After loads of research, I narrowed the field to a 94 or 95 BMW 525it. Found a white '94 525it from a 2nd owner private party with 117K and newer transmission with receipts and warranty (for 2 1/2 more years or 30K more miles). Bought it for about $6K. This thing is SOLID. I went from an Altima to this. Talk about enormous difference in all aspects of build quality, performance, handling, braking, everything. I have 2 small kids and feel very safe driving this fairly heavy wagon around. I think this series looks better tan the new wagons. And the 2.5L V6 is bulletproof - tried and true. I've done some preventive maintenance but other than that this thing has been problem-free since I got it.
Styling, ride, safety, leather, status
Radio is pretty wimpy but I'm not complaining since it has a 6-disc changer in the back. Be prepared to spend a little $$$ for upkeep and PM. I expect 8-10 years faithful service from this vehicle.