In the world of premium automobiles, BMW stands out as a symbol of class, performance, and engineering prowess. However, it’s no secret that BMWs, and other German cars, are not typically known for their affordability. Finding a reliable BMW under $5,000 can indeed be a daunting task. Yet, it’s not impossible. With a keen eye, patience, and the right approach, you can discover a hidden gem that provides the joy of owning a BMW without breaking the bank.

In our opinion, the best BMW under $5k is the BMW E46 3 Series. The fourth generation is easily one of the most popular BMWs of all time and is the best selling model generation in BMW’s history. It is a reliable and fun-to-drive car that offers a good balance of performance, luxury, and comfort. It is also relatively easy to find in good condition for under $5k.

An E46 325i, and even an E46 330i, shouldn’t be too hard to find under $5,000, especially if they come with high mileage. Best part? You can buy both with a six-speed manual which makes them even more exciting to drive. If you’re not keen on the BMW 3 Series, and/or if you need more space and other features, here are some other alternatives:

BMW E38 7 Series

In 1995, BMW introduced the E38 7 Series, and while it marked a significant update, it was more an evolution than a revolution compared to its predecessor. The E38 was a visually striking car, especially considering the era in which it was released. Its design featured a low-slung, flat-nosed hood and wider kidney grilles that gave it an appearance of both sportiness and sophisticated luxury, as if it were poised to conquer the autobahn at speeds of 150 mph. Remarkably, its aesthetics have aged gracefully, retaining their handsome and timeless appeal. Even today, when equipped with the right set of wheels, the E38 7 Series exudes a truly captivating and attractive presence.

BMW E60 5 Series

Often known as the Bangle car, the E60 5 Series comes with a design that doesn’t look dated and is no fluke when it comes to performance either. In the market, you’ll come across numerous BMW E60 5 Series models priced under $5,000. However, it’s important to note that the majority of these offerings tend to be either the base or mid-level trims, or they may have accumulated a substantial number of miles on their odometers.

If your goal is to secure a well-preserved 550i model with relatively low mileage, it’s advisable to prepare a budget ranging from $10,000 to $15,000. This budget range will increase your chances of finding a 550i that has been carefully maintained and hasn’t endured excessive wear and tear over the years.

1996-2002 BMW Z3 (E36/7 & E36/8)

While the Z3 may not have been BMW’s most visually striking car during its time, it has aged gracefully in today’s era of hyper-styled automobiles, and its unassuming aesthetics possess a certain enduring charm. This quirky little car exudes a wealth of character, and it has the remarkable ability to bring a smile to its owner’s face each morning. It can be argued that the Z3 Roadster, with its simple and timeless design, holds a distinct advantage in the looks department.

Even with the recent explosion of used car prices,  some Z3 2.3i Roadster units are still fairly affordable so don’t be surprised to find one below $5,000. Recently, a 1999 BMW Z3 2.3i Roadster sold on Cars and Bids for $6,700. It was a really clean example, with good mileage, in a great color, and looks very well sorted for its age and mileage.

BMW E53 X5

The E53 X5 is arguably one of the most important products BMW has ever launched. The first-generation X5 contributed to reshaping the automotive industry and brought future SUV developments at BMW. In 1999, the concept of BMW venturing into the realm of producing a high-riding luxury SUV appeared almost sacrilegious.

Nevertheless, BMW forged ahead and created the E53 X5, manufacturing it in an entirely new facility right here in America, of all places. Remarkably, nearly two decades later, the BMW X5 stands as one of Bavaria’s top-selling vehicles and ranks among the brand’s most triumphant and iconic models.

It was available with a choice of three engines: a 3.0-liter inline-6, a 4.4-liter V8, and a 4.8-liter V8. Clearly, the 3.0 liter naturally aspirated variants are the more affordable choices.

Which One Would We Pick?

We’ve always had a soft spot for the BMW E46 3 Series. It features a classy design with an analog driving experience, but with plenty of modern tech to make it the perfect daily driver. Or even a weekend fun toy. No matter which BMW you choose, be sure to have it inspected by a mechanic before you buy it. This will help you avoid buying a car with hidden problems.