BMW M GmbH takes credit for some of the greatest driver’s cars ever made. And while the ‘M’ stands for ‘motorsport’, these are road cars first and foremost, with a focus on accessible, affordable performance. How affordable? Surprisingly so, if you’re willing to buy second-hand. We searched the Auto Trader classifieds for our M cars of choice.
If the sight of Chris Harris hurling an M2 sideways on Top Gear has whetted your appetite, you’re not alone. BMW’s back-to-basics junior M car has earned a slew of five-star ratings from journalists – including Motoring Research.
This particular M2 has a manual gearbox (the driver’s choice, obvs) and is virtually new, having covered just 175 miles. It’s not cheap, at £52,950, but you can skip the lengthy waiting list.
BMW M3 (E30)
Here’s the car the M2 has been compared to: the iconic E30 M3. There were no E30 M3 coupes for sale on Auto Trader at the time of writing, so we’ve picked the convertible version. Blistered wheelarches and a dog-leg gearbox mark it out as a bona fide homologation special.
The E30 is one of of the fastest-appreciating classics of recent years, which explains how this 136,000-mile convertible can be advertised for a whopping £69,925. We love the period Hartge alloy wheels, but suspect an M3 coupe would be a better investment.
BMW M3 (E46)
If the E30 is out of reach, consider what is now the cheapest M3: the 2000-2006 E46. Powered by a 3.2-litre straight-six that revs to 8,000rpm, it offers savage performance and superb handling. Of all the cars here, it’s the biggest bargain.
We deliberately picked an E46 in our favourite Phoenix Yellow colour. However, for the sake of comfort, we’d prefer 17-inch alloy wheels, rather than the optional 18-inchers seen here. With 110,000 miles on the clock and full service history, this car is advertised for £8,989.
BMW M3 CSL
How about the ultimate E46 M3? Step forward the limited-edition CSL. With 17hp more power, 110kg less weight, a stiffer chassis and retuned suspension, the CSL delivered on BMW’s promise of ‘the ultimate driving machine’.
Today, prices of CSLs far outstrip those of the regular E46 M3. The car seen here, for example, is advertised for £69,990. That said, it’s clearly lived a pampered life, with just 15,355 miles from new. Another fantastic investment – but would you dare drive it?
BMW M5 (E39)
From perhaps the greatest M3 to what many consider the finest M5. The E39 M5 was sold from 1998-2003 and packed a 400hp V8 inside a subtle saloon body. Despite a limited-slip differential, it isn’t averse to going sideways…
This M5 has covered 131,500 miles, but don’t let that worry you. E39s are generally reliable cars, and this one – advertised at £9,500 – comes with full service history. That’s awful lot of metal, not to mention performance, for your money.
BMW M5 (E60)
Got a bit more cash to spend? Good, then you’ll want an E60 M5. The successor to the E39 was on sale from 2005-2010 and is a car utterly dominated by its howling 507hp V10 engine. However, maintenance costs are high and many dislike the SMG semi-automatic gearbox.
If you’re going to take the plunge with an E60, you’ll want a reliable one. That means buying one of the best available – like this 36,500-mile car advertised for a not-inconsiderable £23,995. Then again, that’s still less than a new Golf GTI…
BMW M5 Touring
No, your eyes do not deceive you – this really is an M estate car. The E60 Touring is much rarer than the saloon, with just 1,025 built – versus 19,564 for the four-door. A feral V10 AND the ability to carry an Ikea Billy bookcase? Talk about having your cake…
The Touring’s relative rarity means prices are higher than the equivalent saloon. This 2007 example has covered 67,500 miles and is advertised for £23,995. It’s fully loaded and comes with comprehensive service history, but we’d still recommend a professional inspection before you buy.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe
The M6 Gran Coupe is another rare-groove M car that offers plenty of pace and space, particularly for passengers. Its beautiful design makes BMW’s flagship 7 series look dull and frumpy, but it’s certainly not cheap – at around £95,000 if you buy new.
Indeed, the ad states this sleek black Gran Coupe cost ‘over £100,000 new’. Which makes its £49,995 asking price, with a modest 22,500 miles on the clock, look rather good value. An equipment list longer than your arm includes carbon fibre interior trim, soft-close doors and a surround-view parking camera.
BMW Z3 M Coupe
The Z3 M Coupe is the black sheep of the M family, with controversial styling and hooligan handling. It packs a 244hp straight six into a three-door ‘shooting brake’ estate body. Later, post-2001 cars had 325hp. A slow-seller when new, the M Coupe is now a sought-after classic.
This imported, left-hand-drive M Coupe has just over 50,000 miles on the clock and is advertised for £22,990. The Darka Yellow paint won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we think it suits the extrovert character of the hot Z3. Another M car that is appreciating fast.
BMW Z4 M Coupe
The Z3 M Coupe was followed by this – a car with less divisive looks, but equally punchy performance. A 343hp in-line six gives 0-62mph in 5.0sec and a top speed limited to 155mph. Interestingly, BMW has never made an M version of its successor, the current (E89) Z4.
Rarity and a reputation for being fun to drive mean Z4 M values have stayed strong. This 2006 car has covered 54,000 miles and is advertised on Auto Trader for £17,489. A red leather interior is a nod to German sports cars of old. Or maybe a tribute to TOWIE, depending on your point of view.
BMW Z4 M Roadster
We haven’t forgotten the open-top version of the Z4 M either. In fact, we think the once-controversial, Chris-Bangle-penned lines of this roadster look better with every passing year. A range of petrol engines was available, from a 150hp 2.0 upwards. But the brawny Z4 M is the one we really want.
This 2006 Z4 looks fantastic on 19-inch alloy wheels, and the vendor promises it ‘sounds superb’, too. It’s offered at £12,495 with 85,000 miles on the clock. This, or a Lotus Elise with less than half the power?
BMW M4 Convertible
Staying with drop-top M cars, here’s the latest M4 convertible. With 425hp coursing through its rear tyres, it’ll hit 62mph in 4.3sec (4.6sec with a manual ’box) and blow-dry your hair faster than, well, a hairdryer. The M4 isn’t the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to handling, so the convertible version makes sense. It’s a cruiser AND a bruiser…
The M4 was only launched in 2014, so it’s still a relatively pricey used buy. This 2015 car has covered 4,000 miles and is offered for £54,994 – a useful saving after all the extra-cost options, such as memory seats, a reversing camera and BMW Professional navigation, are taken into account. What do you mean you don’t like white with red leather?
BMW M3 Convertible (E36)
The E36 M3 Convertible is a more affordable way into an open-top M car, particularly as most enthusiasts prefer the coupe or saloon. Like the latest M4, it’s a slightly softer take on the M formula, with a muscular six-cylinder engine and plenty of standard kit.
Many E36 cabrios fell into the wrong hands and the car developed a bit of an image problem. Fortunately, it’s now being recognised as a credible classic. This later Evo model has covered 68,042 miles and is advertised for £12,925 – about a quarter of what you’d pay for a new M4.
BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Oooof – now we’re talking. The 1 Series M Coupe is another car frequently mentioned in the same breath as the new M2. Launched in 2011, only 6,309 examples of this 340hp turbocharged terror were built. Savage performance and balletic handling meant it immediately took its place among the M car greats.
The 1 Series M Coupe (often referred to simply as the ‘1M’) is famous for being completely depreciation-proof. It cost £40,000 when new and here, five years later and with 18,750 miles on the clock, is a Valencia Orange example for £47,950. Five years of fun and a tidy profit? Sounds like win-win.
Officially, the M135i isn’t a ‘proper’ M car. Still, who can argue with the idea of a six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive hot hatch? Especially when said hatch packs 326hp and hits 62mph in 5.1sec. The latest Ford Focus RS may have stolen its crown, but the BMW still offers plenty of driver appeal.
The M135i is also looking conspicuously good value – as a brief browse of Auto Trader reveals. This 2013 car costs less than half the £32,000 BMW asks for a new M140i – the upgraded, 2016 version of the M135i. It also has a manual gearbox, although we’d be equally happy with the excellent – and more common – paddle-shift automatic.
BMW purists, look away now: this is about to get controversial. In 2009, M division turned its attention to an SUV for the first time. And while car journalists wrung their hands in distress, many buyers loved the idea of a hot X5 to take on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. The original X5M seen here had 555hp. The latest version has 575hp.
Described in the ad as a ‘sports activity vehicle’, this X5M certainly looks the part, with bright Monte Carlo Blue paint and 20-inch alloy wheels. Not sure how family-friendly a white leather interior is, though. A 2010 car with 45,440 miles on the clock, it’s listed on Auto Trader at £27,850.
If you thought THAT was controversial, prepare to spit out your tea. The X6M is a coupe, SUV and M car rolled into one. Some will question the point of shoehorning a 555hp V8 into something that weighs 2.3 tonnes, but others rate the X6’s high driving position and in-yer-face styling. You pays your money…
How much money are we talking? Well, unlike some M cars, the X6 certainly isn’t depreciation-proof. This car would have cost nearly £90,000 when new in 2011, but is now advertised for a third of that price. The Melbourne Red paint suits it, we think.
Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo
BMW has never built a diesel M car, so the D3 Bi-Turbo fills that void. It hits 60mph in a brisk 6.9sec, yet returns official fuel economy of 50.4mpg. No petrol-engined M gets close to that. If you cover a lot of motorway miles, the rare and subtly cool Alpina makes a lot of sense.
This D3 looks fab on trad-Alpina multi-spoke alloys, and also features a rare, suede-wrapped Alpina steering wheel. The odometer reads 79,304 miles, but its condition is described as ‘excellent’. If we found £11,950 down the back of the sofa, we’d be tempted.
Most famous for its role in James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, the Z8 isn’t an M car either. However, it is one of the fastest and most desirable BMWs ever made, which qualifies it for a place here. It borrows its 400hp V8 from the E39 M5 and cost £80,000 when new.
You’ll struggle to find a Z8 for £80,000 now, though. This lovely 2002 example has covered just 7,200 miles and is priced at £199,995. Welcome to the world of investment-grade classic cars. We love the Z8’s styling, which is heavily influenced by the classic 507 roadster, but its chintzy retro interior is perhaps a step too far.
Bang-up-to-date with the BMW i8, another car that would almost certainly wear an M badge if it wasn’t the flag-bearer for BMW’s new electric ‘i’ sub-brand. The Z8 sprints to 62mph in 4.4sec and returns an official 134.5mpg. Oh, and it looks like the Batmobile. What’s not to like?
There’s no such thing as a cheap i8 – the cheapest example on Auto Trader at the time of writing was £75,000. That’s still a useful saving over the car’s £105,000 new price, though. And just think how much money you’ll save on fuel…