BMW 5 Series E39, the car that cemented BMW’s reputation and showed the world what an almost perfect car is about. But is a BMW 5 Series E39 still relevant in 2020? We find out in the answer, in today’s article.
The BMW 5 Series E39 was launched in 1995 and was a success right off the bat. In fact, it was such a success that not even BMW was able to replicate the success and perfection of this car. The BMW E39 and BMW E46 were the pinnacle of Bavarian engineering, which was rarely achieved in many years to come.
But is an BMW 5 Series E39 worth it in 2020?
Yes and no. Even though it was built according to the old standards of robustness and reliability, you can’t get around that fact that the BMW 5 Series E39 is still an pretty old car. The newest specimens are already 15 years old, and only Her Majesty can win the fight against time. Everyone else remains vulnerable.
What should I watch out for when looking for a BMW E39?
More than any other brand, BMWs from this period must be checked for nook and cranny before being purchased. I don’t have to mention the basic modern clientele of this car, the clientele that chose other paths in life and that maintained the car with 10 pound clutches and 5 pound flywheels. Gaffer tape here, nothing there, you know the drill.
If, and only if, you can find a BMW E39 in a decent condition, which has been taken care of, then you can make a very good purchase. But these are rare, most being tormented and abused, so worn that they would fit perfectly into the “frying pan” section of a medium-sized store. Most models are end-of-life frying pans, but you may find a good model every now and then. And if you find a good one, you have a beautiful car, as far as reliability, sportiness, maneuverability, comfort and other journalistic-terms-that-I-don’t-understand go. It is very difficult to find a better car for this kind of money. Yes, I will praise the BMW 5 Series E39, as long as it is in decent condition. If it is a tired model, which has a steering wheel fixed with flex tape because the airbag is bursting out, which went on with a second hand clutch and fueled by diesel in increments of 5 pounds, then this car is the epitome of what is wrong with the average douchebag: they are much too poor in order to buy something cheap.
BMW 5 Series E39 Engines
- 520i M52 and M54 of 148 or 168 horsepower – A perfect engine for those who potter about mainly through the city. And if you strap on ( ha ha, strap on ) an LPG instalation, you solved the consumption problem. How dare you put LPG on BMW E39? Because the BMW 5 Series E39 was the official chariot of the wide-neck-narrow-foreheads in 2005, but today it is a car left for enthusiasts who want a good car for them, not to impress society. And it is one of the few 6-cylinder engines in line that is less than 2000 cc and therefore has a lower tax rates. Mind you however to pay attention to the 168 horsepower models because they are 2.2 in-line 6-cylinder engines.
- 523i M52 of 168 horsepower – Quite an rare presence on the BMW 5 Series E39, the classic 523i is a 6-cylinder symphony, but it suffers from the general problem of petrol engines on this model. Not great, not terrible.
- 525i M52 and M54 of 189 horsepower – And this is why the 523i isn’t so popular, because the same M52 on the 523i, of the same capacity, but with 20 extra horsepower lives under the bonnet of the 525i. It doesn’t make sense to buy a 523i, as long as there is a 525i.
- 528i M52 of 198 horsepower – Same M52, increased to 2.8 liters. More expensive to tax and notorious for problems at the ECU that give up without notice in advance.
- 530i M54 of 228 horsepower – Now we are already talking about something else. With a 3-liter 6-cylinder and timing chain issues, this is an engine only for the most passionate of us.
- 535i M62 of 232 and 241 horsepower – We move on from an 6-cylinder to V8, but that doesn’t mean it’s necesarilly better. It is definitely much more expensive to maintain and the power differences are minimal.
- 540i M62 of 282 horsepower – Top of the range for a non-M5 car, the V8 is so complex that it will cost you several times the value of the car in annual maintenance.
- 520d M47 of 136 horsepower – The only 4-cylinder engine available on the BMW E39 and by far the most popular on the used market. Great care when inspecting this engine though, because you have a very good chance of buying an lemon with 2 million kms on each wheel.
- 525d M52 of 163 horsepower – Slow and thirsty, the power differences between 520d and 525d make you seriously think if it’s worth it. Besides, there is an aftermarket chip tuning for the 520d that will take it all the way up to 163 horsepower, so this engine is the middle child with an added existential crisis.
- 525td M51 of 116 horsepower – A very old engine, even by BMW 5 Series E39 standards. And with 116 horses you will measure its acceleration with the calendar.
- 525tds M51 of 143 horsepower – Same antiquity as above, only slightly more potent. Yes, it is more reliable, but if something has gone wrong, good luck finding parts.
- 530d M57 of 180 and 190 horsepower – Ladies and gentlemen, the M57, the legendary 3-liter diesel that powered everything from the BMW E39 to the Range Rover L322, is built from the same materials as the Chanel Tunnel.
BMW 5 Series E39 General Issues
Water pump issues for the V8 petrol engines, which breaks down more often than it should. A broken water pump turns your car into a vacuum truck that will cost you so much that you can safely sell the car for scraps.
- For 520d, 525d 530d diesel engines code M47 and M57, there are issues with the air flow meter which, in addition to becoming useless faster than a beer left in the sun, also needs reprogramming in the ECU. They are also affected by the classic swirl flaps that break and fall into the intake manifold.
- As with any older BMW, the digital display pixelates over time and becomes more useless than non-alcoholic beer. Unfortunately, you have little to do with this phenomenon but to buy another display. Or to be a true slav and get used to living with it like that.
- The automatic gearbox is a controversial topic in the BMW world, much of it coming from the factory “Sealed for life” claim. However, many automatic gearboxes have dropped dead at 120-150,000km due to the lack of oil change, so it is good to do this change every 60,000km.
- The suspension is a general weak point and needs to be replaced more often than usual. They will not break every 100 meters like my joints, but you must be prepared spiritually, financially and multiculturally for when it does.
BMW 5 Series E39 Verdict
BMW 5 Series E39, a car launched for business people and executives, the bought over by the kind of man who orders french fries and pork chops wherever he goes, abused and abandoned by them and which is now taken over again by young people. 20 year olds who have a limited budget and who want a car for enthusiasts.
But, if you can find a BMW E39 in working condition you have an extraordinary car, built to last over time. But good luck finding one.
There is however an big advantage of buying a BMW E39 in 2020 – the car remains very much loved by the car enthusiasts community and you will find parts, tips and solutions to any possible and impossible problem. BMW E39 – that actor loved by all generations.