BMW’s 3-Series is a legend amongst luxury compact cars with continuous production spanning nearly 50 years. The BMW 325i variant was built between 2001 and 2006 as part of both the E46 and E90 generations. Powered by BMW’s famously smooth straight-6 engine, the 325i was a perennial favorite of experts and owners.
However, like any vehicle, the cold reality of reliability can be clouded by the rosy memory of a fun-to-drive car. This is why we’ve analyzed FIXD reliability data on thousands of these older 3-Series to determine the best and worst model years of the BMW 325i.
BMW 325i Engine Reliability Score, Safety Ratings, MPG, Value v.s. Value for the Money, and F.I.R.I.S. – Year by Year
The BMW 325i Reliability Score graph below holds the most sway when we rank the best and worst model years. It illustrates objectively measured reliability per data collected from thousands of FIXD devices installed in customer Bimmers.
Typically, the first model year of a new generation tends to struggle with reliability as the manufacturer irons out production kinks. Though 2001 did not mark the debut of the E46-generation 3-Series, it was the first year for the 325i nameplate and its upgraded powertrain. As you can see on the chart, it was an occasion marred by poor reliability.
For a more comprehensive analysis, we look at published government safety scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fuel efficiency figures per fueleconomy.gov, current market values from Kelley Blue Book (KBB), and annual maintenance costs from RepairPal.
To add a subjective angle on reliability, we also generate a FIXD Internet Review Index Score (F.I.R.I.S.). You can learn more about how this score is calculated below, but it is based on data gathered from Edmunds, KBB, Cargurus, and Cars.com.
We’re aiming to help current BMW 325i owners, and potential buyers, learn about what to watch out for from one model year to the next. On that note, if you’re in the market for a car, take a look at our article on the USA’s most reliable and cheapest to repair cars in the U.S. Don’t get stuck with a lemon, use our data to help you shop.
Engine Reliability Score – Over The Years
The green line on the BMW 325i Reliability Score chart above is based on the total number of CELs that have been recorded by customer-installed FIXD devices for each model year between 2001 and 2006. After tallying them up, we weight this objective score by average mileage and convert it into a 1-10 scale where 10 is the best and 1 is the worst.
As is often the case, the older 325is have worse reliability than more recent models. But I am splitting hairs to some degree with that as the 2006 model, which is the “best”, still only registers a 3 out of 10. So, against its stablemates, the final year of 325i production is reliable, but not against a vehicle like the Audi A4 that sees FIXD Reliability Scores as high as 8 and 9 out of 10.
We’ll dive into the details of this topic in the relevant model year rankings below and at the bottom of this page, you can find more details on how we calculate the FIXD Reliability Score. Also, be sure to check out this list of the most common CELs to expect from a BMW 325i as it plays a role in how reliable you can expect your Bimmer to be.
NHTSA Safety Score – Over The Years
Normally, we can plot the average NHTSA safety score for a given vehicle, by model year, against the industry average rating as indicated by the gray line on the BMW 325i NHTSA Safety Rating chart above. However, the NHTSA did not run through its testing protocol on the 325i model, so we don’t have that data.
Fortunately, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did perform its crash-testing protocols on the 325i. We’ll touch on the results of these tests in the relevant sections below.
Understanding how a given model year of the BMW 325i ranks for safety is important as it plays a main role in keeping insurance premiums down. If you live in one of the states listed below, we can show you the cheapest vehicles to insure in yours.
|What Used Cars Are the Cheapest To Insure In:|
MPG – Over The Years
From 2001 to 2005, BMW fitted the 325i with a 2.5L inline-6 making 184 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque with an automatic or manual transmission routing power to the rear wheels. This is why the average fuel economy – as indicated by the green line on the chart above – doesn’t move from its 21 mpg figure the whole time.
These figures are calculated by averaging the combined fuel economy figures for all 325i trim lines of a given model year using data from fueleconomy.gov. Interestingly, in 2006 when BMW swapped the 2.5L mill for a more potent 3.0L straight-6, the fuel efficiency didn’t suffer. It’s one reason this model year is our pick for “best of the best”.
Current Market Value of All BMW 325i Years vs. Value for the Money
The above chart of BMW 325i Market Value vs. Cost of Repairs illustrates 325i market values published by Kelley Blue Book against average annual service costs according to RepairPal. It’s one more set of data that allows us to craft a comprehensive analysis of the best and worst model years of BMW’s venerable 325i.
As you might expect, the later model year 325i’s have higher market values, in particular the 2006 model as it marked the start of E90 production and a more powerful powertrain. But if you’re in the market for a used 325i, pay attention to service history as more than one model year posts annual repair costs of around $1,000.
When shopping for a used BMW 325i, it’s important to keep in mind that not all vehicles are cared for equally. To protect yourself from lemons, take along a FIXD Sensor on your test drive. FIXD connects to a free app on your smartphone to tell you more about the vehicle you’re checking out, including check engine lights and other hidden issues that the owner or dealership may be attempting to hide. Click here to learn more and get FIXD for only $19.99 (regular price $59)!
F.I.R.I.S. – FIXD Internet Review Index Score– Over the Model Years
The BMW 325i F.I.R.I.S. chart above gives us a way to analyze subjective reliability. To create it, we gather scores from Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Cargurus, and Cars.com for each year of 325i production. After averaging these figures, we put the F.I.R.I.S. rating on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is the worst and 10 is the best.
The long history of experts and owners lauding BMW’s 3-Series for its handling, amenities, and all-around abilities is on clear display here. There is not a single year that the F.I.R.I.S. rating drops below 9 out of 10. But as we know from analyzing objective reliability data, there’s more to what constitutes a good 325i than just having fun behind the wheel.
Important Features Timeline
2001 – 325i debuts as a 323i replacement with a more potent 2.5L inline-6 engine
2002 – Receives a facelift and standard CD player
2003 – New DVD-based navigation system and standard front armrest
2004 – 6-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox offered
2005 – Power moonroof and Myrtle wood trim become standard
2006 – New 3.0L I6 with more power replaces 2.5L unit as part of 5th-gen 3-Series launch
2007 – End of 325i production as it is replaced by 328i
The Best Years of the BMW 325i
Taking into account FIXD reliability, F.I.R.I.S ratings, fuel efficiency, safety ratings, market values, and annual repair costs, we’ve come up with this list of the best BMW 325is. Pertinent recall information and notes about common DTCs are included as well.
FIXD Reliability Score: 3/10
FIXD Internet Review Index Score (F.I.R.I.S.): 9.2/10
Mileage Est. KBB Value: $3,454
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg
RepairPal Average Annual Repairs Total: $691
Safety Rating: N/A
It must be said, the BMW 325i is not exceptionally reliable as the 2006 model year has the highest FIXD Reliability Score and it’s just 3 out of a possible 10. So, it’s more reliable than its stablemates, but against the automotive industry, that shine is diminished somewhat.
But, I put it atop the rankings of best and worst model year because objective reliability is the most significant factor when it comes to the final rankings order. And it’s not as though these old Bimmers are all bad. Keep in mind, 2006 marked the start of the E90 generation and with it, a new 3.0L inline-6 in place of the prior 2.5L unit.
Normally, this is an event fraught with reliability gremlins as an automaker works through production hurdles. Not so with the 2006 BMW 325i. Instead, it posted a notable improvement in reliability and maintained an average fuel economy rating of 21 mpg even though the new engine made nearly 30 more horsepower.
As well, market values were in a steady uptrend between 2005 and 2006, while annual repair costs posted a strong decline. The $691 these 2006 models average for this metric is nearly $100 below the average figure for all 325i model years.
The F.I.R.I.S. rating is high for 2006, but that’s not too impressive considering the 325i earned a 9.1 or 9.2 out of 10 for this metric every single year. Experts and owners are clearly fond of the BMW 325i.
It’s also worth noting that these Bimmers performed well in IIHS crash testing even though the NHTSA did not test them. The 2006 model earned a rating of Good (the highest available rating) in the Moderate Front Overlap test and a Good score in the Side test, which was new that year.
As well, it moved up from Poor to Acceptable in the Head Restraints & Seat test and earned an Acceptable rating in the then-new Roof Strength test. Some of these improvements can be chalked up to BMW upgrading the E90 series with automatic seat belt tensioners for the rear outboard seats and adding new seat-mounted side airbags up front.
One big ding against these models is the relatively high 14 recalls issued by the NHTSA. Of those, 5 are related to exploding airbag inflators and 3 are due to malfunctioning occupant seat sensors. All of which tie back to the Takata airbag debacle. It led to BMW issuing a “Do Not Drive This Vehicle” directive on 90,000 vehicles built between 2000 and 2006, including every 325i on this list.
As for problem areas, two of the most common DTCs tallied on the 2006 325i are related to the VVT system. DTC P0012 is triggered when the intake camshaft position timing is out of whack and DTC P0015 pops up when the VVT solenoid is malfunctioning. That solenoid can cost as much as $1,500 to have replaced.
If you encounter DTC P0158, it means one of the oxygen (O2) sensors is acting up. A new O2 sensor costs between $275 and $500 at a shop or you can learn how to replace an oxygen sensor yourself and save some money in the process.
FIXD Reliability Score: 2/10
FIXD Internet Review Index Score (F.I.R.I.S.): 9.2/10
Mileage Est. KBB Value: $3,174
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg
RepairPal Average Annual Repairs Total: $991
Safety Rating: N/A
The 2005 BMW 325i is the only model year aside from 2006 to earn a FIXD Reliability Score above 1 out of 10. Granted, that score is only a 2, but that’s enough to push it onto the “best” side of the reliability rankings fence. Like every 325i, it has a high F.I.R.I.S. rating, but the 2005 model also comes with up-trending market values.
Those pros come with cons like annual repair costs that run high and a Poor rating from the IIHS for the Head Restraints & Seats test. However, it does come with a Good rating for the Moderate Front Overlap protocol. And it only has 5 recalls from the NHTSA with 3 of those related to airbag inflator ruptures.
Engine misfires leading to replacing the ignition coils were behind the two most frequently encountered DTCs – P0304 and P0306 – on the 2005 325i. P0304 arises when that misfire is detected in cylinder 4, while P0306 is related to cylinder 6. This DTC P0306 explainer video goes into more detail, but expect to pay between $50 and $175 for new ignition coils.
The Worst Years of the BMW 325i
Working with the same information to determine the best BMW 325is, we’ve compiled a list of model years to avoid. Worse reliability and bigger service bills are the norm with these poor-performing Bimmers. We are starting from the absolute worst and progressing to the “best of the worst”.
FIXD Reliability Score: 1/10
FIXD Internet Review Index Score (F.I.R.I.S.): 9.1-9.2/10
Mileage Est. KBB Value: $2,911-$2,995
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg
RepairPal Average Annual Repairs Total: $835-$1,011
Safety Rating: N/A
The 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 BMW 325i all have the dubious honor of earning a 1 out of 10 for the FIXD Reliability Score. That’s as low as it goes for this metric, so why do we have the 2003 and 2004 models separated out in the “worst of the worst” position?
Mostly due to high maintenance costs. Both model years came in above the $766 average, but the 2004 model year hit an all-time high of $1,011. As well, the F.I.R.I.S. rating of 9.2 for that model is ever so slightly higher than the 2001-2002 models.
But outside of that, it’s mostly the same story of 21 mpg on average and a Good rating for the Moderate Front Overlap test per the IIHS across all four model years of these early 325is.
The most common DTC seen on these Bimmers is P05CD. This generic powertrain code means a rough idle has been detected, which is often caused by an engine misfire. DTC P0021 comes up when the intake camshaft position timing is too far advanced, an issue usually related to a malfunctioning VVT solenoid.
DTC P0113 is triggered when the Intake Air Temperature sensor is on the fritz. Of the 10 recalls issued for the 2003 325i, 4 were airbag-related and 1 for a leaking master cylinder impacted about 13,000 vehicles. That same issue was one of the more significant of the 6 recalls opened on the 2004 model.
FIXD Reliability Score: 1/10
FIXD Internet Review Index Score (F.I.R.I.S.): 9.1/10
Mileage Est. KBB Value: $2,530-$2,882
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg
RepairPal Average Annual Repairs Total: $491-$574
Safety Rating: N/A
Rounding out our rundown of the best and worst BMW 325is are the 2001 and 2002 model years. The 325i nameplate arrived in 2001 and with it, an updated 2.5L inline-6 rated for 184 horsepower. It was a critical hit as evidenced by the high F.I.R.I.S. rating, which the 2002 model shares, but reliability was not a strong suit for either model.
Sitting at the bottom of the barrel with a 1 out of 10 FIXD Reliability Score, these 20-year-old–plus BMW 325is have poor reliability, but at least they’re relatively inexpensive to repair. Both models are well below average for this metric with the 2002 325i coming in at an all-time low of $491.
Market values do move up, though the 2001 model has the lowest value of $2,530, which is not surprising as it’s also the oldest one here. In 2001, BMW updated the 325i with Stage 2 smart airbags for front-row passengers, which may have helped with the Good rating in the IIHS Moderate Front Overlap test, but in the Head Restraints & Seats test, it was rated Poor.
Something not in favor of the 2002 BMW 325i is the 13 recalls and 6 investigations by the NHTSA. Of those recalls, 6 are for malfunctioning airbags. The 2001 model only received 2 recalls, both of which were for rupturing airbag inflators, and like every model year 325i, it has a Do Not Drive note attached to it because of the airbag problems.
Three of the six most common DTCs on these early 325is – P0174, P1349, and P0171 – are related to a faulty crankcase pressure regulating valve. Triggered by an engine misfire or an air-fuel ratio that is out of balance, repairing this issue shouldn’t cost more than $170.
DTC P1343 and P1345 both show up with regularity on the 2001-2002 325i and both are triggered by an engine misfire. Usually, these codes mean it’s time to replace the ignition coils or you need new spark plugs – sometimes both.
According to RepairPal, the most frequently reported issue with engines on the BMW 325i has to do with valve cover gaskets leaking oil, which is indicated by a burning oil smell and drips under the vehicle. This problem was reported on every 325i model year from 2001 to 2006 and costs between about $400 and $500 to fix per RepairPal.
As for transmission, there is not much data pointing at specific model years or issues to watch out for aside from DTC P0700. Triggered by a malfunctioning Transmission Control Module, this code was recorded most frequently – though still in small numbers – by the 2004 BMW 325i. Regardless, it is important to stay on top of automatic transmission service intervals to avoid problems down the road.
According to the listings on CarsForSale.com (as of October 30, 2023), there are 112 used BMW 325is on the market nationwide. Of those, only 7% have 200,000 miles or more on the clock, while about 29% register between 150,000 and 200,000 miles. There are nearly 36% with between 100,000 and 150,000 miles.
Considering 65% of these Bimmers range between 100,000 and 200,000 miles and relatively few have gone beyond that mark, I would say that 200,000 miles could be considered high mileage for the BMW 325i.
A Note About Data and Information Sources
This article has many details about BMW 325i reliability; here’s what we used for our assumptions and recommendations.
- FIXD Reliability Score & Data: Engine reliability information is captured via the FIXD App.
The FIXD Reliability Score is calculated using the number of DTCs per year, weighted by mileage using 12,000 per year. This is then turned into a scale of 1-10 for easy graphing.
This is an objective score.
- F.I.R.I.S & Data: This data is the result of averaging the score of the BMW 325i from Edmunds, KBB, Cargurus, and Cars.com.
Those individual Scores come straight from reviewers and owners of the BMW 325i.
This is a subjective score.
From here we translate the answers into the F.I.R.I.S as all the answers are out of 5.
Keep in mind, that owners may think their car is more or less reliable than it actually is.
One potential problem is that people often buy the same make or model they are used to when they go car shopping, just a newer year.
Ford, for instance, has a number of consumer loyalty awards for the Ford F-Series, Ford Mustang, and Ford Expedition.
Car owners may be so loyal to the make or model they currently own that they would have trouble accurately comparing their cars’ reliability to others.
It’s for this reason that we ask car owners a question that is relative to mileage rather than relative to other cars.
Still, be mindful of the accuracy of these F.I.R.I.S, people’s perceptions and unconscious blindspots can skew data.
We suggest looking at both the FIXD Reliability Score and the F.I.R.I.S for this reason.
- KBB Value: Average private-seller valuations as supplied by Kelley Blue Book (KBB), based on a BMW 325i with typical mileage for that respective model year.
- Fuel Economy: Mileage-per-gallon estimates according to the EPA MPG on Fueleconomy.gov
- Annual Maintenance/Repair: Upkeep expenses as reported by RepairPal
- Safety Rating: Crash test data collected and reported by NHTSA. We average all ratings for each year to come up with a simplified, average safety score. This makes it easier to look at on a graph.
- BMW 325i model-specific information. Retrieved October 24, 2023, from https://www.edmunds.com/
- BMW 325i model-specific recall information. Retrieved October 24, 2023, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls
- BMW 325i model-specific information. Retrieved October 24, 2023, from https://www.auto-brochures.com
- BMW 325i model-specific information. Retrieved October 24, 2023, from https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/global
Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his old Cherokee and sweet Mitsubishi Starion, which led to a degree in mechanical engineering and a job at Ford as a vehicle dynamics engineer. His writing infuses that automotive background with sales and marketing experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he enjoys digging into some of the more technical mechanical systems under the hood and throughout a vehicle.