If you aspire to a sports or luxury car from BMW, but want to avoid the steep cost of a new model, there's another way to put the Bayerische Motoren Werke badge in your garage. Buying a used BMW can save you thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars.
Like most luxury cars, BMWs take huge depreciation hits in their first few years of ownership, so a preowned BMW becomes an attractive option. BMWs aren't the most reliable vehicles in their respective classes, and their repair expenses can significantly raise your total cost of ownership, but that's one of the prices of chasing German luxury.
BMW has dozens of models available, but some represent greater values than others. Here's your shopping list to get started – the best used BMWs on the market, according to the U.S. News & World Report used car rankings.
2009 BMW X3 (Read Review)
The U.S. News & World Report used vehicle rankings, which consider numerous data points, reveal that the 2009 BMW X3 is the best used BMW available. The X3, a compact SUV, is popular with consumers and represents a functional yet stylish choice for a preowned luxury vehicle.
In general, the BMW X3 is popular because it combines sportiness, comfort, and room for cargo in an attractive and reasonably affordable package. In 2009, the X3 offered only one engine, but critics who drove the 2009 model said it was very responsive and the power was more than adequate. It was the only model in its class to offer a six-speed manual transmission alongside the more popular automatic. Reception to the X3's handling and steering was also generally positive. Opinion differed a bit more when it came to the cabin, with some reviewers believing that BMW should have ponied up for better materials, given the car's price. The 2009 model year X3 earns the highest score in our rankings, but it's safe to look at similar models from 2010 through 2014.
2013 BMW 1-Series (Read Review)
If you've lusted after the BMW 1-Series coupe since before it got canceled, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the 2013 1-Series ranks highly among the best used BMWs. The bad news is that the 2012 model and earlier are not highly ranked.
BMW retired the 1-Series after the 2013 model year, and although it was well-liked among critics for its strong performance and excellent handling, this entry level to the BMW lineup was also noted for being impractical. It scores well in our rankings thanks to its strong reliability, and even though this vehicle wasn't evaluated for crashworthiness, BMW loaded it with standard and optional safety features.
Critics generally agreed that even the base model's engine provides strong performance, and there were several more-powerful engine options available. Still, the 1-Series has very little trunk space, and some reviewers thought the backseat was cramped. That said, the 2013 BMW 1-Series has a high-quality interior, and practicality probably isn't a top priority for potential buyers of preowned sport coupes.
2011 BMW 3-Series (Read Review)
Near the top of the rankings of best used BMWs is the 3-Series, specifically the 2011 model. The 3-Series is a perennially popular small luxury car that's considered a strong overall value. It features a wide range of excellent drivetrains, good safety scores, and above-average reliability.
In 2011, the 3-Series was available as a sedan, a coupe, and a convertible, though many more sedans were sold, so that body style will be easier to find used. When new, critics liked the car's strong engine options, all of which provided plenty of power. One area in which the 2011 3-Series falls short compared to its contemporaries is its interior, according to critics. The backseat is too small for tall passengers, and the design is more functional than upscale. They said, however, that the front seats are comfortable. Thanks to the 3-Series' strong overall value, it usually makes a good used car, with most model years earning above-average reliability scores from J.D. Power and Associates.
2014 BMW 2-Series (Read Review)
BMW introduced the 2-Series in 2014 to replace the 1-Series. This used BMW is recommended because it impressed critics when new, and offers outstanding safety scores. Reliability for the 2014 2-Series, though, is just average, which pushes it lower in our rankings.
Most critics who drove the 2014 BMW 2-Series when it was new like the car because it offers a strong lineup of engines, plus sporty handling and a rear-wheel drive system that complement the car's power. Overall, the 2014 2-Series is considered one of the more fun upscale cars of that year. There are a few downsides. Some hard plastics distract from the overall luxury car feel, and the infotainment system should be more intuitive.
Only the 2014 model year 2-Series qualifies for our rankings, and there might be low inventory of this car on the used market. The supply should expand as the year goes on, however, as three-year leases on the car expire, and those low-mileage and gently used cars come back to dealers. On the upside, the BMW 2-Series is still a relatively new model, and a used 2-Series will blend right in with those fresh off dealer lots.
2014 BMW 4-Series (Read Review)
If the 2-Series coupe sounds like fun but perhaps a bit too small, look at a used 4-Series coupe, which also makes the list of best preowned BMWs. Like the 2-Series, the 4-Series was introduced in 2014, so that's the only model year appearing here.
The 2014 BMW 4-Series is a favorite among reviewers for many of the same reasons as the smaller 2-Series: a powerful engine lineup, fun handling, precise steering, and a long list of standard and available equipment (although at least one critic commented that the excess of features actually distracted from the driving experience). The 4-Series also offers above-average reliability scores and available high-end safety features. The interior was generally well-liked, though some reviewers noted that the backseat is tight. Others wondered why BMW couldn't have done more to distinguish this new model's cabin from the 3-Series sedan, the car is based on. These complaints aside, the 4-Series is a good choice for a used coupe, especially one that still looks new.
2012 BMW 5-Series (Read Review)
A little bit bigger and a bit older, the 2012 BMW 5-Series joins our list of the best used BMWs. The 5-Series is available in sedan and hatchback body styles that fared well in safety testing and have above-average reliability, helping it achieve a high overall score in our rankings.
But, as far as performance goes, critics were slightly less enamored with the midsize 5-Series' driving experience compared to BMW's smaller coupes and sedans. The 5-Series aims to strike a balance between comfort and sportiness, and critics said that achieving the desired sportiness requires upgrading beyond the base model. If it's time to shop for a used 5-Series, the 2010, 2011, and 2013 models also come recommended, as well as 5-Series hybrid models from 2012.
2014 BMW X1 (Read Review)
BMW's smallest SUV, the X1, earns a spot here with its average reliability and above-average safety ratings. While the X1's base engine impressed critics with its lively power, this used compact SUV succeeds mostly because of its handling, efficiency, and comfort.
First things first: The 2014 X1's cabin and cargo area are smaller than those of most competitors in the class. Not everyone needs a large SUV, but backseat passengers should at least be comfortable in an SUV. Potential buyers who can overlook that drawback will probably be pleased with the vehicle's overall performance.
Critics say the base model's four-cylinder engine provides good acceleration, and its EPA ratings are higher than those of some competitors. The optional six-cylinder engine is even more fun to drive, they say. BMW also scores big with the X1's handling, which is sportier and more carlike than most compact luxury SUVs', thanks to its low ride height. If a 2014 X1 proves elusive, try looking for the 2013 model, which also gets decent ratings.
2014 BMW X5 (Read Review)
BMW's luxury midsize X5 is their original sport utility vehicle and is a good choice for buyers who want the utility of an SUV, but need something larger than BMW's other offerings.
The 2014 model year ushered in a new generation of the vehicle, and most critics at the time gave it good reviews, despite its high price. It features average reliability scores, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The X5 seats five, or seven with the optional third-row seat installed. This, of course, sacrifices some of the space in both the second and third rows, but makes the X5 more suitable for large families than any other used BMW SUV or crossover.
Overall, most critics described the X5's interior as very comfortable and praised the vehicle's engine lineup and handling. A used 2014 BMW X5 is a smart way to get the benefits of a current model without the high price. The 2013 X5 also scored decently in our rankings, but it's from the model's previous generation.