Buying Guide BMW 5-Series
Few saloons are as classy and capable as the BMW 5 Series, and the E39 is a modern classic bargain
‘A four-figure sum secures a nice one – sound examples do still exist’
It’s been 45 years since the BMW 5 Series arrived in E12 form, and it’s been providing classy executive transport ever since. The Munich firm has shifted millions of them, and deservedly so, but we’re concentrating here on the the fourth generation E39.
Launched at the 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show, the E39 has long been recognised as one of the best. Sleeker than its E34 predecessor, and boasting impressive quality and refinement, it was fitted with a range of diesel, silky-smooth straight-six and V8 engines, and could be had in saloon or Tourer guise.
Today, a barely four-figure sum will secure a nice one and while plenty were neglected as they descended into bargain status, sound examples do still exist. So, a bit of care is needed before taking the plunge, but it’ll be worth it as the driving experience is superb. The blend of ride and handling is top notch, with beautifully judged damping and the sort of precise, oily-slick steering that makes an E39 as at home on a twisty B-road as it is racking up the motorway miles in refined comfort. Add in a plush, welcoming cabin that was a marked change over the previous E34’s granite-solid, but slightly clinical affair, and it really is the complete package. Entry-level petrol or diesels models aren’t especially sparkling performers, but the sixes and V8s won’t leave you wanting when it comes to pace, and of course there’s the firebreathing M5. The responsive, slick-shifting Steptronic automatic gearbox is the perfect partner, though the manual shift arrangement is counter-intuitive – push forward for upchanges and back for downshifts. Still, this is a minor quibble that does nothing to spoil an otherwise fine car that impresses as much now as it did two decades ago. It’s easy to see why it has so many admirers.
Four-pot E39s are available, but most people want the ‘sixes’.