BMW 1 Series F20 blue in a corner

4 Best BMW Models to Get as Your First Car (On a Budget)

Do you have your eyes set on getting a BMW for your first car? We hear you!

BMW has a well-deserved reputation for being among the best in the automotive industry.

But when it comes to picking out your first BMW, where do you even begin?

We’re here to make this exciting journey a little easier for you.

We’ve compiled a list of four BMW models that we think would be fantastic as your first taste of the BMW driving experience.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Top 4 BMW models for a beginner

We’ve handpicked four BMW models that we believe are ideal for beginners, and here’s why:

  • Relatively affordable. BMW is a luxury brand, and its cars can be pricey. But these models won’t necessarily break the bank, especially when buying used ones.
  • Relatively low maintenance costs. These BMWs are known for their lower-than-average maintenance costs. That’s a big plus when you’re just starting.
  • Relatively low insurance costs. The insurance rates for these BMWs are on the lower side compared to other models in the lineup.
  • Relatively reliable. These models are known for their durability, offering you peace of mind.

Let’s start with the first contender!

1. BMW 1 Series

2012 135i owner here with 75k miles. Honestly it’s my fav car I’ve ever owned. Will probably keep it for life. Even if I ‘upgrade’ to something like a F80 M3.

Ticktocktoe, BMW 1 Series owner (source)
BMW 1 Series F21 LCI silver

The 1 Series is an excellent entry-level BMW, allowing you to dip your toes into BMW’s lineup without making a massive dent in your wallet.

In terms of reliability and maintenance costs, the BMW 1 Series performs well.

Although some models suffer from timing chain issues, it’s generally considered reliable with proper care and maintenance.

As for upkeep, while costs are generally higher than for non-luxury brands (as with all BMWs), they are on the lower end within the BMW range thanks to the vehicle’s smaller size and simpler mechanics.

For those considering a used 1 Series, we recommend the models produced from 2012 onwards.

These later models have more advanced technology, better fuel efficiency, and improvements in ride quality. The BMW 120d is a popular choice for its balance of performance and fuel efficiency.


  • Affordability. The 1 Series is the most affordable option in the BMW lineup, making it an excellent choice for first-time buyers.
  • Handling and performance. Despite its lower price point, the 1 Series still offers the outstanding driving dynamics BMW is known for. It’s really not as underpowered as you might think!
  • Fuel efficiency. Its smaller size and efficient engines make the 1 Series one of the more economical BMWs.
  • Technology. Don’t be fooled by its price point – the 1 Series offers an impressive range of tech features. For instance, most newer models include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.


  • Interior space. The compact design is perfect for city navigation, but the trade-off is a slightly tight interior space, especially for those in the back seats.
  • Less luxurious feel. Although well-built, the 1 Series’ interior doesn’t quite have the same luxurious feel compared to higher-end BMW models.

Reader’s tip: Used BMW 1 Series: To Buy Or Not To Buy? (The Pros & Cons)

2. BMW 2 Series

I’ve owned a 2016 228i and like it a lot. Zero reliability problems, fun to drive, comfortable. That said it’s relatively low miles, and I’d recommend against owning one with 80k miles or more

Rosco, BMW 228i 2 Series owner (source)
BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe F44

Now, if you love what the 1 Series offers but want something more unique, let’s check out the BMW 2 Series.

The 2 Series is like the 1 Series’ slightly cooler sibling. It sacrifices some practicality but offers a sportier styling.

Although the BMW 2 Series generally isn’t seen as the most reliable BMW, its common parts with the 1 Series mean it will probably be sufficiently dependable.

When shopping for a used 2 Series, look for models produced after 2017, when a major redesign occurred.

This refresh introduced updated LED head- and taillights, as well as a redesigned dashboard. The BMW 228i and M235i models, in particular, offer an excellent blend of performance and value.


  • Sporty performance. From the 230i to the high-performance M2, the 2 Series has a range of powerful engine options to satisfy every driving enthusiast.
  • Convertible option. Fancy some wind in your hair? The 2 Series is one of the few BMWs available as a convertible, making it a great choice for those who enjoy open-air driving.


  • Rear seat space. The rear seats can be very tight in the 2 Series, especially in the coupe and convertible models.
  • Price point. The 2 Series is slightly more expensive than the 1 Series, which could be worth considering.

3. BMW 3 Series

I bought a neglected ’05 330xi in my teens as my first car. Luckily I’m into doing my own work, and it taught me tons of mechanic skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned.

Disastrophe, bought a BMW 3 Series as their first car (source)
BMW 3 Series 340i F30 LCI

Let’s continue with one of the most popular models in BMW’s lineup – the BMW 3 Series.

This one’s a crowd favorite, and for a good reason.

The 3 Series strikes a winning balance between luxury, performance, and practicality, which makes it a stellar choice for your first BMW.

If you’re considering a used 3 Series, post-2015 models are a great choice as they incorporate upgrades to interior quality and technology.

For a full breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages, take a look at our article covering the pros and cons of buying a BMW 3 Series here!

Also, it’s worth mentioning that some models are cheaper to insure than others. For example, the BMW 325i tends to be the cheapest 3 Series to insure.


  • Versatility. The 3 Series is available in various body styles – including sedan, wagon, and the four-door coupe Gran Turismo.
  • Performance. Although it can’t be called a sports car, the 3 Series provides a thrilling driving experience that is quintessentially BMW.
  • Interior quality. Inside, you’ll find a modern cabin packed with high-quality materials and advanced technology.
  • Longevity. One of the standout features of the 3 Series is its longevity. With regular maintenance, a BMW 3 Series can last at least 250,000 miles!


Learn more: BMW 3 Series: Which Years To Avoid & To Buy? (2024 Guide)

4. BMW Z3

I drove a 2001 Z3 for years and still own it, though it mostly sits in a garage looking pretty nowadays. It has 200k miles on it and still drives like a champ. It was my second car I purchased when I was 19, no regrets. What everyone else is saying, preventative maintenance and she should treat you well, I know mine did.

Jelmer, 2001 BMW Z3 owner (source)
BMW Z3 2.8i Roadster light blue

If you appreciate a touch of retro style and the thrill of open-air driving, the Z3 might just be the perfect first BMW for you.

The BMW Z3 will definitely stand out from the crowd, and let’s not forget it was even featured in the ‘GoldenEye’ James Bond film!

The Z3 is generally dependable for its age, but it’s crucial to find a well-maintained example and continue to care for it diligently.

So, if you’re looking to buy a used Z3, we recommend getting a thorough pre-purchase inspection, as this can reveal potential issues related to its age.

And if you have the budget, the six-cylinder models, such as the Z3 2.8 and 3.0, are amazing for their smooth and powerful performance.


  • Unique styling. With its long hood, compact body, and classic roadster silhouette, the Z3 has a retro charm guaranteed to turn heads.
  • Fun to drive. Thanks to its rear-wheel drive layout, balanced handling, and responsive engines, the Z3 is the kind of car that brings joy to every journey.
  • Convertible experience. The Z3’s soft-top convertible design lets you take full advantage of sunny days and starlit nights.
  • Affordability. Given its age, the Z3 can often be found at attractive prices on the used car market.


  • Age. The Z3 was produced from 1995 to 2002, so it doesn’t offer the same modern technology and safety features as newer BMW models.
  • Practicality. As a two-seater roadster, the Z3 isn’t the most practical choice if you regularly need to transport more than one passenger or larger items.

Should you get a used BMW as your first car?

If you’re considering a BMW as your first car, one question you might be wrestling with is whether to buy a new or used one.

Let’s be real – BMWs aren’t exactly cheap, and the thought of saving some hard-earned cash by going the used route can be pretty tempting.

So, is a used BMW a good idea for your first car? Let’s unpack this a bit.

As mentioned, price is a big benefit when buying a used BMW. Depreciation can take a significant toll on BMWs, meaning you can often find used models just a few years old for a fraction of their original price:

BMW 3 Series depreciation curve infographic

Additionally, buying a used BMW can give you access to higher-end models and features that might be out of reach in a new car.

On the flip side, it’s important to remember that BMWs, especially the performance models, can be pretty expensive to maintain and repair. Parts are typically pricier than for non-luxury brands, and if you’re buying used, you may encounter these costs sooner.

That’s why it’s crucial to find a used BMW that’s been well cared for.

A thorough inspection by a trusted mechanic and a vehicle history report from a company like carVertical prior to purchase is a must.

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You’ll want to know the car’s full history, including maintenance records, accident history, and any potential issues.

In general, the sweet spot for buying a used BMW is often a car that’s a few years old – new enough to still be in great shape and to feature some of the latest technology but old enough that depreciation has made it a good deal!

What is the most reliable BMW?

BMW Z4 red

When buying a BMW, reliability is a significant factor to consider.

After all, while the thrill of driving a BMW is unbeatable, you don’t want to spend your time (or money) dealing with unexpected breakdowns or frequent repairs.

So, which BMW models are known for their reliability?

Based on a range of reliability surveys and consumer reports, a few models consistently rise to the top:

  1. BMW Z4. The Z4, BMW’s stylish roadster, has consistently been praised for its reliability, with a 9.2/10 reliability rating on iSeeCars.
  2. BMW 3 Series. As we’ve already discussed, the 3 Series is a dependable choice. They’re known for their longevity, with many owners reporting that their 3 Series cars have sailed past the 250,000-mile mark with regular maintenance.
  3. BMW 5 Series. The 5 Series is a step up in terms of luxury and space and also scores well on reliability.
  4. BMW 7 Series. If you’re after ultimate luxury and don’t mind a higher price tag, the 7 Series is also a reliable choice. Models from recent years have shown strong reliability ratings, making them a solid choice for a luxury sedan.
  5. BMW M5. Surprisingly, the high-performance M5 also makes the list. Despite its powerful engine and complex technology, the M5 has earned a reputation for reliability with an 8.4/10 reliability ranking on iSeeCars.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into the reliability of BMWs, be sure to check out our article, ‘A 2024 Study on BMW’s Reliability: Are They Good Cars?‘. It will give you even more insight into what you can expect from a BMW!


And there we have it – from the entry-level 1 Series to the unique allure of the Z3, there’s a BMW out there to suit every kind of first-time buyer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

We hope this guide has been helpful in your search. Happy driving!

More BMW model lists

Interested in other interesting lists about BMW models? Find them here!

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