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It happened. The E46 M3 you wanted is out of your budget. Well, you still have an opportunity at a composed, smile-inducing driver’s car without ditching your affinity for a BMW badge. Enter the E82-generation BMW 128i, a lightweight fighter in a halfway-decent three-piece suit. 

A short wheelbase, a throaty inline-six, and a manual transmission establish a used BMW 128i as a standout among driver’s car bargains

You walk out to your favorite parking space. Fortunately, a BMW 128i awaits you, short wheelbase and hardtop presenting an unorthodox silhouette. You take the driver’s seat, thumbing the push button ignition and bringing a 230-horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-six-cylinder engine to life. You smile. 

That’s the appeal of the now 16-year-old E82-generation BMW 128i and its 3.0L N52 mill. So it’s not an E46 M3. So what? The 1 Series is a short wheelbase, budget-friendly recipient of aftermarket parts looking forward to your Autocross, drift, or canyon-carving adventures. Better yet, the naturally aspirated N52 revs compliantly, meaning you likely won’t tire of your affordable BMW Coupe

I checked out your options for a sensibly priced, clean-title 128i, and the options are there. For instance, I found several enticing 128i Coupes for well under $15,000, including several six-speed manual coupes. However, if you’re willing to compromise on mileage or title status, you can find a six-cylinder 1 Series for considerably less. 

An E82 BMW 1 Series, like the 128i or 135i parks on a platform.
An E82 BMW 1 Series | BMW

To add to the 128i’s appeal, Donut Media calls the E82 BMW 128i one of their “Best Cars Under $10,000” for sports car fans to buy in 2024. Knowing the crowd at Donut, they’re looking at driver’s car credentials through and through, citing the E82 1 Series’s 50/50 weight distribution and willingness to accept performance parts from siblings like the various 3 Series performers in the Bavarian marque’s lineup. “Lego status?” Love it. 

That said, if you don’t want a short-wheelbase BMW Coupe, the 128i was available as a convertible as well. Of course, you’ll be compromising on rigidity. That said, if you want an eight-cylinder sports car for the summer, you might be better off with an S197 Mustang. Check out the 128i in the video below!