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buying advice

How to buy a savage used BMW: Should you go for a fresher 3-Series or a larger 5-Series?

Here’s our advice – and the key models to look out for.

LOOK AT THE vast choice of used BMWs on sale, and you can quickly find yourself facing a dilemma. Do you go for a fresher 3 Series or spend almost the same (or a little more) for the larger 5 Series?

And which generation of each model to consider?

This week we’re going to look at the two most recent generations from both the 3 and 5 Series ranges.

1. BMW 3 Series F30 (2012 onwards)

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The current 3 Series (F30) came onto the scene in 2012 but is due to be replaced later this year, meaning that values are likely to come down once the newer version goes on sale. That said, earlier examples are starting to come down in price, and the 320d is capable of returning some budget-friendly fuel consumption figures.

The official claimed figure from BMW is 68.9mpg, so getting anywhere close to that isn’t bad. It’s the sharpest looking 3 Series to date, though the interior has that familiar BMW look to it and against other premium saloons it isn’t quite so modern.

2. BMW 5 Series F10 (2010-2017)

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With the F10 5 Series generation coming to an end in 2017, early versions of this model are starting to sell for sensible money and similar to more recent 3 Series models.

Compared directly, it dwarfs the 3 Series and delivers a ride quality that is markedly better, especially on Irish roads. One thing to watch out for are earlier models with the N47 2.0-litre diesel engine as these can be prone to timing chain issues, and if not caught can prove costly to repair.

A vast 520 litres of boot space is very practical, and if you need more, there’s also the Touring (BMW parlance for the estate) models.

3. BMW 3 Series E90 (2005-2012)

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Find the right spec in this generation 3 Series, and you’ll have netted yourself a very nice car that’s good to drive and feels solid. Those on a more of a budget might want to seek out a 320d Efficient Dynamics model, which boasts low emissions and frugal fuel consumption.

It’s a car that rides better on smaller wheels, even if it is to the detriment of the car’s aesthetics (in some people’s opinion). To be fair, the M Sport models do look pretty good.

Since this model was on sale from 2005, there is still a good choice of petrol engines available, and these came in a few different power outputs. The 320i would be our top pick unless you can find the rarer 335i – something bordering on unicorn status nowadays.

4. BMW 5 Series E60 (2003-2010)

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Go one generation further back to the E60, and there’s still lots of choice, though cleaner and well-maintained examples of these are becoming harder to find.

By far the most common model is the 520d, with its 2.0-litre diesel engine, and later models will be taxed under the current rates. Sweeter still are the more powerful 530d and 535d models, packing torque-filled punches that make them great motorway mile munchers.

One thing to watch out for in these larger engines is any clunkiness from the auto transmission when going from park to reverse. Also, watch out for any DPF (diesel particulate filter) warning lights – if ignored these can lead to turbocharger damage.

The bargain to be had is a 523i if you’re willing to tolerate the higher rates of motor tax and fuel costs. Once the motor tax changed to being CO2-based sales of this model all but ceased.

When it comes down to the crunch, if you’ve got family and do more than just the short urban commute we think there’s some merit in going for the bigger 5 Series, even if that means going back a further year or two in age.

The happy medium would be to opt for a 3 Series Touring, but with the Irish market still preferring SUVs, finding a good premium estate car isn’t as easy.

More: How to buy a purring Jaguar for less than €20k – and 3 models to check out first>

More: Want an SUV for €15k? 4 lesser-known brands to consider>

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