Where do we start, how about with a statement? ‘The best 5 series…ever’.
Launched in 1995 and produced until 2003, the fourth generation of BMWs saloon set a benchmark for years to come and still gets hailed today as the finest BMW ever made, quite a strong statement, especially 15 years after it ceased production, often only criticised that it didn’t stay around for longer.
The E39 was designed by Joji Nagashima who was born and educated in Tokyo, Japan, joining BMW in 1988. He designed the E39 5 Series, The E36 and E90 3 Series as well as the Z3.
The successor to the E39, the E60 5 series was not widely received with enthusiasm when first revealed due to the massive departure from BMWs family styling, as time passes, history looks a bit more positively at the E60. It’s a shame Davide Arcangeli, the designer of the E60, didn’t get to see his creation on the roads, sadly passing away in 2000.
Launched with petrol variants 520i M52/TU 2.0 litre (148bhp), 523i M52/TU 2.3 litre (168bhp), 528i M52/TU 2.8 litre (190bhp) inline 6 cylinder engines and 535i M62/TU 3.5 litre V8 (1996 – 1998 232bhp, 1998 onwards 241bhp), 540i M62/TU 4.4 V8 (282bhp).
In the UK the most popular diesel variants 525d (114bhp) 525tds (141bhp), 530d (181bhp).
For the LCI (Facelift) E39, the engine variants changed. Petrol 520i became a M54 2.2 litre (168bhp), Introducing 525i M54 (189bhp) and 530i M54 (228bhp), dropping the 523i and 528i. The V8s 535i and 540i M62TU remained the same, although worth noting they received Technical Updates in 1998, denoted by the TU.
Diesel, a new M57 525d was introduced (161bhp) and more power for the M57 530d (190hp). The earlier M51525 turbo diesels were dropped. A 520d was also introduced in 2000 but only in limited markets.
The E39 was a modern evolution of the outgoing E34. Single unit headlamps, driver focused cockpit all retaining the design language but brought up to date. E39 used Aluminium suspension components with a front aluminium sub-frame on the 6 cylinder models to reduce weight. The torsional rigidity improved by 40% compared to its predecessor allowing for better handling characteristics. The rear has a 4 point multi link suspension set up.
Launched with front and side airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners, traction control, ABS and air-con as standard, options included, Leather, Cruise Control, Sat-Nav, Dual Zone Climate, Electric Memory Seats. Further to this auto lights, wipers and auto dimming mirrors, suspension options were available.
The facelift model came out in September 2000, marking the introduction of the newer engines, widescreen sat-nav and for the very first time on any BMW, angel eye headlights. The rear received LED ‘light pipes’ and clear indicator lenses. The facelift also marked revised piston ring design for the M5.
Oh hang on, did I just say the M word for the first time…
In 1998, BMW launched the M5. A 400ps S62 (394bhp) V8 monster, capable of sprinting 0-60mph in 4.8s via a 6-speed manual gearbox with a reinforced clutch and limited slip diff. ‘Floating’discs were also used on the European M5, USA however didn’t get these.
Featuring a lower ride height with its own damping rate with thicker anti-roll bars and speed sensitive power steering, quad rear exhaust, M5 specific alloy wheels, wing mirrors and front grill, the M5 became an instant legend.
It’s safe to say, the E39 is a very highly regarded vehicle but as time has gone on, an early example is now 23 years old and a very latest model 15 years old (at time of writing), if you’re looking to buy one there are a few things to watch out for in its advancing age.
The cooling system on the E39 is a weak point, plan to replace the whole lot if it hasn’t been done. Original radiators bow then crack, header tanks split, hoses with composite ends crack, plastic thermostat housings and the composite impeller in the water pump are all very common failure points.
The V8s suffer from timing chain guide wear and subsequent failure, check to see if they have been replaced.
The Crankcase Ventilation System (Known as CCV, PCV), this recirculates oil vapour. Due to age, short journeys, engine not getting up to temp, these get blocked and cause a whole host of problems, high oil consumption, smoking, erratic idle, not an expensive item and any owner or enthusiast of the E46 and E39 know it’s a common area of failure.
Pixels missing on the dashboard (can be cheaply fixed).
Rust. Any car of this age is going to be showing signs of rust. How quickly you react to rust also determines how much it’ll cost to be repaired. Like all vehicles of this age, arches, petrol tank fill area and boot lock are all susceptible but the E39 does suffer from the front and rear jacking point areas on the sills. So have a good look underneath.
Shimmy, ooohhh shimmy. You may get it, you may not, this is a strange one as you may never experience it. However a fair few owners have experienced a vibration at certain speeds. This could be caused by a host of things, warped discs, worn suspension components, ball joints, bushes, sub-frame bushes etc. Now these cars are just about becoming collectable/enthusiast owned, you may find a number for sale that have all these items sorted and then some. There are of course sheds about too so take your time, one suitable will become available.
Impressive handling, handsome design and luxury features make this a stand out car in its class, still today it can hold its head very high and they make a great enthusiast car or even a daily driver.