THERE IS ONLY TWO ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION:
The best NON-M3 E36s on the market now are the 1995 318/325 or the 1997 318/328 in terms of reliability, value and performance....and i'll tell you why.....read below....
A 1995 325i or 318i will be the best E36 you can buy now for under $6,000 if you are lucky. By 1995 BMW had fixed all the initial and trail bugs for the E36 line that debut in 1993...(yeah it took them 2 years)..1995 was a unique year because the first edition E36 peaked this year and had virtually no mech/electrical/systems problem like the 92-94 cars.
In 1996 BMW bought out the 2nd edition E36s along with the newer 328i car. Of course a few bugs on 1996 cars...but 1997 was a clean year and the 2nd edition E36s were perfected. So a 1997 328i is the best choice in the latter pack. 1998, 1999 E36s are still more pricey and tend to have more bugs than 1997.
I got this info from various sources from Consumer Auto Report Guides to this older guy at the BMW Dealership Collision center as he was explaining why my 1995 318i was a solid car for the E36 line.
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