Braking the Bank


New car prices are continually on the rise – it seems like only yesterday a decent new car was not much more than £10,000. Well that yesterday may have been over 30 years ago now but there is no denying that even an entry-level BMW is a fair bit of change these days.

While it is true that prices have risen, the quality of what is available for the money has undoubtedly increased even more dramatically. In some ways the motoring public have never had it so good.

Performance is up, emissions are down and some of the latest options on top-of-the-range BMWs were the preserve of supercars not that long ago.

Ah, the options list. Most men spend more time agonising over their new 3 Series’ specifications than they do over the name of their first born, and for good reason too. Tick the wrong box or too many boxes and you could soon be driving around in a £45,000 316d. Even judicious option picking can add thousands of pounds to most models and some extras, such as carbon ceramic brakes for your new M5, will set you back an eye-watering £7395. Surely you could buy an entire BMW for that? Well, as it turns out, you can…

To see just what sort of BMW can be had for this kind of money we took a look at some practical options and a few that are a bit more focused. We went into this endeavour expecting to find nothing more than a few wheezy old bangers staring fearfully at their next MoTs. Instead, thanks to a combination of depreciation and German build quality, we found some truly desirable cars that have much more than a little life left in them.


BMW E90 320d

A company car favourite thanks to its class-leading combination of efficiency and affordability, these cars are equally at home on the open road as they are around the city. The slab-like dashboard design may not be to everyone’s tastes but the exterior styling looks sharp, especially with the optional M Sport trim.

Handling and dynamic ability are still excellent although the decent interior dimensions and good fuel efficiency are perhaps more important for those looking at a four-cylinder diesel derivative.

Our budget gives us a range of options from 2007/2008 all with less than 70,000 miles on the clock. Face-lifted models offer a softer ride, greater reliability and a hike in power from 163hp to 177hp so look out for these. LED rear lights and bonnet grooves are the quickest way to differentiate the pre-and post-face-lift cars.

Avoid the similarly priced but significantly less powerful 318ds which are detuned to 143hp and look for automatic transmission models if you spend most of your time in stop/start driving.

BMW E87 118d

As an alternative to the larger E90 320d, especially for those that do not often venture out of the city limits, a 118d is just the thing. For the price of a set of fancy brake discs you are looking at a 2010 E87 1 Series with fewer than 60,000 miles to its name. Why not a 120d then? Well, the 118d with 143hp has more than enough grunt for its intended role and you pay the same low road tax as the less powerful 116d. A manual gearbox is the way to go on these cars, and while standard equipment is not overly generous you still get electric windows, a decent sound system as well as that great chassis to keep you company.

2007-on face-lift cars have the updated interior and engines, and as these cars were built in the last two years of production, niggling issues found on early cars should have been attended to. A combined average of 62.8mpg and our relatively low fuel prices means that this is one wallet-friendly car to own.

BMW E60 520d

The venerable 2.0-litre diesel makes one more appearance in our list of sensible drives, this time in the form of the E60 520d. For the larger family or for longer motorway trips the comfortable E60 is an excellent choice. With 177hp and 258lb ft of torque the smallest engine choice in the 5 Series doesn’t equate to limp-wristed performance. In fact, in cut and thrust driving and during overtaking manoeuvres this little diesel lump actually outshines its 523i stablemate. A combined average of 55.4mpg also betters every other E60 offering.

Ceramic brake disc money gets you an updated LCI 2007 or even a 2008 520d with under 70,000 miles on the clock. Both the manual and automatic versions are pleasant to drive while specification levels are generally quite generous. 530d and even 535d models can also be found for this price and while the added power and six-cylinder refinement is tempting, you would be looking at very high mileage examples and potentially far steeper running costs.

BMW E85 Z4 Roadster

The E85 generation Z4s were well-built machines that have fared well on the secondhand market. If you want the benefits of open-top motoring in a more efficient and modern package then the Z4 is your car. The Roadster variants were available in a variety of specifications, however, for our money the best bet is the base 2.0-litre four-cylinder car, which replaced the 2.2-litre six-cylinder model in 2005 and offered increased driveability and efficiency for a small performance penalty.

2007 and 2008 models are available at our £7400 price ceiling, some with less than 30k miles. Its face-lift occurred in 2006 and these cars benefit from refreshed exterior colours, newer alloy wheel designs, as well as head- and tail-light updates. Weak spots are few, though check the drainage holes around the hood as pooled water can damage the electric motors. The larger capacity six-cylinder cars can be tempting but fuel costs and maintenance will be higher. Instead, stick to the sweet handling 2.0-litre car and enjoy budget open air motoring.

BMW E46 M3 Convertible

At its launch in 1999, the E46 M3 descended on its opposition like an anvil on some hapless cartoon character’s head. Such was its superiority to the usual suspects that it was regularly compared to contemporary and much more costly Porsche 911s. A superb chassis, great looks and an eight-times ‘international engine of the year’ award winner, these amazing cars are just creeping into our budget range. Admittedly some compromises have to be made and the soughtafter low-mileage manual coupés are not the ones we will be looking at.

Our budget dictates that we limit our choice to the pre-facelift Convertible cars and the odd high mileage coupé. Stick to the manual cars as the early SMG gearboxes are not the pinnacle of smoothness in daily driving. Comprehensive service histories are an absolute must. Steer clear of accident damaged or modified cars. Find a mechanically sound one, perhaps keep a few extra pounds aside for the odd maintenance item and you too can savour one of BMW’s all-time greats. 343hp for a set of brake discs – amazing!

BMW E31 8 Series

Arguably one of BMW’s finest designs, the early ‘90s 8 Series is a truly desirable piece of kit. Over the past few years it has quietly slipped into classic car territory and mint condition examples are now commanding faintly ludicrous prices. Let’s ignore those ones and take a look at the sort of stuff we can get for our budget. While the 300hp V12 850i seems the obvious choice, the later 286hp V8-engined 840Ci is the one to go for. The post-1995 4.4-litre (M62) cars are the most desirable but our budget only allows for the earlier 4.0-litre variants in automatic guise. That’s not necessarily a hardship and the auto ’box does suit the nature of the car well. Mileages will be well over 100,000 miles but if you were the cautious type you would have stopped reading at that nice, economical 320d we reviewed earlier on.

In truth, other than the Nikasil bore issues that would have long since been resolved, these grand tourers aren’t unreliable, it’s just that when they do go wrong they cost an arm and a leg to fix… assuming you can get the parts! Just look at it, though – those lines just seem to keep getting better with age.

BMW E46 330Ci Convertible

The E46 3 Series has developed a reputation as a solid and dependable car and due to its popularity it remains a common sight on our roads. While there are a number of desirable models in this range, the 330Ci Convertible is equipped with a 3.0-litre 231hp engine and looks that still turn heads. It’s arguably the pick of the non-M variants. There are still a number of well-maintained low-milers out there, £7400 getting you the last of the 2005/2006 run-out models.

UK 330Cis came well equipped with 18-inch alloys, a full leather interior and a Harman Kardon sound system as standard. The straight-six powerplant makes all the right noises and while consumption is not particularly stellar, the lag-free, torquey power delivery suits the nature of these cars well. One thing is for sure, more of your friends will be impressed by one of these parked in your driveway than you telling them how fade-free your braking will be when you take your M5 to a track day.

BMW E92 335i Coupé

These efficient diesels and sun-friendly convertibles are all well and good but what about a car for when the traffic thins out and the open road beckons?

That’s when you get behind the wheel of the car that redefined the affordable sports car sector: the 335i. The turbocharged 3.0-litre engine pumps out 306hp but it’s the E92 M3 equalling 295lb ft of torque that gives it that relentless shove in almost any gear. Our carbon ceramic brake disc budget can get us one of the early 2006/2007 twin-turbo cars with around 90k miles on the clock. Most are automatics, which is no bad thing, although the manual cars do offer a bit more driver involvement.

Modified engines can cause extra strain on various components so be wary of chipped examples. Regular oil changes are essential on these early turbos so walk away from cars without a verifiable service history.

The coupé body style has aged well and the E92 335i offers a combination of practicality and performance that makes it a fantastic daily driver while also providing the kind of back road thrills no diesel saloon can match.

BMW E63 645Ci

Retailing at 911 prices when new, the E63 6 Series had its work cut out to persuade punters that it was the car they wanted to buy. While it did not quite deliver the same sort of raw-edged thrills as the Porsche, it was a superior open road cruiser and now that the years have softened the entry fee they make a lot more sense. For our £7400 we have to go back a few years to 2005 where we find a nice range of sub-90,000-mile 645Cis. The majority are automatics but with 333hp at their disposal, performance is still very rapid.

The looks have aged better than expected and the interior is a pleasant place to be although rear seating is best reserved for groceries. Maintenance costs can be prohibitive on high mileage cars but who cares when you have a big capacity V8 with all the toys for this kind of money.

BMW E65 730d

Most of our off-the-wall choices have focused on the fast and furious back catalogue of BMW’s range. For our last car we take a look at BMW’s luxurious depreciation king. The 7 Series has always been the harbinger of technology that eventually permeates down the ranks. For our budget we take a look at the E65 7 Series which in face-lifted form had ironed out most of the issues that plagued the early cars. And as a nod to curbing running costs we will focus on the 730d variant.

While the E65 was not BMW’s finest moment styling-wise, post-2005 models were somewhat de-Bangled and these cars have aged well. Our £7400 ceiling means that 2007 model year 730ds with close on 100k miles are within our grasp. The six-cylinder diesel engine and cavernous interior make for a top-class motorway cruiser and well-looked-after examples should hopefully not cost too much to run. The sheer number of electronic gadgets and motors means that electronic faults are a possibility, however the basic cars are reliable and for this price so what if the rear seat massager doesn’t work?


While few new car buyers specify carbon brakes on their cars, it is astonishing what that sort of money can get you these days. What is even more surprising is that for the £1550 eightspeed auto transmission on an entry-level 1 Series, you could have your pick of perfectly serviceable face-lifted E46 318is! If nothing else, it will at least make you think twice before ticking every optional extra on your new pride and joy.

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Jean-Claude Landry
Jean-Claude is the Senior Editor at, and, and webmaster of He has been a certified auto mechanic for the last 15 years, working for various car dealers and specialized repair shops. He turned towards blogging about cars and EVs in the hope of helping and inspiring the next generation of automotive technicians. He also loves cats, Johnny Cash and Subarus.