If you’ve even glanced at the used car market in the last couple of years, you know that used car prices are higher than ever. But, shockingly, you can still get behind the wheel of some pretty neat stuff for less than the cost of a new Kia Soul. Mind you, just under, as a new Kia Soul starts at $20,190. Whether you’re trying to avoid the (literal) penalty box or looking for enthusiast cred on a budget, plenty of interesting BMW vehicles are available to you under $20,000 – even in 2024.

F25 BMW X3

F25 BMW X3 on the road, front

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the first generation of the BMW X3, the sequel does it better. The second generation of the SUV gets you a choice of great turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines, much more modern technology, and a more usable cargo area. It looks a bit better, too, although I suppose that’s subjective. At $20,000, you won’t have to make too many terrible compromises, either. The best pick is a six-cylinder model (rear or all-wheel drive), as the N55 six-cylinder is stalwart and delivers a healthy 300+ horsepower. You can even find M Sport models within your budget, delivering a bit more dynamism courtesy of unique suspension and wheels.


E86 Z4 coupe in blue on the track

The last time we looked at BMWs to buy under $20,000, the Z4 occupied the exact same spot. Unfortunately, the days of finding well-to-do examples of Z4 M Coupes at this price point are mostly gone. While you can still find okay examples of the S54-powered M Roadster, an option like the 3.0si is better unless you have buckets of cash for maintenance or like getting your hands dirty.

Funny enough, you can find a few flavors of Z4 at the $20,000 mark. If you want more modern looks and ergonomics and a turbocharged engine, you can find early E89 models in perfectly serviceable shape. Craving lighter weight and naturally aspirated six-cylinder? Find an E85/E86 Z4 and save a ton of money while you’re at it. Just stay away from the SMG transmission that some of these earlier cars came with.

E46 BMW 3 Series

E46 3 Series in blue on the road

The E46 3 Series has remained a paragon of old-school BMW qualities for nearly two decades. That’s no different in 2024. While you can’t quite get a good E46 M3 these days while sticking to your budget, you still have several good options. I’d opt for a 330i coupe or sedan with a manual transmission and the vaunted ZHP Performance Package.

While you’ll miss out on the high points that make the legendary E46 M3, well, legendary, you’ll also dodge many of the downsides that accompany it. Most commonly, the sleepless nights that can accompany paying for such a maintenance-intensive platform. Pick up a ZHP for a fraction of the M3’s price and enjoy responsibly. If you can’t afford a ZHP car, a later model 330i or 330ci will still do the trick at an even more significant cost savings.

BMW i3

i3 in orange

Spice alert! With EVs gaining market share and OEM support, BMW i3 prices have mostly tanked. That’s great news for shoppers looking for a fun-to-drive city car. I won’t pretend that the i3 works for every lifestyle, and you should also know that I’ve long considered the BMW i3 one of the most underrated cars ever. But there are plenty of aspects for enthusiasts to appreciate about the little EV.

The best thing about the i3 – today and when it debuted – is that it constantly subverts expectations. Original i3 BEVs weighed under 3,000 pounds, lighter than many of the more enthusiast-focused vehicles on this list. Paired with immediate torque and rear-wheel drive, unique looks, and a nice (if unorthodox) interior, you’ve got a clear winner – especially for under $20,000.

E82 BMW 1 Series

1 series coupe side profile in red

Another fan favorite, the BMW 1 Series, is a great choice for enthusiasts. Whether you choose the 135i – boasting a potent N54 or N55 six-cylinder – or the naturally aspirated 128i, you’ll get some of the best driving cars BMW has ever developed. Pair with the six-speed manual or slick dual-clutch automatic available in 2010 and later 135i models for best results. One of the best things about the 1 Series – and 135i, specifically – is that it is a blank canvas. Huge aftermarket support allows you to modify for your use case – racetrack or canyon carving, for example – but you’re just as well leaving it stock and having a daily driver that does pretty much everything well. Except for cargo space and hauling.

E6X BMW 5 Series

How many ways can you enjoy the E60 5 Series? Well, all of them. Manual or automatic, diesel or gas, inline-six or V8, all- or rear-wheel drive, sedan or wagon. Choose the powertrain and body style that works for you, and have fun. There’s only one manual, twin-turbo wagon on this list, and you’re looking at it. While the E60 BMW 5 Series isn’t a traditionally beautiful vehicle, and its newer iDrive and electronics aren’t necessarily the most reliable going on two decades later, it’s a competent driver’s machine. Plus, they’re still a bit of a secret – even nice six-speed wagons can be had for under $20K. Combined with the versatility of many different drivetrains and trims, it’s a clear contender.

E36 BMW 3 Series

E36 3 Series press shot, purple

When we looked at the best BMWs you could buy for under $20,000 two years ago, the E36 M3 was the best choice. Thanks to escalating values, diminishing supply, and, frankly, competition from models that are still depreciating, the E36 M3 isn’t the value it once was. You can still get behind the wheel for less than $20K, but it will either have a zillion miles on it or won’t be the example that does the chassis justice.

That said, non-M3 E36 models are still a great way to enjoy a BMW for much less money than you think. With generally better reliability, more modern ergonomics, a bit more power, and a lower cost of entry than E30 models, it’s simply a better option for many drivers than the E30 when you’re working with a budget of $20K. Need further convincing? Models equipped with the M Sport Package and 2.8-liter engine feel nearly identical from behind the wheel as the neutered, North American-spec M3 at, usually, half of the price.

F30 BMW 335i and 340i Sedan / F32 435i and 440i Coupe

F30 BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series LCI

If you’re an enthusiast living in an urban area, you probably know (or are) “that guy” driving one of these cars. In my case, I know four or five. You can’t swing a deleted cat without hitting one of these cars with a burble tune and a loud exhaust. Alas, you almost can’t blame them when you consider they’re making 380-400 horsepower with maybe $300 in parts if they’re a savvy shopper.

Noise complaints aside, the F3X chassis drives great – even if it lacks the hydraulic steering from E9X and earlier chassis. Combined with perfectly modern amenities and tech, tremendous aftermarket support, and seriously impressive out-of-the-box performance, it’s one of the best values available on the used market, full stop. You can even find ones with a manual transmission, or shell out a couple of extra bucks and get a model (340i/440i) with the vaunted B58 engine. While it’s harder to go wrong with these cars than older BMWs, repairs can still be costly. And at this price point, you will probably need one or two things.