F06 / F12 / F13 M6
The F-Series M6 kicks off this list as one of the most underrated modern BMWs. It’s also one of the fastest – the S63 V8 good for up to 600 horsepower with the Competition Package. Zero to sixty times sit in the sub-3.5 second range, and you can even get it with a manual (though difficult to find). Plus, you’ve got options – this generation M6 comes in convertible, coupe, and Gran Coupe flavor. They’re also not the most expensive – decent examples can be had for around $40,000. Not bad for a car that cost well into six figures when new and accelerates like a cruise missile.
But wait – there’s more! Gone is the SMG gearbox from the prior generation M6, instead replaced by the slick seven-speed M-DCT. 20” wheels were an often-picked option that you’re likely to find on most used examples. Carbon ceramic brakes were available, too, so you can stop more consistently on the track and have added incessant squeaking on the street. And of course, if you’re willing to tinker, you’re only a few mods away from 700 horsepower.
E36 3 Series
The E36 3 Series, even well over 20 years later, remains one of the most underrated BMWs in history. Though E36 M3 prices are steadily on the rise, they’re still eclipsed by bookended brothers – the E30 M3 and E46 M3. In-period, ironically, the E36 3 Series received enormous praise from almost every automotive journalist that drove it. I speculate that the North American version of the M3’s neutered S50 is part of the reason for this car being passed over.
But the E36 3 Series drives amazing – old school hydraulic steering, naturally aspirated inline six-cylinders, manual transmission – basically the embodiment of what makes BMWs so much fun to drive. The nicest part is that you don’t even need to step up to the M3 in order to get a versatile and fun to drive BMW.
E32 7 Series
The E32 7 Series is almost never on the top of anyone’s “most desirable BMWs”. One of the reasons the E32 is an instant greatest hit is the drivetrain. Paired with a manual transmission and the iconic M30B35 inline-six, the 735i offers all you could ever want from a BMW. And consider; the car is only a few inches longer and wider than the current G20 3 Series, and low spec’d examples can weight up to 100 pounds less than the current 3er.
And sure, it isn’t going to win any drag races, and probably won’t impress anyone on a track. After all, the car is thirty years old. But it’s an old school BMW with a stick – and its aged like wine. Also, it’s rare you’ll pay more than $10,000 for one of these even in great shape. They’re not all that in-demand, making them one of the few remaining best-kept secrets for enthusiasts in the know.
Z4 M Roadster
Though M coupes fetch near six-figure sums, it’s rare you’ll find a Roadster approaching even half that. Which is strange – since they’re mechanically no different. Powered by the E46 M3’s S54 inline-six, and only available with a manual transmission – no clunky SMG nonsense here – the Z4 M has every marking of a legendary BMW. Of course, the coupes are more desirable, as they do have a lower center of gravity (and weight) on account of the hardtop. But most drivers aren’t good enough for it to matter; and an even smaller number track the car, where this sort of thing would matter.
As a result, you can pick up a decent Z4 M Roadster for under $20,000. It’s a fantastic car, being mostly E46 M3 in the spots that it counts, and convertibles certainly offer their own brand of fun. And sure, you may have to give up a second around a racetrack. But 9/10ths of the driving experience for a quarter of the price sure sounds like a value to me.
G01 X3 M40i / M
And now for something completely different. Although frequently seen in Scottsdale being recklessly piloted to brunch and mimosas, the current generation X3 is one of the best all-arounders out there. The base trim is a bit sluggish; the M40i uses the ubiquitous B58 engine. It’s a powerhouse from the factory, and more than receptive to a few cheap and power-adding modifications. Plus, you can take it anywhere and have plenty of room for activities – there’s even an optional trailer hitch. Most important to some, it retains a little bit of a classic BMW look – with proportional grilles.
The X3 M exists and must be mentioned; though I’m not sure that it’s as underrated. Good for 503 horsepower in Competition guise, Car and Driver got it to do 0-60 in just 3.3 seconds. For reference, that’s quicker than Mercedes’ AMG GT. With the LCI X3 landing on lots, it will be interesting to see just how far these superpowered SUVs depreciate; I think these will be quite the performance bargain in a few years. Yeah, it’s not an M-powered wagon, but it’s as close as we’re going to get.
That’s a quick look at five of the most underrated BMWs. There’s probably a few we missed – what cars do you think should’ve made the list?