BMW 5-series E39 (1996 – 2003) Review

BMW 5-series E39 (1996 – 2003) At A Glance


+Some great engines. Good ride and handling. Classy looks. Performed well in JD Power Customer Satisfaction surveys.

-Electrical niggles. Some complaints over paint quality and assembly standards.

It was, so many people said, 'the best car in the world.' And who are we to argue? At the time, this German saloon was king of the road - a status that's reflected in its rising values today. BMW built on the reputation of the E39's predecessor to carve out a car that was fast, reliable and good looking (sort of).

The looks were a key part of its charm. Designed before Chris Bangle's flame surface styling set the tone for the premium saloons of the 2000s, the 3- 5- and 7-series were basically the same shape... just in different sizes.

It wasn't just the outside that looked great - the inside was incredibly comfortable. All instruments were clear and easy to read, while controls fell easily to hand. Even today, the inside of an E39 is a great place to be.

And then there was the handling. With BMW's near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution, the car was an absolute joy from start to finish. It didn't matter if you wanted to drop the kids of at school, notch up the miles on the motorway, or attack the apex on-track - the E39 could do it all.

Ask Honest John

Can you recommend a replacement for a BMW 528i Touring?

"I need your advice on replacing my much loved (from new) and well-cared for BMW E39 of 1999 vintage because come next summer, if the Mayor of London has his way, it will be too costly to run with the expanded ULEZ. A used BMW 3 Series Touring is top of my wish list, typically 2014-19 vintage, max spend up to £30,000 with a "reasonably low mileage" and a sunroof and a six cylinder engine, preferably petrol, but not totally adverse to a decent (BMW) oil burner. Or am I too optimistic hoping to fit all that in, considering my max spend? Any other suggestions of similar motors that give a similar relaxed comfort and sense of well being like my current steed would be very welcome too. Preferably estate versions but could also look at a hatchback or a roomy convertible. I definitely prefer rear wheel drive. "
A BMW 340i Touring of around 2017 vintage with modest mileage is well within your grasp - sadly that's the only petrol 3 Series of this vintage with a six-cylinder engine. However as an all-rounder with better long-distance efficiency we'd push you towards the 330d or 335d models, which have smooth six-cylinder diesel engines with plenty of performance. Also check out the 4 Series with the same engines if a convertible is your bag - there aren't any comfort-focused six-cylinder hatchbacks, only the BMW M140i which is performance-focused. For comfort and refinement we'd also recommend trying out the Mercedes E-Class, which can be had within budget with either the E400/E450 petrol engine or the more commonly found E350d/E400d diesels. You might be looking at the previous generation version rather than the latest model for a budget of £30k - you'll need £35k for a low mileage latest model. However both versions can also be had in four-seat coupe or convertible forms.
Answered by Lawrence Allan

Should I buy a BMW E39?

"I'm a bit of a spanner monkey in my spare time and now that I'm working more from home I'd like to scratch my 'practical modern classic itch'. I'm looking to cover around 10,000 miles per year but the journeys will be long motorway runs once a week. Otherwise the car would be largely parked up. I'm a big fan of 90's/00's nostalgia, diesel, comfort, and large engines. I'm also mildly mindful of MPG and running costs to a degree. I'm looking at a BMW E39 as this seems to fit the bill but are there other options? I've considered Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, but I'm not convinced they'd be as fun to drive."
An E39 5 Series sounds like a good option but we'd recommend a petrol – they'll be more fun to drive and more reliable, while also having more 'future classic' potential. Alternatively, how about a Jaguar XJ? The X350 model represents excellent value for money at the moment and could be a very rewarding car to own.
Answered by Andrew Brady

Should I keep my E39 BMW 523i?

"I have owned a BMW 523i SE from new, it is the E39 model. It only has 54,000 miles, runs very well and is in good condition. Is it the type of car that is worth keeping in the hope of future appreciation or should I cut my losses and sell it?"
Doesn't sound like you've got any losses to cut? If it runs well, is in good condition and you like it, then hang on to it. Assuming you don't need to sell it? E39s are starting to appreciate in value but it'll be a few years before we start to see an uplift in prices for non-sporting variants.
Answered by Keith Moody

Is a Japanese imported BMW 5 Series worth considering?

"I'm looking at buying an E39 BMW 5 Series. Several I've seen online from dealers are low mileage Japanese imports. Should I avoid these or are they okay to give serious consideration to? I guess I'm concerned about issues like dodgy mileage recordings, lack of MoTs, road legality in UK, no HPI record etc. "
Worth considering, yes. They are often like a 'nearly new' car - if that's what you want. These generally have little quirks like a speedo that reads in km/h and there could be an issue with the radio - although both can be sorted. Remember to check you're insurance premium as it could be higher. Potential buyers might be put off if you decide to sell the car on.
Answered by Keith Moody
More Questions

What does a BMW 5-series E39 (1996 – 2003) cost?