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10 Best BMW for $20,000

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When I was first given this topic by our Editor-in-Chief Horatiu, I thought; COOL! I’d love to write this article, it’s going to be a …

When I was first given this topic by our Editor-in-Chief Horatiu, I thought; COOL! I’d love to write this article, it’s going to be a piece of cake. Even better, I’ll have it done in 2 minutes. After all, there is the spectacular E30 M3, E39 M5, M Roadster and anything else that starts with an “M”. Slap a bunch of them in an article and I’m done. Right? Wrong!

Reality set in during the research phase. There are so many great BMWs that can be had for $20K, ranging from the super cool X5 4.6is to the track-ready Z3 based M Coupe. How in the world can I choose only 10?! This is going to be impossible.

So what if I had a 10-car garage and needed a BMW for every occasion? For example, a trip to the lake, track event, road trip, night cruise… you get the point. What would the contents of this garage look like?

Here we go.

1. 2004 X5 4.8is.

With 355 horsepower and all the torque needed to briskly move the 2 ton SAV, this is almost as much of a cult car as the Z3 M Coupe. With room for 5 people and the ability to haul all your gear to the lake, the X5 4.8is can also dispatch with most cars sharing the same interstate.

2. 2001 BMW M Coupe.


2001 was a special year for the M coupe as BMW put in the S54/2 engine cranking out 321 horsepower for US aficionados. Having driven this car on track and around the interstates, I can say with confidence that this was a must have in any BMW enthusiast’s garage. Fast, agile, and easily tunable to gain more horsepower.

Did I mention fast?

3. 2003 BMW M5.


Arguably the best M5 built-to-date. Having owned one, I couldn’t imagine not seeing one in my garage. 400 horsepower, a 6-speed manual, and room for 4 adults. The next F10 M5 is being called the “Spiritual Successor” to the E39 M5 because of the feel the car conveys while driving it. The E39 M5 is quite possibly the best midsize sedan ever built.

4. 2003 BMW 540i Sports Wagon.


For the Touring fans, this is a no brainer. 282 horsepower, 324 ft-lbs of torque in a wagon capable of going 155 mph. The Sports package available in 2003 gave it M-Sport bumpers, M-parallel wheels and a visible exhaust tip.

5. 2006 BMW 330ci ZHP.


Better known as the Performance Package. I also owned this car and let me say this, it’s an E46 M3 without the engine. 235 horsepower, special aero kit, M wheels, Special Alcantara Steering wheel, and suspension goodies one would expect from performance coupe without the cost of an M3.

6. 2001 BMW 740i Sport.


Also known as the “Sporty Shorty”. BMW gave it a shorter final drive ratio of 3:15 versus the standard 293, a Steptronic transmission, 18 inches M-Parallel forged wheels, Sports Recaro comfort seats and all the suspension tuning of an M Sport.

7. 2004 BMW M3 Convertible.


The perfect top down sports car. A 333 horsepower tanning bed. When this car came out in 2001, I instantly fell in love with it. The E46 M3 Cabrio is a drop dead sexy car with the speed and handling of any other world class sports convertibles.

8. 1974 BMW 2002 tii.


No BMW enthusiast garage would be complete without the great grandfather to the modern 3 Series. The tii model had a fuel injected 4-cylinder engine.

9. 2009 BMW HP2 Sport Bike.


I love the sound and torque of the Boxer engine in this bike. Scalpel like handling, it’s perfect for a romp through the mountains or a blast up the interstate.

10. 2008 BMW Mini Cooper S.


First year for the new turbocharged 4-cylinder and the larger redesigned chassis. Fun to toss around in a go-kart kind of way, The S version is the quickest of the Coopers. I would have preferred the JCW kit, but we do have a budget of $20k. I could have gone for the older Cooper with JCW, but the newer car with the turbo engine makes this newest MINI a blast to drive.

So there you have it, my dream BMW garage is complete. Now all I have to do is find a spare $200,000. Maybe my kids will get scholarships….

  • http://www.facebook.com/thepopfoto Szilard Pop

    nice choices buddy!

  • Alen Residovic

    Nice list! I would replace the BMW M Coupe with the BMW E46 Compact 325 ti, knowing that it has a much better handling than a normal E46, and is shorter and a bit lighter. Also an option to replace the engine with an M3 engine.

    • MikeC

      Actually no.I had 325ti for 3 years and in the end e46 Coupe is better handling car. Yes they tuned the steering etc but if you drive both cars in track, you would notice. Compact understeers and is not as balanced.
      But M Coupe is classic, great car with some tuning.

  • Tom Cardone

    M Coupe or the 330ci ZHP. LOVE

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000404206443 Misha Nikolich

    Great article and nice list, Manny! Having a hard time picking a favorite off your sub 10k list. Ok, I’ll go with the E46 M3 convertible in Carbon Black over Cinnamon brown leather and CSL Comp Pkg wheels. I love the driver focused feel behind the wheel, and oh does it look puurdy with the top down. Plus, I would never tire of the great NA high revving S54 engine – especially with aftermarket exhaust like Rogue Engineering. I would love to have 10 BMWs in my garage at all times!

    • Manny Antunes

      Thanks Misha. E46 M3 is an iconic car. It was a tough choice leaving the E30 m3 off this list. I felt the M coupe was more of a track car then the E30 M3.

  • Anonymous

    Great list.

    I own a 2004 e46 ZHP and there’s no way it’s an M3 without the engine. Aside from the visual bits and a few extra HP, all the parts are the same as a non ZHP and installed the same exact way. There’s no doubt its a great car and I love the rims (more than the M3 rims), but it’s no way near an M3. *IF* it came with an LSD, that would be another story.

    Aside from the one I already own, 5 of your picks were already on my list for my next car and I just added the wagon. (+1 if you swap the cabrio for a coupe).

    • Manny Antunes

      E46 330ci was almost as capable on short tracks as the mighty M3 ;-)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/clintonac Clinton Alexander Campbell

    330ci ZHP FTW!

  • Manchester Man

    In the UK you can EASILY buy a 2006 E92 335i Coupe for £14,000 in the Auto Trader which is around $20,000…. So why didnt you put that in the top 10??

  • Manchester Man

    In the UK you can EASILY buy a 2006 E92 335i Coupe for £14,000 in the Auto Trader which is around $20,000…. So why didnt you put that in the top 10??

    • Manny Antunes

      Here in the US one cannot buy a 335 for $20K. 2007 was the first year and they still command much more than $20K 

    • Manny Antunes

      Here in the US one cannot buy a 335 for $20K. 2007 was the first year and they still command much more than $20K 

  • Dl003

    where is the iconic e30 m3? 

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

       That’s an option also, but hard to find these days.

    • Manny Antunes

      Finding a clean street-able E30 M3 for under $20K is becoming impossible. You see tons of rats for $13K to $15K 

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  • http://twitter.com/EssaysEtcetera Essays Etcetera

    e39 the best – evah!

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  • e90 dork

    An S54 M Coupe for under $20,000? Good luck with that. In the current market you’d be lucky to fin one under $30,000.

  • hagar

    I am quite surprised that a 1991-1996 BMW 830I wasn’t included on this list. You can find ones with miles under 100,000 easily. I found one today that is a one owner with just under 30,000 miles for just under $20,000! If I had the cash I would have bought it today! These cars are a truly amazing feat of engineering for thier time. Not t o mention how strong they run with the growl of 12 cylinders! No quetion this model is overlooked by collectors. I’m hoping to be able and invest in one by this time next year. I can’t see losing $$$ as an investment whatsoever!

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  • Guest

    I’m sorry but for sub 20k you are far better off getting an e46 m3 vs 330ci zhp. Just because you owned one doesn’t mean it’s a 10 best option for under 20 grand.

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      True, those are really good choices.

  • Wills Perkins

    Where can you get an M coupe for that money?

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