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It might be one of the cheapest BMWs, but the 3 Series is also one of the brand’s most important models. In many fans’ eyes, it’s the embodiment of BMW’s traditional values, particularly where driving prowess is concerned. That’s true even for models without M badges, especially older ones. And fortunately, those older 3s are often more affordable than you might think. One of those bargain buys is up for grabs this week on Bring a Trailer: a 2004 BMW 325Ci.

A 2001-2005 BMW 325Ci isn’t as fast as an M3, but it still handles like an E46 3 Series

A gray 2004 BMW 325Ci on pavement
2004 BMW 325Ci | BMW
2001-2005 BMW 325Ci
Engine2.5-liter ‘M54’ inline-six
Horsepower184 hp
Torque175 lb-ft
TransmissionsFive-speed manual
Five-speed automatic
Curb weight3197 lbs
0-60 mph time7.0 seconds (manual, Car and Driver)

The E46 M3 is often considered a high-water mark, not just for the 3 Series, but for BMW. With a zingy gem of an inline-six, stellar handling, but enough comfort for daily use, the E46 M3 remains a hallmark sports sedan. However, though it has notable chassis and suspension upgrades, it’s still built on the E46 3 Series’ bones. And those bones also underpin the 2001-2006 BMW 325Ci.

The E46 325Ci stems from a time when BMW naming conventions were extremely logical. ‘3’ for ‘3 Series,’ ‘25’ for its 2.5-liter engine, ‘i’ for fuel injection, and ‘C’ for ‘coupe.’ And it’s a real coupe, not a rakish ‘Gran Coupe’ sedan. That technically makes the 325Ci the predecessor to today’s BMW 4 Series.

Compared to the M3 and even the 330i ZHP, the 2001-2005 BMW 325Ci might not seem like much on paper. However, its smooth engine, excellent weight distribution, stellar suspension, and “’beautifully direct and nicely weighted’” steering let it triumph over the contemporary A4, Mercedes C-Class, and Lexus IS300 in Car and Driver’s hands. And the Infiniti G35 beat it mostly because of extra power and lower initial price.

Yes, the 2001-2005 BMW 325Ci isn’t as well-equipped technology-wise as the latest 3 Series. But that simplicity becomes a virtue in the used market. And, more importantly, it takes just a few minutes behind the wheel to demonstrate why BMW enthusiasts praise this era of cars so much.

You can bid on this bargain 2004 model on Bring a Trailer

The 2004 BMW 325Ci currently listed on Bring a Trailer should be an excellent way to validate that last statement.

It may have an automatic, but it also has four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, stability control, traction control, and that refined M54 inline-six. Also, it has a zero-accident history and just over 44,000 miles on the clock. Plus, the seller re-upholstered the headliner, sunroof cover, and pillars last month. And the only flaws are some cracks and chips on some center-console plastics. In short, this coupe is clean.

In addition to its excellent condition, this 2004 BMW 325Ci is also well-equipped. On top of the previously-mentioned features, it has fog lights, power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable seats, and automatic climate control. It ‘just’ has leatherette upholstery, but it also has wood trim and a BMW Business CD audio system. And a previous owner replaced the diver’s airbag assembly in 2017.

Is a 2004 BMW 325Ci reliable?

As of this writing, this 2004 BMW 325Ci is currently listed at $4700 with four days left in the auction. The cheapest 325Ci with similar mileage on Autotrader costs roughly 2.5 times as much. In short, this clean coupe is also a certified cheap buy.

Since this is a used luxury car, getting a pre-purchase inspection is still a solid idea. But overall, a non-M E46 like this 325Ci is generally a reliable car. Yes, you still have to deal with things like water pump and VANOS failure. However, those are high-mileage problems—and modern replacement parts are much sturdier. Also, the M54 doesn’t have rod-bearing problems like the E46 M3’s S54 engine.

In addition, Mike Kent of BMW expert shop Enthusiast Auto Group praised the M54 inline-six engine when I spoke with him recently. The only suggestions he made were to replace the DISA valve in the air intake and make sure the oil pump nut is secured properly. But otherwise, it’s a sturdy powertrain.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to experience BMW at its peak, this 325Ci could be your budget-friendly entry ticket.

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