Skip to main content

A new Toyota Camry is a fine car. It’ll get you from A to B, and 99% of the time it’ll do it without issue. For a good number of people, that’s great. That’s all they need. But some, some want a little… sauce. Enter: the cheap BMW car. It might sound like an oxymoron, especially given some Bavarian cars’ reputation for reliability. However, there are some used Beamers you can get for the cost of that Camry that’ll get you from A to B either quickly or with style. Or, better yet, both.

What’s the best BMW under $25,000?

A black E36 M3 shot in profile
The E36 is a killer bargain sports car | Yianni Mathioudakis via Unsplash

Speaking of, this is a car that’ll do both, all for the cost of that new or used Toyota Camry. Meet the E36 generation BMW M3. It’s classically M3. Stick shift, RWD, a manual transmission, and a silky smooth inline 6. Sure, the Europeans got more horsepower than we did for the 1992-1999 BMW M3, but that’s what the aftermarket is. And, just like that Camry, the sedan E36 can be a perfectly usable sports car you can drive every day.

However, there are some caveats. The first of these is color. You’ll need to find one of the more common colors to stay under that new Camry price point. Cars with Daytona Violet Metallic are especially valuable, and doubly so if they’re sedans. You’ll also want a car with the highly desirable “Vader” seats. Thankfully, you can easily find a clean E36 M3 for under $30,000. Or, if you do your research and aren’t scared of some miles, a real bargain can be had, with some selling for under $25,000.

A cheap 3 Series is a killer sports sedan

A white 3 Series coupe shot in a photo booth from the 3/4 angle
2011 BMW 3 Series Coupe | National Motor Museum via Getty Images

However, if 1992-1999 is a little… vintage for your tastes, may we suggest the E9x generation of 3 Series sedan and coupe models. Turbocharging and automatic transmissions were the norm here for BMW, but the driving experience is consistently good. Plus, stick shift models are still around. Well-optioned cars have things like heated (or even ventilated seats), cruise control, and sunroofs.

The real boon for the E9x BMW 3 Series is availability. Unlike faster E92 BMW M3 models, you can find these just about anywhere, and in just about any condition. That means even with the semiconductor shortage heightening demand, you’ll still be able to get a deal on one of these bad boys. Expect to pay at or below $25,000-$30,000 for low-mile examples. Oh, and do try and get a wagon. They’re extra cool.

The BMW 135i is the cheapest fast BMW you can buy

A BMW 135i coupe shot from the front 3/4  at an auto show
The 135i is a $20,000 bargain | Gabriel Bouys via Getty Images

Lastly, we’ll leave you with an excellent example of a modern performance BMW. In many ways, this car is a successor to the coveted E30 M3. Again, RWD, stick shifts, and inline sixes are the norm here, just like the E36. The BMW 135i was highly underrated for a while, but the market is starting to catch on. Expect to pay between $27,000-$30,000 for a nice one. Thankfully, any of these cars will be more fun and interesting than that Camry, even the TRD one.


The Cheap Mazda Miata Is Dead and So Are Affordable Sports Cars