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The BMW 3 Series Is Not More Expensive Than It Used to Be

I recently posted a review of the new 2019 BMW 3 Series, where the 330i — now the base model, with 255 horsepower — costs around $54,000. This set off a surprising number of comments lamenting how expensive the 3 Series has become, angry comments in fact, noting that BMW pricing is just out of control.

Except it isn’t. To illustrate this point, I want to bring up the 2003 BMW 3 Series, which was the famed “E46” model that everyone seems to love so much. Back in 2003, the entry-level version of the E46 3 Series here in North America was the 325i, and the starting price was $28,800. Based on these two numbers alone ($28,800 and $54,000), you’d think the 3 Series has nearly doubled in price in the last 15 years. Except …

Inflation is a major factor here. The 2003 325i started from $28,800, yes, but that’s in 2003 money. If you convert $28,800 in “2003 bucks” to today’s money, it translates to $40,100. And guess what? The new 330i starts from $41,200, which is barely any more expensive than the E46 model.

And, in fact, some could argue that it’s cheaper. The base-level E46 3 Series had just 184 hp, while the latest entry-level 3 Series has 255 hp– a significant jump. Then there are the vast arrays of increased and improved technology, with better systems and upgraded features basically everywhere — from phone connectivity to navigation to safety. The latest 3 Series is a far better car than the 2003 model, and for not that much more money.

And it doesn’t stop there. Back in 2003, the 3 Series was the entry-level model in the BMW range, as there was nothing below it — but that’s no longer true, as we now have the smaller 2 Series. As a result, it makes sense for BMW to increase pricing of the 3 Series over time, to make room for a new, lower-level step in the lineup. And yet, they didn’t, based on the inflation calculation above.

And so, with that in mind: the next time you’re tempted to suggest that things have gotten “very expensive,” consider the real culprit: inflation, and perhaps our perception of cost. The 3 Series isn’t more expensive than it once was. Find a BMW 3 Series for sale

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  1. It’s one thing for it to keep pace with inflation, it’s another to consider how BMW decided to push sales through leasing, thereby destroying the resale value of their cars.  I bought a CPO 2007 BMW 3 Series for roughly $21,500 back in 2010.  That car had a sticker price of $38,000.  So in 3 years it was selling for roughly 56% of MSRP with 12,000 miles a year.  I leased a 2014 3 Series with an MSRP of over $47,000 and 3 years later with roughly the same mileage, the trade in value was roughly $17,500-18,000.  You could (and still can!) routinely find 3 year old CPO 3 Series cars for $20-22,000 (or 43-45% of MSRP) in Southern California, even now…years of inflation later. The hilarious part of BMW leases (at least at the time, not sure what’s happened since) is that the residual value of my 15,000 mile a year lease was $28,000.  They were $10,000 off. 

    They’ve flooded the market with leases and CPO cars off the initial lease, so the value of the car has just cratered.  It’s created this bizarre market where BMW increases the price of the car, which makes the base lease program that much more expensive per month, but they get killed on CPO prices because the cars are a dime a dozen now. Anyone financing a new 330i with the intention of trading in 3-4 years later is just nuts.  Even with a short term loan you’ll have paid $47-55,000 plus thousands in sales tax for a car that’s worth $18k. 

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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