Is BMW a Good First Car? (All Series Compared – Best BMW)

BMWs are some of the most expensive vehicles to run, and most aren’t good first cars.

But which, among them, are relatively better cars for new drivers?

Read on to find out which BMW works best for beginners.

is bmw a good first car

Generally: Are BMWs Good First Cars?

BMW is one of the few German automakers renowned for crafting luxury vehicles that offer superior driving enjoyment.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Lexus are BMW’s traditional rivals in the luxury car segment.

BMWs are excellent performance vehicles, but only a handful can class as good first cars, considering their overall middling reliability and high cost of ownership.

CarEdge placed BMW among the most expensive luxury cars to maintain, behind only Land Rover and Porsche.

Plus, BMWs typically do not retain value well – brand-new BMWs depreciates an average of:

  • 53% – 68% after five years, or
  • 78% – 85% after ten years.

They are an engineering marvel for purists and driving enthusiasts, but the premium prices deter most first car buyers who seek cheaper alternatives.

Specific BMW Models:

#1 Is a BMW 1 Series a Good First Car?

It is a premium compact car available in the coupe and soft-top convertible body styles.

2013 was the 1 Series’ final model year.

The BMW 1 Series offers an appealing combination of sporty body style, performance, and interior refinement, but it is a poor choice for a first car despite some positives:

  • Rear-wheel-drive – challenging for inexperienced drivers to control in slippery conditions and potentially dangerous. A front-wheel-driven vehicle is safer for teen drivers.
  • Powerful for a first car – 230 hp (128i), 300 hp (135i) and 320 hp (135is). The 135is does 0-60 mph under 5 seconds, which is too potent for new drivers.
  • Compromised practicality – the two-door configuration and cramped rear seat mean it’s not an ideal passenger car.
  • Mediocre fuel economy – approx. 22 mpg combined for the 128i and 23 mpg combined for the 135i. Newer Japanese compacts can achieve above 30 mpg.
  • Premium fuel required – unnecessary extra cost for first cars.
  • Costly maintenance – expect to pay approx. $1,000 per year out of warranty; Civics and Corollas cost less than half that.
  • Excellent visibility – thin windshield pillars and plenty of glass area in the 1 Series coupe.
  • Perfect size for urban commute – a minor consolation with the long list of drawbacks arguing against it.
  • Nimble handling – suitable for city driving.

BMW 1 Series Compared with Better First Cars

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
BMW 1 Series19/28/2278/100$959NANAExcellent
Mazda Miata26/34/2980/100$429NANAAverage
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
BMW 1 Series comparison with better first cars.

Suppose you desire a sporty two dr convertible. In that case, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is as fun to drive as the BMW 1 Series, less powerful (116 to 181 hp), substantially cheaper to maintain and returns higher gas mileage.

Its outward visibility may be tight with the top up, but the view out improves significantly with the top lowered.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are different types of vehicles to the BMW 1 Series, but their cost of ownership gives you an idea of how affordable first cars should be.

#2 Is a BMW 2 Series a Good First Car?

The 2 Series succeeded the 1 Series as BMW’s entry-level luxury coupe in 2014 but benefited from useful gains in cabin and trunk space over its predecessor.

The 2 Series is smaller than the 4 Series coupe.

If the older 1 Series isn’t suitable for teenage drivers, the similar RWD drivetrain and incremental horsepower gain make the BMW 2 Series an equally bad first car:

  • Overpowered for a first car – the available horsepower range from moderate to excessive; 240 hp (228i), 248-255 hp (230i), 320 hp (M235i), and 335-382 hp (M240i).
  • Rear-wheel-drive – most sports cars deliver power to the rear wheels, so they aren’t good first vehicles.
  • Impractical daily driver – the two-door, four-seat architecture sacrifices practicality and room for style.
  • Average fuel economy – mid to high-20s mpg combined for the base model, depending on the model year.
  • Premium fuel – a requirement by BMW.
  • Expensive to maintain – approx. $921/year; luxury compact cars average $801/year.

That said, the BMW 2 Series provides good visibility, thanks to the slim and upright roof pillars, and is a suitable size for teenagers to drive around town.

Unless you love the BMW coupe’s design, there are plenty of better first cars that can perform a better job as your dependable and economical daily driver.

#3 Is a BMW 3 Series a Good First Car?

It is a four-door sedan and one of the best entry-level premium cars.

The Series has some of the cheapest BMW models to upkeep and, if you love the brand, the BMW 3 Series is a reasonable first car, keeping in mind its drawbacks:

  • Strong fuel economy – 30 mpg combined (or mid-20s for the older models) is a respectable achievement considering the power output.
  • Broad range of engine power – between 180 hp and 300 hp, depending on the model year; the less powerful, the better for first cars.
  • Good visibility – the slim pillars and relatively upright styling aid the driver’s view out.
  • Excellent ride quality – suitable for driving short and long distances.
  • Balanced handling – provides excellent feedback and is beneficial for new drivers.
  • Expensive for a first car – any ten-year-old 3 Series will still cost you close to $10,000.
  • Relatively costly maintenance – the 328i, for example, is one of the cheaper 3 Series to upkeep, but you’d still need to set aside close to $800 a year.
  • Premium gas – a requirement that will cost you more at the pump.
  • Rear-wheel-drive – not the ideal drivetrain for beginners, especially those living in regions with inclement weather. But the AWD option is available.

The less powerful 320i (180 hp) or 325i (184 – 215 hp) will suit teenagers better.

The comparatively more powerful 328i (240 hp) and 335i (300 hp) are less suitable; pair those horses to the RWD system, and they become too demanding for first-time drivers to handle safely.

Our BMW 3-Series First Car post dives deeper into each 3 Series model (including the E and M models) for new drivers, including the pluses and minuses, the best 3 Series model, and a 3 Series comparison with other first cars.

#4 Is a BMW M2 a Good First Car?

The M2 is another one of BMW’s high-performance coupes – substantially more powerful than the 1 and 2 Series coupes; it has as much horsepower as the old M3 coupe but is newer.

As much as it is a superb machine for hard-driving, the BMW M2 is a bad first car because it is too powerful for a new driver (365 hp to 405 hp in the 2019 or newer M2 Competition), prohibitively expensive, and has a stiff ride that’s unsuitable for daily driving.

Plus, it’s an RWD car.

#5 Is a BMW M3 a Good First Car?

The M3 is a luxury midsize performance car available as a sedan, coupe, convertible, or wagon, depending on the model year.

Based on the 3 Series, M3s come with unique and more powerful engines, different suspension parts, and larger brakes – its design intent is obvious.

Unlike the M2, M3s have been around since the late-80s in the States.

Among the German automaker’s lineup of performance vehicles, you can count the BMW M3 as one of the worst first cars for new drivers:

  • Excessively powerful – it’s an i6 or V8 that produces 400-plus horsepower, and
  • It’s rear-wheel-driven – sending that amount of power to the rear wheels puts the M3 in proper race car territory.
  • Abysmal gas mileage – sub-20s mpg combined, plus
  • Premium unleaded fuel – a must.
  • Massive upkeep cost – some of the most expensive BMWs to maintain at $1,161/year, according to RepairPal. Luxury midsize cars average approx. $739/year.
  • Expensive insurance – the already-high premium increases with every accident you meet.

The M3 Competition with its 500-odd horsepower output erases any doubt that new drivers should even come close to considering it as their first car.

The over-300 lbs-ft of torque (or 400-plus in newer M3s) is beyond a lesser-skilled driver’s control in slippery conditions.

An all-wheel-drive M3 is available from the 2022 model; it provides extra traction over the RWD version but does not make the BMW M3 any more suitable as a first car.

It may have a four-door five-passenger architecture in the 2015 and newer models, which increases practicality, but the potent engine underneath it is still capable of getting you into trouble.

If you have your heart set on a BMW, the 3-Series will make a better first car.

Alternatively, consider the Honda Civic as it is ideal for new drivers.

High-performance vehicles with expensive upkeep make better financial sense when your career stabilizes and after gaining some experience behind the wheel.

#6 Is a BMW M4 a Good First Car?

Available since 2015, the M4 is the performance version of BMW’s 4 Series that made its debut the year before.

It is a step up in performance from the M2 coupe, and it replaces the M3 coupe as the M3 transitioned into a four-door sedan in 2015.

The BMW M4 is a world-class high-performance sports sedan but a terrible choice for a first car:

  • Enormous horsepower – between 425 hp and 503 hp, depending on the model year.
  • Massive torque – over 400 lb-ft is too much thrust for an inexperienced driver to handle safely.
  • Rear-wheel-drive – new drivers should start with the more-user-friendly front-wheel-drive system.
  • Optional all-wheel-drive – available in the newer models, but it drives up purchase and upkeep costs.
  • Too expensive for a first car – the oldest 2015 M3 will cost you above $40,000.
  • Poor gas mileage – below 20 mpg combined is the best you will get in return for the premium gas you feed it.
  • Astronomical maintenance cost – at approx. $2,700 per year (according to RepairPal), it is one of the most expensive luxury cars to operate.

The M4 may have pluses, such as responsive handling, agreeable ride quality, and a roomy interior that improves practicality for daily use.

However, its drawbacks as a first car trump those positives.

The M4 Competition has more power over the standard M4, so its suitability for teenagers is out of the question.

#7 Is a BMW M5 a Good First Car?

The ‘M’ in BMW M Series stands for motorsport.

It should suffice to inform teen drivers that the M Series cars are anything but first-car material.

The M5 is based on the regular 5 Series.

The BMW M5 is one of the best performance sedans that money can buy, but it is also one of the worst first cars for teenagers:

  • Oversized engine for a first car – a V8 or V10 that pumps out over 500 horsepower, depending on the model year.
  • Colossal torque – 500 lbs-ft at 1,500 rpm will send the car into a tailspin with a lead foot in tricky conditions.
  • Rear-wheel-drive – the worst type of drivetrain for new drivers living in a region with inclement weather.
  • Costly upkeep – expect to shell out more than $1,000 annually for general maintenance, on top of other repairs, especially for one outside warranty.
  • Poor fuel economy – between 12 and 17 mpg combined is the best you can hope for. Plus, it needs to run solely on premium fuel.

The prodigious amount of power delivered exclusively to the rear wheels is a handful even for experienced drivers.

You could purchase a fifteen-year-old M5 for a more affordable outlay below $10,000. Still, you face a potentially massive repair and maintenance bill for a luxury brand renowned for expensive upkeep outside warranty.

Opt for one of the better first cars from the BMW 3 Series if you want a BMW sedan.

#8 Is a BMW X1 a Good First Car?

Small crossovers have been gaining popularity for their SUV advantages while maintaining a degree of sedan qualities.

The X1 is smaller than its X3 brother but still related to the 1 Series and 3 Series, offering impressive performance without the excesses of the BMW high-performance sedans.

Suppose you desire a BMW and a small SUV. In that case, the BMW X1 is a good first car with its sedan-like driving dynamics, elevated seating position that affords a better view of the road, and a respectable fuel economy for a luxury brand vehicle.

Plus, it has the optional all-wheel-drive for added traction and enhanced safety in tricky road conditions.

The cheaper front-wheel drive is standard.

Teen drivers will find the X1’s diminutive size easy to drive and park in tight spaces.

#9 Is a BMW X3 a Good First Car?

The X3 is a luxury compact SUV sandwiched between the subcompact X1 and midsize X5 in size.

Although it doesn’t excel in any aspect, the BMW X3 is an all-around good first car if you can afford the price tag.

It is fuel-efficient (mid-20s mpg combined for post-2012 models) and has a roomy interior and excellent outward visibility for the driver.

The BMW X3 is one of the easiest SUVs to see out of, thanks to the generously-sized glass all around.

Plus, IIHS and NHTSA awarded the X3 full marks in their crash tests.

Prospective owners should note the above-average yearly maintenance cost – $1,034 compared to $859 for luxury compact SUVs.

#10 Is a BMW X5 a Good First Car?

The X5 was BMW’s first SUV and is still one of the most attractive midsize SUVs in the luxury car market.

It is an excellent all-around SUV with impressive acceleration, a spacious and comfortable cabin, and a wealth of tech and safety features.

However, the size and high price make the BMW X5 an average choice for a first car.

The smaller and relatively cheaper BMW SUVs are more practical for first-time owners who still need to keep costs in check.

Older X5s may be cheaper to buy, but they typically cost more to maintain.

#11 Is a BMW Z4 a Good First Car?

The Z4 is a desirable convertible with sleek styling, a classy interior, and plenty of performance.

Still, the BMW Z4 is not suitable for a first car because it does not offer day-to-day practicality with its two-door design and is pricey for first-time owners.

As with most convertibles, the Z4’s outward visibility is an issue with the top up.

Dropping the top improves the visibility significantly, but such a limitation makes it a poor all-weather vehicle.

The Z4 is significantly more expensive than, say, the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, which offers an equally exhilarating drive but higher fuel efficiency.

BMW Hybrid:

#12 Is a BMW i8 a Good First Car?

The BMW i8 is an all-wheel-drive sports car that ceased production after the 2020 model.

It is also a plug-in-hybrid (PHEV), which can run on a combination of gas and electricity or solely on the latter.

The 69 MPGe in combined driving should ideally be good news, but its two-door sports coupe configuration, low ground clearance (4.6 inches), and sky-high price tag render the BMW i8 a terrible choice for a first car.

It may be cool to look at from the outside but a nightmare to look out from when driving such a sleek, low-slung vehicle.

Electric motors offer superb acceleration, but the hybrid setup in the BMW i8 means it can sprint from zero to 60 mph in under 5 seconds, which is too quick and unsuitable for a first car.

BMW Electric Vehicle:

#13 Is a BMW i3 a Good First Car?

The i3 is BMW’s first zero-emissions vehicle that went into mass production.

Its four-door hatchback design has rear-hinged rear doors, which is unique and an unconventional way for rear passengers to board.

All in all, the BMW i3 is an excellent first car with many positives and few shortcomings:

  • Excellent range – EPA 124 mpg-equivalent in combined driving; expect a little less in real-world performance, but it still travels far on a single full charge.
  • Easy to drive and park – the lightweight chassis and diminutive size are handy when maneuvering in tight spaces.
  • Good visibility – large windshield and raised front seats.
  • Roomy cabin – the lack of a central tunnel (common in gas cars) frees up floor space in both seating rows. Four adults can comfortably fit in an i3.
  • Quiet interior – comfortable for short and long-distance driving.

One of the i3’s downsides is its high price compared to most entry-level EVs.

Plus, i3s don’t retain value well, so opting for a used i3 is the wiser choice.

Prospective buyers should note that it is a rear-wheel-driven vehicle – a non-issue if you drive in sunny States.

#14 Is a BMW i4 a Good First Car?

The i4 may be all-electric, but unlike the i3, it comes in the more-familiar BMW luxury sports sedan body.

EV buyers are typically budget-conscious shoppers, so the BMW i4’s high purchase price puts it out of most first-time car owners’ reach.

Still, the near-300 miles range on a full charge is attractive if you’ve driven ICE vehicles long enough.

Comparison: Best BMW for a First Car

bmw as first car

The candidates for the best first car among BMW vehicles are limited, but which is the better one?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests averaged.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
 Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs
BMW 1 SeriesNANAExcellent19/28/2278/100$959
BMW 2 Series4/4NAGood25/32/2882/100$921
BMW 3 Series4/45/5Good26/36/3080/100$867
BMW 3 Series – 328i4/45/5Good23/35/27NA$773
BMW 3 Series – 335i4/45/5Good21/32/25NA$1,030
BMW 4 SeriesNANAAverage26/34/2983/100$1,011
BMW 5 Series4/45/5Good25/33/2880/100$999
BMW i33.8/4NAGood124 MPGeNA$1,173
BMW i8NANAPoor69 MPGeNA$979
BMW M2NANAAverage18/24/20NANA
BMW M3NANAGood16/23/19NA$1,161
BMW M4NANAAverage16/23/19NA$2,781
BMW M5NANAGood15/21/17NA$1,173
BMW X14/45/5Good24/33/2777/100$915
BMW X24/4NAAverage24/32/2776/100NA
BMW X34/45/5Excellent25/29/2779/100$1,034
BMW X4NANAAverage23/29/2583/100$988
BMW X54/45/5Good21/26/2378/100$1,166
BMW Z3NANA18/25/20NA$691
BMW Z4NANA25/32/2881/100$895
BMW models comparison.

If you’re shopping for a sedan, the 3 Series is the best BMW for your first car – it represents the best balance between performance, a daily driver’s practicality, and relatively affordable upkeep cost for a luxury vehicle.

However, the suitability of specific 3 Series models as first cars varies.

But if you feel an SUV suits you better from the safety and visibility standpoints, the subcompact X1 or compact X3 is the better BMW for you – opt for the appropriate size that best meets your needs.

The BMW i3 is the ideal first car if you want the excellent range of an EV and a friendlier solution for the environment.

Is a Used BMW a Good First Car?

If you’re considering a BMW, you’re likely researching an Audi or Mercedes-Benz equivalent.

Between these three brands, BMW depreciates the most, unfortunately.

Opting for a used BMW is the best choice for your first car to minimize your exposure to the loss in value – the sharpest drop in value happens in the first 5 to 6 years.

Still, servicing a used BMW out of warranty can put a massive hole in your pocket.

Consider buying BMW’s extended warranty or, better still, an extended warranty from a third-party provider.

If you’re mechanically inclined, buying parts and fixing your own BMW can significantly reduce repair and maintenance costs.

As a backup plan, find yourself a garage you can trust for regular servicing.

Alternative Makes to BMW for a Teenager’s First Car

Apart from the BMW-equivalent luxury brands, you should consider these automakers for your first car:

  1. Audi – A4.
  2. Mercedes-Benz – C-Class.
  3. Lexus – ES 350, IS 300.
  4. Acura – TLX.
  5. Volvo – S60.
  6. Mazda – Mazda 6, CX-5, CX-30.

Mazda may not be a luxury brand, but their cars possess sharp handling with upscale interior design and build quality.

Always do your research, inspect, and test drive before buying.