If you get an E36 (92-99 3 series) make sure you get one with production date 93 and after, so a '94+ model. Lots of things were fixed and improved past that year. One of the biggest things was the rear sub-frame and differential carrier mounts. They were reinforced. The older 3 series had problems where the carrier mouts would just break off or the sub-frame would crack under hard acceleration.
I own a 318 and I'm very happy with it. Although lots of people will tell you it's underpowered, the car suits me just fine. No doubt the 325 is a much more powerful car. However, I feel you should only drive a car you can handle. I like how the 318 is lightweight and much more responsive in the corners. The 325 has more torque and is much smoother in acceleration. I appreciate the 318's lower maintainence costs and with BMW that is something you really should consider, especially with an older 3 series. The repairs never end. Some people will tell you they have next to no problems with their cars. However, I drive my car quite hard so I like to keep everything in top notch shape.
In my opinion, the best 3 series ever made was the 328. The engine is just flawless, so quiet and smooth and very powerful. If you have the money, that's the BMW to get. If your into chassis rigidy and hanlding, the 4 door saloon is best.
My 318 has 220,000km and the compression is still very good, it doesn't burn oil and still pulls like new. The earlier model 325's had problems with oil leaks. So make sure to check under the car for leaking oil.
Start with a '94 3 series with approx 150,000. You can expect to pay low 11,000 to high 14,000 for a good 325. And low 10,000 to high 12,000 for a good 318. 5 speed 318 acceleration is comparable to the automatic 325. Don't even consider getting an automatic 318, it's a pile of poop. You might as well be driving an MX-3. As for engine reliability, the 318 (M42/M44) and 325 (M50) are both quite realible engines if you constantly maintain them. I'm not sure about the 325's, but as for boost you can get a supercharger relatively cheap (5K) and it produces a good 220HP at only 7psi.
'02 C32 AMG / '07 C280 / '07 CLS550 / '15 JKU Rubicon
Last edited by Autotechnica; 09-09-2003 at 03:56 PM.