1999 BMW E39 523i Review

In my opinion, the BMW E39 is still hands down the best looking 5 series BMW have produced.   It significantly sharpened up the looks of the fairly boxy E34.   It was later replaced by the bulbous looking E60.  The current model still follows on too much from the E60 aberration.

The BMW E39 has now depreciated to the point where they are an entry level way of getting into  BMW ownership.  It gives you a bit more room than a 3 series, and a more capable car.  It also offers a better alternative to the W210 Mercedes E Class both in terms of looks, driving experience and quality.

The BMW E39 has crisp handling and steering and always feels poised when driving.    Despite the badge, the 523i is not actually a 2.3 liter car, it is a 2.5 liter in line 6.    The engine, being a BMW in line six is smooth and likes to rev, but is ultimately a little underpowered for the 5 series until you get to highway speed.   It also suffers from ‘lag’, presumably from the fly by wire system that exacerbates the lack of power.    The later 530i is apparently the better choice, although I have not driven one.

The interior is a little drab, but the seats are supportive and comfortable even on long distances.   Being a late 90’s car, it still has 90’s sound equipment like cassette players and CD-stackers.  These are integrated into the dashboard making replacement hard.    Also part of it’s 90s legacy is the aerodynamic body means it is hard to see the rear corners when reversing, and a reversing sensor was not standard equipment.

The particular car is owned by my brother and has driven has over 260,000 kms.  It still drives well and is quite economical to maintain, if taken to a good independent mechanic.   Some of the interior trim items are showing a bit of age, but overall it is still a good car for such a small amount of money, especially the 528i and 530i.

I would be happy to have a BMW E39 as a daily driver. I would choose one of the more powerful models instead of the 523i.

Update:  Sadly this car was later written off.   I eventually used the seat as my garage chair.  

2 comments to 1999 BMW E39 523i Review

  • Marl

    Thought would comment because I bought a 2000 E-39 six years ago at auction with 82,000, (currently 121,000) on the clock. I was thinking of upgrading to 2006-08 model but the e-39 is awesome, has cost virtually nothing in maintenance and still runs like a dream.

    To replace it would cost at least £4,000 and I would probably get about £500 for mine; if that. I have looked at some couple of years younger, but similar mileage. £8 grand would still be only 6-8 years younger.

    So bottom line is keeping the e-39 til she starts falling to pieces, but an awesome vehicle all round.

  • […] good example of the reason you would buy a well engineered car.   This was the BMW 523i I reviewed about 9 months ago, and it hit another car on the freeway yesterday.    It is […]

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