Say you have $24,095 tucked away in the bank for a sedan. If you’re like most car buyers, you’ll probably find yourself on the Toyota Camry webpage. There’s really nothing wrong with that; in fact, the Toyota Camry ranked as one of the best-selling vehicles in the country last year. To make you feel even better, Kelly Blue Book rated the Camry as 2018’s number 1 best-selling sedan in the United States. But does the Camry’s popularity really mean that it’s the best option for a $24,095 budget? What if you can buy an ‘ultimate driving machine’ instead of an ‘econobox?’ Enter the BMW M3.
Which BMW M3 can You Buy for $24,095?
A brand-new 2019 Toyota Camry starts at $24,095. The M3, regarded as an aspirational high-performing machine, is logically more expensive. If you’re looking to buy a brand-new M3, expect a price range of $60,000 to $80,000. But if you know how and where to look, there are tons of great bang-for-the-buck M3s in the used car market around the $24,095 budget range.
Believe it or not, you can get a used E36 M3 at around $8,000, leaving you with a bit of cash left to repair, replace, or upgrade certain parts. If, however, you don’t want an E36, there are also E46 models (2000-2006) within the same price range. Though the M3 is a used car, it still has a more powerful engine and sportier drive than the Toyota Camry.
BMW M3: What’s good?
Remember, this isn’t the 3-series but the actual German high-performance machine M3. There is quite a gap there that needs to be established. That ‘M’ is what sets the bar even higher, making the point even more interesting. The M in M3 means Motorsport, which is the high-performance counterpart of the 3-Series sedan. BMW Motorsport is the German marque’s racing program that has been around for 47 years now. To guarantee good German racing breed, all M models are tested at BMW’s private facility at the Nürburgring circuit in Germany.
Comparing the M3 and the Camry; the former is clearly the safe buyers’ favorite while the latter caters to the more adventurous as it exhibits a whole level of power, handling, and driving excitement which it gets from some of the most iconic engines in history.
BMW M3s You can Buy Cheaper than the Camry
- M3 ‘E36’ (1992-1999)
The M3 E36 line is an only-coupe version of the 3-Series. It is powered by either a 3.0 S50 or 3.2-liter S52 in-line six engine paired with a 5-speed manual or automatic, as well as a 6-speed manual or sequential manual gearbox (SMG) transmissions. You can probably find a 1999 M3 E36 with decent mileage for $4,498 on CarGurus. But before you go and get the E36, it’s best to know some of its more common quirks. The M3 E36 is widely known for having issues with the factory radiator and faulty water pumps. Make sure you check on these things first before finalizing with the seller.
Average price range: $4,498-$22,000
Engine: S50 and S52 straight six
- M3 ‘E46’ (2000-2006)
The much-later model E46 bests out the E36 with a relatively newer 3.2-liter S54 in-line six engine and restyled exterior. It still shares some of the components found on the E36 but it is way faster, stronger, and more luxurious than its predecessor. It was available in coupe and convertible variants, which gives buyers a sense of personalization. More interestingly, BMW was able to maintain a passable vehicle weight not far from the E36. The only downside that some car enthusiasts find is when it comes to reliability, where the E46 is somewhat inferior compared to the E36. If you’re leaning more towards buying an E46, beware of a few common problems you might face. Some owners have complained about cooling system issues, unreliable rear shock mounts, axle failures, as well as faulty rear springs. To avoid possible inconvenience, make sure you thoroughly inspect the unit.
Average price range: $7,000-$30,000
Engine: S54B32 straight six
- M3 ‘E90/E92/E93’ (2007-2013)
The fifth generation model consists of the E90, E91, E92, and E93. This line of the M3 series, except the E91, was the first to be equipped with BMW’s S65 V8 engine and a dual-clutch transmission. Due to multiple product coding in this generation, some people use E9X as its pseudo-code. It also features a curvier exterior design that sets it apart from the previous semi-boxy bodies of the E36 and E46. The E9X is also the closest to the present model that you can buy under the $24,095 budget. Among the things you need to take note of are headlight and fog lamp moisture, transmission condition, and its ECU’s status.
Average price range: $14,985-$40,000
Engine: S65 V8
So, which M3 is best?
Wondering which of the three M3 generations to buy? A lot of enthusiasts will still root for the E36 due to its overall reliability. It also is a shot of nostalgia due to its semi-boxy and conservative exterior design. If you can find an E30 (1986-1991) that’s close to the $24,095 budget, it definitely is the best option as it is already considered a collector’s car. Meanwhile, the M3 E9X offers irresistible technology and comfort so it’s also a solid choice. If you base it on price, however, going for the E36 ($8,000-$15,000) and having an extra $9,000-$16,000 is a sweet deal as you could optimize select areas of the car that you want to enhance without exceeding your budget.
Many car buyers tend to get intimidated by the used car market. Oftentimes, people worry about getting scammed and ending up with a car that has a ton of issues. But while these dangers always exist, a bit of research and the courage to ask a ton questions can be your best line of defense. Be sure to inspect the unit thoroughly and don’t be afraid to ask about the car’s history. You can even bring a more knowledgeable friend with you if you have one. In the end, the used car market can definitely be a scary place. But if you remain patient, it’s also a great place to find that diamond in the rough.