There are a number of unique considerations to think about when you are buying your first car. If you are a first-time driver you want a vehicle that is not going to cost a small fortune in insurance. Crash ratings and high mileage reliability are also likely important things to think about.
If you are looking for a good first car BMW might be on your radar. But you probably have some concerns given their reputation as expensive cars with costly maintenance. So does a BMW make a good first car?
A BMW can make a good first car, but it depends on the model. A new model BMW makes a very poor first car because they are extremely expensive, maintenance is high, and insurance is costly. But older model BMWs are cheap to maintain, reliable, and are extremely safe cars.
In this article, you will see that some BMWs make pretty good first cars, while others do not. I am speaking from experience here because when I was sixteen my dad bought me a 1995 BMW 318i as my first car. It was a slug, but it had all of the qualities of a good first car.
So why do some BMWs make good first cars?
There are lots of things to consider when buying a first car for a new driver, especially if that driver is a teenager. We all know that teenagers are far more likely to get into collisions and get speeding tickets than other age groups. In addition, the cost to insure a teenage driver varies from expensive to insane.
Given those circumstances, you would never consider buying a new Mustang or Camaro for a sixteen year old, not even one with some age on it. You want a vehicle that is safe, cheap, reliable, and won’t cost too much in insurance.
BMWs are not known for being cheap, reliable, or inexpensive to insure. In fact, according to finder.com, it costs $2,136 a year on average to insure the new BMW 3 Series. That is nearly $1,000 above the national average!
BMWs are luxury vehicles and a new 3 Series BMW will set you back $40,000 at a minimum. That is a lot of money, and even though I have mentioned in other articles that the sticker price declines quickly due to depreciation, you still end up paying for it in high maintenance costs.
So why on earth would I say that some BMWs make good first cars? Because the numbers I just gave you only apply to brand new BMWs.
If we look at a 2001 BMW 330i we get a very different picture. The average car costs between $4,000-$4,500, you can pay a little more for one in excellent condition with very low mileage. I quickly found car insurance for this vehicle for $1,080 a year, and I am a 24 year old driver with two speeding tickets over the past few years, and I live in Washington D.C. Finally, the maintenance on BMW E46s is generally significantly lower than what you would find in newer model BMWs. Yes, these cars are getting old and rubber components will need to be replaced if they have not been already, but you aren’t going to be finding yourself having to drop large sums of money every few months to replace faulty electronic bells and whistles.
So now that I have established that at least some BMWS make good first cars, I want to give you some advice on which BMWs you should be looking at for a first car.
You can check out an in-depth article on overall BMW reliability here.
Which BMWs make the best first cars?
Here is a list of the best BMWs for new drivers. I have personally owned several E36s and E46s and they are phenomenal cars.
The E46 is getting a little old at this point but I still believe it is the best BMW you can buy for a first car. I have owned quite a few E46s over the years due to my business of parting out/buying and selling BMWs. They were all excellent vehicles, easy to repair and maintain, not to fast for a new driver, and they are cheap.
You can find a good BMW E46 for under $5,000 and these vehicles are built like tanks. They do have one weak spot, the coolant system, but you won’t find a 3 Series BMW owner out there that does not have a complaint about the coolant system.
My only word of caution in buying one for a teenager is to stay away from the M3. The M3s are far more expensive, have more horsepower, a sports package, and they significantly cost more to insure.
Overall, these vehicles are fun to drive, reliable, and can be purchased inexpensively. The BMW E46 is the best option for a first-time driver. You can check out an extensive review on BMW E46s here.
Until recently I would have recommended the E36 as the best BMW for a new driver. My very first car was a 1995 BMW 318i, and when someone rear-ended me in college I stuck with BMW. I even stuck with the same generation, I got a 1996 328i, which lasted until my brother blew the head gasket a year ago.
These cars are gorgeous, extremely inexpensive to maintain, and they make a very slow option if you are worried about a new driver cruising too fast. Actually, that is the reason why my dad bought me a 318i as my first car, they are as slow as molasses. The 1995 318i featured a 1.8-liter engine with 138 horsepower. For some perspective, a new 2 liter Honda Civic has 158 horsepower, and Civics certainly are not known for having any speed.
The 318i is slow, but it is dirt cheap to insure, and you can rest assured that your new driver won’t get any speeding tickets in this vehicle. In addition, they are extremely easy to maintain. They have very few problems and any issues you might have can generally be repaired in no time.
The only reason that the BMW E36 is not at the top of my list is that I have to recognize that these vehicles are getting old. They are now entering classic car age, and good examples with decent mileage are getting harder to find.
You can check out an extensive review of the BMW E36 here.
BMW 1 or 2 Series
The 1 and 2 Series are grouped together in this article because although they are different models, they are very similar. Both models are small, entry-level, and have similar engine specs. Yes, they look different to some degree, but for the purposes of a first car they don’t vary that considerably.
These two models are the only new BMWs on this list and this is because they have a solid reputation for reliability, the highest owner satisfaction out of any BMW, and they feature smaller engines than other BMW models.
The biggest drawback with a 1 or 2 Series is that even if you are looking for a used model you are likely going to dish out at least $6,000 and probably more to get a decent example. Most of these vehicles are still relatively new and therefore they will cost more than the E36 or E46.
The worst BMWs for first cars
It is getting harder and harder to avoid BMWs with turbocharged engines because BMW puts stock turbochargers in many of its vehicles now. I believe every single F30 3 Series is turbocharged now, but your probably not looking for an F30 for a new driver anyways. BMW did not start installing stock turbochargers until the E90 generation in 2006. But at the time BMW only installed turbochargers on some of its models.
Turbocharged engines tend to be more expensive to insure and they require significantly more maintenance than non-turbocharged engines. I recommend a blanket ban on buying turbocharged BMWs for a first car.
Stay away from any M model BMWs
M3s and M4s are a hell of a lot of fun. They are quick, attractive, and the handling is superb. The M model is BMWs high-performance sports cars. They come with performance upgrades and they have larger engines than the base model vehicles. But M model BMWs are also expensive to buy, and expensive to insure. In terms of insurance, BMW’s M model is comparable to Ford’s Mustang GT. You would never buy a new driver a Mustang GT would you? Then you probably would not get a new driver an M model BMW.
All BMWs are luxurious to some degree, but some have more bells and whistles than others. I’m specifically talking about the 7 and 8 Series BMWs.
Why would I tell you to stay away from BMW models that are more luxurious? Because not only are they expensive to buy, but they are also extremely expensive to maintain. Don’t be fooled when you see a 7 Series with some age on it selling for pennies on the dollar. The 7 Series traditionally depreciates faster than any other BMW because it is so expensive to maintain.
If unreliability and costly maintenance are not enough to scare you, then perhaps the fact that these BMWs typically come with V8 engines will steer you away. 7 and 8 Series BMWs are usually the most expensive to maintain besides the M models.
Some BMWs actually make pretty good first cars. My first car was an old BMW and even though it wasn’t much faster than a snail I stilled loved it. Overall, it was cheap to buy, easy to maintain, and inexpensive to insure. That is pretty much all the factors you look for in a first car. If you decide on a BMW as a first car follow my advice. Stay away from the bad apples, and check out some of my recommended BMWs and you won’t be sorry!