If you’re in the BMW game, it shouldn’t be a secret that some of today’s BMW unicorns were everyone’s trash a decade ago. A clean example of an E39 M5 with sub-six-figure mileage could be fetched for around $10,000 in the 2010-2015 market. Now you’re looking at at least double that. The same could be said for E36 M3s and even some E46 M3s. But, the days of bargain M cars are well and truly behind us.
With that being said, there are still a number of underappreciated gems that have yet to be fully realized in the BMW catalog, making them affordable cars to enjoy and profitable cars to sell in the future. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best investment BMWs currently on the market in 2023 and into 2024.
Best Investment BMWs – BMW E34 M5
Average Current Price: $31,000
Years to Buy: 1989-1993
The BMW E34 flies under the radar a lot of the time. I think that the biggest reason for that is that it was massively eclipsed by the fan-favorite E39 5-Series that followed it. Additionally, unlike most 5-Series generations, the E34 wasn’t truly competitive in the luxury saloon market, with offerings like the Mercedes W124 stealing the show during the early 1990s. However, the M5 was a major exception to that rule.
There were a few reasons that the E34 M5 stood in a different category than its lower-tier siblings. For one, the E34 M5 was the last hand-built BMW M car, which alone is a massive potential selling point to future collectors. It also featured one of the last motorsport-derived BMW M engines, the 3.5/3.6L S38. The rowdy straight-6 was a direct cousin of the M88 inline-6 found in Euro-spec E34 M5s and, more importantly, the BMW M1.
While the US received the slightly neutered version of the E34 M5 (what else is new), that doesn’t subtract from its magic on the road. The E34 M5 came right at the tipping point for driver connection to the road, the switch from analog to digital, and the hyperbolic shift from driving to driven. For that reason, it can feel a bit floaty in the bends but never numb, something that can’t be said for many BMWs that came after.
Despite all of the uniqueness and notable milestones that the E34 M5 brings to the table – in addition to being one of the rarest M models ever made – they can still be found for a relative steal compared to other gems of BMW’s past. This is truly a now-or-never car.
Best Investment BMWs – BMW E38 740i
Average Current Price: $9,000
Years to Buy: 1996-1998
While pretty much all of the BMW M cars are almost guaranteed to hold their value pretty well over the years, that certainly isn’t the case with many sub-M BMW models. The BMW E38 740i is one of those cars. Back in 1996, $70,000 was the average MSRP if you wanted a top model 7-Series barring many of the options that many E38 740i buyers chose to fit. Today, a nice example of an E38 740i with acceptable mileage and service records costs around an eighth of that.
While the E38 750i might not have M pedigree, that isn’t what it was about. Luxury was the name of the game, and you got a lot of it with the 750i. Even today, the ride quality of a well-maintained E38 can rival anything produced in the last 5 years. The plush leather seats hold up rather well in most 7-Series and 5-Series of the generation as well. BMW’s styling department was truly on a roll in the late 90s too. Calling the E38’s outward appearance timeless doesn’t do it justice.
So, why the 750i and not one of the lower-tier E38 offerings? Well, simply stated, the M62 V8 fits the E38 chassis like a glove. With any less power, the E38 struggles to get moving under its own weight, and with any more power, you’d be looking at the E38 750i with the endlessly troublesome M73 V12 under the hood. The 740i is truly the model to have from both a driver’s perspective and an investor’s perspective.
While the M62 is known to have wallet-damaging issues as well (like its idiotic water-cooled alternator), most pre-technical update cars have proven to still be reliable rides.
Best Investment BMWs – BMW E28 M5
Average Current Price: $35,000
Years to Buy: 1984-1988
A pretty common theme on this list is that the 5-Series chassis is very slept on when it comes to investment cars. Generally speaking, 3-Series are what get the most love, and they deserve it too, but those who understand the potential of every generation of 5-Series are the true winners in this market. While it would be a stretch to say that $35,000 is a good price to pay for any 40-year-old car, it has to be said that when compared to other BMWs from the era, the E28 M5 is a relative bargain.
The E28 M5 has a few very important things going for it when it comes to being one of the best investment BMWs available right now. Many of those reasons mirror those that I laid out for the E34 M5. Like the E34 M5, the E28 M5 was entirely handbuilt, featured the same motorsport-derived S38 engine, was exceptionally rare (with only 2,241 units ever built), and retained all of the classic BMW driving dynamics that are sorely missed today.
Many BMW fans would argue that the M division peaked in the 80s, and the prices of most of the top-dog 80s BMWs truly back that statement up. All you have to do is look at the used market for E30 M3s and E24 M6s. While both of those cars have shot into the stratosphere in terms of price, the E28 M5 has leveled off around $35,000 for now. However, I don’t see them staying there for long.
Best Investment BMWs – BMW E46 330i
Average Current Price: $8,500
Years to Buy: 2001-2006
Up to this point, we’ve really only been dealing with oldies. While I recognize that some people might consider 2001 to be somewhat ancient, I choose to look at the E46 330i as a modern classic. The E46 3-Series added quite a few modern amenities that the E36 lacked, making it a much more comfortable, if not slightly less spritely, daily driver. With that being said, don’t for a second think that the E46 lost any of the overall finesse expected from a 3-Series, as that certainly isn’t the case. In fact, a strong case can be made that the E46 epitomizes the essence of the 3-Series formula better than any generation before or after it.
Outside of the E46 M3, which is quickly becoming an unobtainable grail, the 330i model still provides the best that the E46 chassis has to offer at a much more palatable price point. While the S54 found in the M3 certainly delivers a more potent powertrain experience, the 228-235 horsepower M54B30 found in the E46 330i provides plenty of silky German horses to have ample fun with. The M54 is a much less temperamental powerhouse too and widely considered to be one of the most reliable BMW engines ever made.
Obviously, the 6-speed 330i ZHP is the ultimate variant to have, but even those are becoming increasingly pricey these days. While the additional 7 horsepower, slightly firmer suspension, and cosmetic upgrades from the ZHP package are nice to have, they aren’t worth the inflated price over a standard 330i.
The E46 chassis is currently as cheap as it has ever been and it is guaranteed to only go up from here, especially when looking at the trends of previous generation 3-Series. Take advantage of it while you can.
Best Investment BMWs – BMW E39 540i
Average Current Price: $11,000
Years to Buy: 1998-2004
We touched on the ridiculous prices of E39 M5s in the intro, and it is true. Unless you are willing to trade your house for a nice example of one, they aren’t a realistic option for most people anymore. However, what if I told you that you could have a baby version of the M5 for less than the price of a used Toyota Corolla? Well, that’s kind of the case with the E39 540i.
The E39 chassis is one of the most widely celebrated BMW chassis of all time. Visually it is one of the most elegant, mechanically it is one of the least troublesome, and dynamically it performs very well for a vehicle with such a substantial wheelbase. It’s a fan favorite because it does everything well. It has four doors and plenty of room in the back and lives up to the Ultimate Driving Machine mantra in the corners.
The 540i sat directly below the M5 in the E39 5-Series hierarchy and had that same M62 V8 we discussed in the E38 section. The M62 provides head-pinning power in the E38 and is even more visceral in the E39 which weighs 200 pounds less, on average, than the larger 7-Series chassis. The result is a 20-year-old car that still has impressive performance by today’s standards.
At this point, many people have realized that, so the prices of 6-speed examples have shot up in recent years. With that being said, the automatic is a very satisfying ride too. I owned a 2003 540i for years and loved every minute of it. It remains the only car that I regret selling, and that’s truly saying something.
Best Investment BMWs – Honorable Mentions
Despite the fact that many of the older gems of BMW’s past are becoming so hard to come by today, it is actually a pretty decent time to invest in a BMW. We have covered my main picks when it comes to the best investment BMWs, but there are even more that I expect will continue to be a good buy for a few years to come.
E9X M3s are beginning to hit the bottom of their depreciation curve, making them a tantalizing option. Being the only V8 M3 and a car that is easy to live with on a day-to-day basis, I expect them to shoot up in price if you are willing to hold onto them for a while. Another benefit is that both 6-Speed and DCTs are fantastic and will likely both be worth nearly the same in the future, which can’t be said for cars like the E46 M3 which truly only had one worthwhile transmission option.
Along similar lines, the F10 M5 is definitely one of the most underappreciated M cars of the past few decades, as many people were scared off by S63 reliability concerns, which is valid. However, S63TU cars remedied quite a few of the more serious issues and have proven to be an extremely strong powerhouse over the years.
Ultimately, most upper-tier BMW models of any series are generally quality products and worth investing in as long as they have been properly cared for over the years.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for some more helpful BMW content, check out our Most Reliable BMW Engines Guide. Also, leave your picks for the best investment BMWs down in the comments below.