Bought my 99 323i in September of 2012 with around 150k miles on it. I have the automatic base model which doesn't include power seats or fog lamps. But has every other option such as leather and sunroof. Got it for around $5,200 with a 1yr unlimited mile warranty. Bought as a second car to keep the miles down on my 2011 VW Passat. Starter began to stick when weather turned really cold and was replaced at local BMW dealer under warranty ($750 bill) also had an issue with the left turn signal blinking continuously even when it wasn't engaged ($350 parts and labor). Overall not bad for a car bought cheap and is 14yrs old. Drives like a dream. A little thirsty on gas for a 6 cyl engine.
I have to say I was pleased with all aspects of my 1999 323i untill recently and coincidently when the balance of the warranty ran out. That was when the "fun" began or around 50K. So far I have had the air conditioner repaired twice, brakes done a couple of times and now the transmission is slipping at 80K, which according to the dealer costs $3500 to start, which I will not repair. However, until recently, I really had no problems to speak of that were truly serious. The sunroof was a major area of difficulty and had to be repaired twice. Overall I love the car, but I do not think I would buy another one due to the high costs of frequent repairs. Great if you have the $$$ to fix.
Long story short. I wound up with this car by accident. I thought that I was buying something nice and boring and maintenance free... Itt ain't. These (I bought one for my daughter) things take some TLC; but if you stay away from the dealers and do your own work, they're no more expensive than a Pontiac(got the bills from my wife's dealer). E46 - watch out for the cooling system. Radiators and water pumps are plastic and die after 8-9 years. Keep up the "routine" maintenance religiously. Find a reasonably priced source of parts.
Best first car I've ever owned! Always reliable! People complain of the price to maintain BMW's sometimes. Yes, it is just a little bit more, but I'd rather pay that extra bit to have a vehicle that drives and looks great. Of course it's not a higher end BMW, but it is a BMW and a great starter BMW to have!
I have always enjoyed BMWs, I drove my first one back in 04 when my mom gave me a hand-me-down 325i 94. It was a great car for a just out of high school kid to have. I now drive an E46 99 and this is by far an excellent vehicle. The fact that these cars are very electronically sophisticated makes it almost imperative that they be taken to an authorized BMW tech for service every time the engine light comes on and for all tune ups. These cars are very fragile and not as durable as others.