever have their car serviced?

26 January 2016
centenary wrote:
What a load of pap some people write. Cant autocar do something about the trolls!? I had a 2002 E46 320d Sport bought new. The car was regularly serviced by BMW until about 125,000 when it was done by an indie but they were so poor, I went back to BMW. Its original front Michelin Pilots did nearly 120,000 miles before an MOT saw them off. When I sold it on recently, it had done over 217,000 miles on its original engine, clutch, exhaust and gearbox. I had the turbo refurbed at 160,000 miles. I had the swirl flaps removed at just over 100,000 miles. It had the discs replaced 3 times. I hardly every had to replace bulbs. It did develop the annoying airbag light coming on if you moved the driver's seat roughly but a £14 resetter corrected that. Do all those people with so called horror stories ever have their car serviced?
120k miles on one set of front tyres? I know it's RWD but that sounds borderline seriously dangerous to me...tyres aren't supposed to clock up that sort of mileage however careful you drive! As for BMW's, I've had good and bad...had a head gasket go on the 1.8 twin cam engine but had a faultless 2.8 straight six engine. Having said that, the 1.8 twin cam issues would make me nervous about a similar purchase in the future...

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