The Unix Nerd's Domain

The BMW E39 Five Series


The E39 was BMW's successor to the wonderful and very popular E34 five series predecessor. The car was introduced in the UK for 1996 but was out almost a year later in the USA and mainland europe.

The car is a bit more streamlined than the E34 but still manges to look agressive. I didn't like the E39 at first but the front end has grown on me. The E39 is only slightly heavier than the E34 and much of this is due to aluminium suspension components. This also lowers unsprung weight and hence improves handling.


The E39 first appeared as a four door saloon with the touring following about a year later. Unlike the E34 there is no four wheel drive model.

Inside the E39 has every gadget under the sun but personally I don't care for the new dashboard design, especially the centre console area. It doesn't feel as driver oriented as the E34, alas the E46 continues this trend.

The E39 diesels are great cars. The 525tds uses the same proven engine as the E34 and 325tds which is surprisingly torquey and very smooth. The new direct injection 530d is a very powerful piece of equipment and early reports confirm its suitability for the E39. The E38 730d has the same M57 engine but produces an extra 14ft/lb of torque as it's gearbox is a bit beefier and can handle the power.

The six cylinder cars use rack and pinion steering but this won't fit the V8's which use a less direct recirculating ball system. The six cylinder cars are considered to handle better than the eights due to the steering difference and lighter weight. All models have around 50/50 weight distribution although the V8s are a little front heavy.

The M5 is a very serious beasty indeed with a price tag to match. 400bhp ensures 0-60 in 5.3 seconds but with above 20mpg (euro) fuel economy. The M5 handles too and can pull 1.2g of turning force, this is incredible and unheard of in any production car. The car is available with a manual six speed gearbox, the SMG box will probably follow later. The M5 has fly-by-wire throttles and is the first //M car to have traction control, I think it may need it!

540i touring, the worlds most powerful estate?

AC Schnitzer modified E39. I want those S5S wheels.

Canadian example of the glorious M5.


E39s in europe have a wider choice of engines than in the USA. The US didn't get the 520i, 523i, 525tds, 535i and may not get the 530d either. The most popular in the UK will probably be the 520i or 523i due to cost and the company car buyers. All of these engines are fitted with OBD-II, a mixed blessing. The 528i is limited by German insurance rules and has a lot more potential than just 193bhp.

Autumn 2000 saw the 2.2 replace the 2.0 and the woefully undertuned 2.3 and 2.8 being replaced by a better 2.5 and a 3.0. New 2.5 and 3.0 diesels were also introduced. The M52 2.8 was always detuned to fit into lower German insurance catagories.

Model Body styles Engine Weight
Power / Weight
(bhp / 1000kg)
Final drive ratio
(man / auto)
520i early Saloon / Touring M52 1485 101 3.46 / 3.64 Disc/Disc ABS
520i late Saloon / Touring M54 1485? 114 ? Disc/Disc ABS
523i Saloon / Touring M52 1495 114 3.15 Disc/Disc ABS
525i Saloon / Touring M54 1495? 129 ? Disc/Disc ABS
525tds early Saloon / Touring M51 1555 92 2.65 / 3.15 Disc/Disc ABS
525d late Saloon / Touring ?New 1555? 105 ? Disc/Disc ABS
528i Saloon / Touring M52 1515 128 2.93 Disc/Disc ABS
530i Saloon / Touring M54 1515? 152 ? Disc/Disc ABS
530d Saloon / Touring ?New 1575 122 ? Disc/Disc ABS
535i Saloon / Touring M62 1660? 142? ? Disc/Disc ABS
540i (4.4) Saloon / Touring M62 1680? 170? ? Disc/Disc ABS
M5 Saloon S62? 1795 223 ? Disc/Disc ABS

See the engine details page for power figures. Where several body styles exist or the engine was changed during the model's life the figures above are for late model saloons.

Known Problems

Early M60 aluminium V8 engines had a problem in the US with high sulphur content petrol. Around a quarter of these engines have been replaced, the rest received an EPROM mod to run the engine hotter but this reduced power. None of the V8s in the E39 should suffer from this.

Bodys are extremely durable if looked after at all.

Overheating in traffic may be a sign of a broken cooling fan clutch.

Watch for squeaks from the rear door seals and leather rear seats.

Do not buy an M52 520/523/528 with an alloy block made before 3/98 unless it's had a new engine under warranty or you get a compression check done. Sulphur in fuel causes premature bore wear which shows as a bad idle and lack of power. Only solution is a new block. This was a particular problem in the North of England. After the problems with the M60 V8 BMW NA were vary of the alloy block M52 and all (or maybe just early?) US cars had a steel block instead.

Early M52s use a water pump with a plastic impeller. After 80k this can fail and leave little bits all around the cooling system. Replace it with the later metal style pump before it fails, not dear. M50s don't seem to like the cooling system being neglected, you need a fluid change every 2 years at least.