I purchased a 1990 BMW 325is in January of 1996 with 69K miles. It was previously owned by two women and looked to have been well maintained. I needed an automatic car for my daily commute, which had now become almost an hour of bumper to bumper traffic, and the BMW fit the bill perfectly. I already had experience with previous 3 series cars, all with the 2.7 liter eta engine.
The 325is, I came to find out, came equipped better than all other 3 series at the time, except for the magnificent M3. For starters, the exterior. The 'is' came with 14" BBS wheels in lieu of the 'bottlecap' style wheels the other 3s came with. Additionally, the front lip spoiler of the regular 3s was replaced with a deeper unit. The side mirrors are body colored and a rear spoiler sits at the back.
Mechanically, the 'is' comes with stiffer springs and limited slip as well.
Inside, leather sport seats (commonly, and wrongly, called Recaro seats by many), OBC, power sunroof and, in pre-90 cars, a leather 3 spoke steering wheel round out the inside differences.
The window sticker for my 1990 325is equipped with an automatic transmission listed for a hair over $30,000. Expensive by 1990 standards. I bought it for $11,000 and spent a total of about $2,000 in maintenance in the two years and almost 50K miles I put on it. The little car was extremely dependable and well built. I also made sure to follow, and at times exceed, the required maintenance. My trusted mechanic threw a few preventative issues at me before other things went wrong and that kept the little 3 on the road almost 100% of the time I owned it.
Only problems I experienced involved:
-transmission seal going south on me at 95K miles.
-a/c expansion valve somewhere around 100K miles.
-lower control arms needed replacing
-water pump at 106K miles
I realize that I may have been lucky, but my family's experience with BMWs has always been positive. The fact that I bought the car with all the necessary maintenance records in order was a big plus. As with any car, but especially with BMWs, make sure all the records are in order and have it checked out by a reputable BMW mechanic, otherwise it could be a money pit.
I sold the car to my nephew who continues to enjoy it to this day. In hindsight, I wish I had kept the car and swapped the transmission for a 5 speed, but hindsight is 20/20. He currently (April '01) has just over 150K miles and the car still looks and drives as good as when it had 69K miles. The bright red paint is as shiny as ever and the inside still looks new and fresh. If properly maintained these vehicles will last forever. And if you are serious about enjoying your BMW, I cannot emphasize this enough, join the BMW CCA.