Is the E39 5 Series the best car ever made?

5-series | April 26th, 2016 by 16
bmw m5 e39 image 750x500

There’s a common belief among BMW enthusiasts that Bimmers just aren’t made like they used to be. This belief is largely rooted in truth, as …

There’s a common belief among BMW enthusiasts that Bimmers just aren’t made like they used to be. This belief is largely rooted in truth, as modern BMWs are so filled electronic gizmos and doodads that they’ve become less robust, therefor less reliable and/or enjoyable. While we cannot actually put forth any real evidence to prove such claims, we can take a look at some of the claims made by others who’ve driven, compared and reviewed both old and new Bavarian steeds.

Take this account from the Telegraph, which talks about this journalists ownership of an E39 BMW 528i. His 528i already had 120,000 miles on it at the time of purchase and it he put 30,000 more on it by the time he sold it. His E39 was driven across Europe, through -20c temperatures and on his daily commute, all while remaining perfectly solid, comfortable and fun. Hell, he even received better fuel economy than a friend’s Golf 1.6 diesel. So the E39 BMW sold him on old BMWs.

bmw 540i sedan 750x563

In the Telegraph arcticle, the author points to a Top Gear episode of a couple years back, where the three hosts took three £1,500 wagons across Africa, with Clarkson’s being an E39 BMW 528i Touring. If you watched the episode (and if you haven’t, you should), you’d know that said Bimmer goes through hell and back and was the only car to make it to the end in one piece, despite the other two cars being a Volvo and a Subaru, both brands known for their sturdiness. Clarkson even wrote a review on his E39 for Driving and it’s necessary reading material for anyone that thinks old, used BMWs are scary, unreliable propositions. In fact, even though Clarkson’s 528i wasn’t cared for properly before him buying it, it handled Africa superbly. “But even though that car had been owned by a penniless enthusiast with a trailer, nothing broke. Nothing.” said Clarkson. Will some electronics go wrong? Of course, electronics always go wrong. But the engine, gearbox and suspension will always work.

So we’ve learned that the E39 BMW is a tough SOB, being able to tackle nearly anything without suffering any serious issues. But just being reliable won’t make it the best car in the world, because then the Toyota Camry would be the best car in the world. The E39 BMW 5 Series is actually great to drive, also. Its steering is still wonderfully mechanical and hydraulic, meaning that it drips with feedback and information. It’s also beautifully weighted and, compared to modern BMWs, feels unbelievable heavy. In a good way. The suspension has a remarkable ability to be both supple and dynamic, soaking up bumps but always feeling buttoned down and connected to the road. It’s comfortable and engaging in a way that not many cars, BMW or otherwise, have been able to say since.

BMW E39 M5 Carbon Black 3

Another feather in the E39’s cap is its price. Being that E39’s are over a decade old now, they can be had second (or third or fourth) hand for remarkably cheap. Look through classifieds online and you’ll find dozens in your area for less than $3,000. Not all of them will be in the condition for you to buy, but you’ll find one or two that still have a ton of life left in them.

The E39 BMW 5 Series is largely considered the best 5 Series ever made, a claim that we make ourselves. It is the last mechanical-feeling 5 Series and, in our opinion, is the pinnacle of the model. The Telegraph goes on to claim that it’s the best car ever made. While that might be a bit of a stretch, it isn’t impossible to imagine.

16 responses to “Is the E39 5 Series the best car ever made?”

  1. Kevin Salazar says:

    Except for those damn cup holders, man…

  2. Manny Antunes says:

    Yes, YES the E39 M5 is the best car ever!

  3. mrjirey says:

    the MB W123 series were also top of their game in the early ’90s

  4. The Corpsman says:

    Still love my 2003 530i/5 to death. That car is going with me to the grave.

  5. Cyrus The Great says:

    Sold both of our civics and bought 2 2003 530i for me and the Mrs. Plan of keeping it until I can’t buy parts for it anymore….

  6. Jono says:

    The E39 excelled at all levels. The traditional BMW sporting saloon, allied with restrained family looks and an unbeatable build quality, means that the pwrformance-engined, low mileage examples are going to be the collectable sporting saloons of the future. Get in whilst you still can…

  7. Adam Jordon James Clark says:

    i have a 528i auto. i bought a little over a year ago with only 89000miles on the clock. its now done 109000 its had a couple of oil changes and ive replaced the rear uper and lower control arms, drop links front and back and anti roll bar bushes and rear springs. all diy. im not a mechanic but you can learn a lot from youtube. and it isnt as hard as you think. at a garage it would of cost a fortune to keep it on the road but ive spent around £400 on parts tools and oil + filters. the feel of driving an e39 cannot be matched by many cars not at the price you can get 1 these days. mine was £1300 with a lot of history to go with it. Unfortunately the body work is not amazing, not being sexist but it was owned by a woman previously took amazing care with the mechanics of the car but not so much the paint work. sills have corroded a little not major but a job i will do soon. the interior is pristine and is far better than most cars i have been in little bit dated but its like going to a rich aunts house who has expensive old furniture built for quality and will last for ever. nothing like the new bmws which look like they will last 5 years. power wise its not to bad not amazingly quick but enough and it will sit comfortably at 80mph on a long stretch and average around 35mpg. town driving a different story kills the mpg not sure what to but a lot. This car is for a calm relaxed driver who likes old quality built to last comfortable drive. and a straight 6 engine.
    i would recommend this car to anyone but only if you can repair diy jobs as it would cost a lot if you use a garage.
    i have also owned the baby 3.5 v8 manual.
    wish i never sold it but at the time i was doing short trips on b roads which ate fuel. this had a fair amout of power and fun without traction control on haha another story

  8. consideredopinion says:

    11 years deep with a used E39 3L M-sport/A…11 more years hopefully…the driving controls on this car feel amazingly well crafted.

  9. Arle Andersanka says:

    It’s amazingly beautiful compared to the Kia ripoffs they pump out nowadays. But the E38 has a nicer interior.

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