The Ten Best Classic German Sports Sedans Under $25K
On Monday we challenged our readers to choose a classic, sporty German four-door sedan on a budget of $25k. Fortunately, that amount of money can go surprisingly far in this category, leaving almost all of Germany’s classic sports sedans as potential candidates.
Following are the top ten choices based on your answers for the greatest pre-1990 German sports sedans under $25,000…
#10 BMW 745i Turbo (E23)–Produced through 1986, the 745i was amongst the top of BMW’s sedan line-up. Optional amenities in the “Executive” trim option included water buffalo hide interior, rear armrest radio controls, leather-wrapped cell phones, and burl wood accenting. Purchasing one today, there might be cracks in the leather or wood, and the onboard cell phone might not work as well as your iPhone, but you can be sure that the 252hp turbocharged M106 engine will make this a sporty, reliable hauler for your friends or family.
#9 BMW Bavaria (E3)–The BMW “New Six,” or “Bavaria” as sold in North America, was the lighter, four-door brother of the sportier and undoubtedly elegant E9 Coupe. Alas, with an exterior design team lead by Wilhelm Hofmeister and detail work executed by Bertone and Michelotti studios, the E3 looks sharp and refined. Standard four-wheel disc brakes and fully independent suspension meant the E3 sedans were ahead of their time in the ‘70s. If you’re looking for a E9 Coupe but aren’t opposed to four-doors, remember the fact that a E3 3.0Si sedan will outrun a 3.0 coupe with the same engine configuration.
#8 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL–The W126 Mercedes-Benz was the second generation of the “S-Class” lineup, regarded as more fuel efficient, spacious, and aerodynamic. The 560SEL (long wheel-base) was produced during the last half of the twelve year production run of the W126 and featured a 5.5L V8. Capable of producing up to 300hp and over 300ft lbs. of torque, the 560SEL will easily accommodate five people on a spirited drive.
#7 Audi 200 20v Turbo Quattro–With its 2.2L, 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive, and manual transmission, the 200 Turbo was one of the fastest production sedans of its time. The turbocharged powerplant produced up to 220hp, and was the first DOHC engine Audi put into a sedan. Unfortunately, due to Audi’s poor sales worldwide, the 20v Turbos, arguably the most desirable of the 200 platform, are very hard to find.
#6 BMW 320is S14 (E30)–The E30 320is was a limited production model sold exclusively in Italy and Portugal that sported a 1990cc S14 engine and Getrag 5-speed gearbox out of an E30 M3. This variation took advantage of the countries’ lower tax on engines sized 2.0L or less. With all other components shared with the base model 3-series, and performance numbers close to the 2.3L S14, the 320is is definitely a sleeper. But be on the lookout! Only 1,205 four-door models were ever produced, making this sedan a rare find (pictured is the coupe).
#5 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9–You might not buy a 6.9 for looks, and perhaps the power figure isn’t spectacular considering the displacement; the reason you buy a 450SEL 6.9 is engineering. The 450SEL was the first Benz produced with a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension, providing a smooth ride with good handling for a car weighing in at around 4200 pounds. Other features included aluminum cylinder heads on a hand-built, 250hp (in North American trim) V8, and sodium-filled exhaust valves that effectively dispersed heat. In addition, the dry-sump oil system allowed you to travel around 12,500 miles or one year before the recommended oil change. Want to learn more? Click here.
Photography by Rémi Dargegen
#4 BMW 535is (E28)–Younger enthusiasts look here! Assuming you don’t mind a couple of extra doors, a well-rounded example shouldn’t cost you more than $10k, making these the most affordable sedans on this list. The 535is is about as close as you can get to an E28 M5 without a significant price increase. Equipped with a 3.5L variation of BMW’s “Big Six” M30 engine, and featuring M5 styling cues including sports seats, a rear spoiler, and a front air dam, (as well as a sport suspension) these 5-series are quite the bargain. Excellent reliability and usable power add to the checklist, not to mention the airy-greenhouse interior capable of seating five comfortably.
#3 BMW M5 (E34)–The second generation M5 shared the same M88/S38 engine as its predecessor with an increased displacement: 3.6L in earlier models, and 3.8L later. Cars manufactured for the North American market got the shorter end of the stick once again, and produced only 307hp compared to those built for Europe and elsewhere that produced up to 335hp. If you like the older models, “M-system” wheels and bolt on wheel covers were included, designed to vent air to the brakes for cooling purposes. BMW switched wheel designs for more effective cooling for the late models, however the “turbine” covers remain popular amongst enthusiasts. Fortunately, these cars have relatively unassuming styling, and won’t draw all that much attention…that is until you step on it.
#2 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3L 16v–In order to participate in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) racing, Mercedes-Benz had to enter a car based on a production model. Their answer was the Cosworth 2.3L. The production model featured a detuned version of the 2.3L Cosworth engine, with a usable 182hp, Recaro seats, and a dogleg 5-speed transmission. These cars proved very successful in DTM, so successful in fact that BMW responded with their first-generation M3. With performance comparable to the M3, you might expect their prices would be similar? Close? They aren’t. Not at all actually. You can find 190E 2.3L 16v’s in good condition for around $10k, which is far less than you should be prepared to spend on a well-sorted E30 M3.
And finally, #1… the BMW M5 (E28)–Are you surprised? I knew this car would place near the top of the list, and would probably be voted number one, but I wasn’t expecting a landslide. Out of everyone who offered an opinion, about half voted for the E28 M5. At its launch, the first-generation, hand-built M5 was the fastest production sedan in the world. Powered by BMW’s 3.5L M88/S38, these engines produced 282hp (256hp in those built for North America). The E28 M5 is regarded as one of the best all-around performance sedans ever built and are among the rarest BMW Motorsport production cars ever built. It won’t be too long before they creep over $25k!