SOTW: BMW 528i (E39)


When it was launched back in 1996, the hyperbole surrounding the E39 5 Series - and specifically the 528i - was stunning. To quote just a few choice phrases from Autocar's April 1996 road test for the 528i:


"From the way it looks to the way it drives to the way it is priced, this new Five, codename E39, has an air of genius behind it that seems so obvious in the flesh ... This is a car that remains in a league above its competitors for pure response and driver involvement: it possesses the most complete saloon chassis we've ever tested ... BMW has been doing things so right for so long it was almost inevitable that one day it would come up with a near-perfect car."

A fine car, then, and one whose descent into Shed's sub-£1K depths we've been waiting a long time for. Because, although you may not believe it given the frequency with which BMWs appear on the hallowed pixels of SOTW, we've never actually featured an E39 5 Series - they've either been too ratty, or they've been snapped up before we've had a chance to write about them.


It's perfect SOTW fodder, too, with a creamy 193hp 2,793cc straight six, and an ability to take an astonishing amount of mileage and daily use, provided it's looked after properly. Actually scratch that - they can do it even if thoroughly unloved. I had a friend whose father only ever washed his in Fairy liquid, treated the service schedule as a vague guideline and generally abused the hell out of it during five years and 250,000 miles - and it never missed a single beat.

Of course there is one major issue with pre-1998 528i's - those infamous Nikasil liners - so do check that this one's been fixed or you could face a rather expensive melt-down. Other than that, and the absence of leather, there's not a lot to fault with this 5er: reasonable miles, a full year's MOT, a wee bit of tax - it ticks all the boxes.


It's also a car that the motoring press wet its collective pants over 15 years ago - and that's not something you can say about every SOTW we feature...

Advert is reproduced below

1996 (P reg)Saloon118,000 milesAutomatic2.8LPetrol
1 year mot 2 months road tax. Excellent condition in and out. Drive like new. Service history. Remote Central Locking Alarm Immobliser Aircon Climate control Electric Windows Electric Heated Door Mirrors,Fog lights.,Alloys,Radio Cd +6Disk Cd Changer, Heaed Front And Rear Screens Adjustable Seats 4 Door Saloon, Silver, Petrol, Automatic. PX CONSIDERED. £875

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (182) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Goatex 12 Apr 2012

    The Stiglet said:
    Going off topic, having never driven an E39 M5 I have always wondered how much better they actually are in the twisties. I would be very disappointed if, after a test drive, I viewed that vehicle in the same light as my 540i sport. Thing is, how different can the suspension actually be? I have almost the same suspension (M-Sport II) minus some strengthening and weight saving; the steering ratio is tightened up, sure but I wonder if that's enough to make me think Wow?



    Back in 2004 I did back to back drives in a Civic Type S and then a Type R. The Type R was obviously a completely different car from the moment I drove off - you could feel instantly it was so much firmer, sporty sounding and eager. So I thought my first drive in an M5 having come from a 530iSE (std suspension but Sport sized wheels) would be a similar experience but this was not the case; it was quiet, the ride was subtle - no noticeable loss of comfort over the 530i which pleasantly surprised me. The steering felt a little odd at first but not in a bad way although I did prefer the rack and pinion feel of the 530i. The clutch was also a bit heavier in the M5. It was not until out on the B roads that the differences became clear. The M5 rolls a lot less in the corners and turn in is noticeably sharper but it's the performance and soundtrack that completely transform the car. The 530i always sounded muted under acceleration where as the M5 a lot more engine noise is heard yet it still cruises in near silence. The finer, extended leather in the M5 cabin also really helps make the, already nice, cabin feel more special. So 2 very similar yet very different cars - I've always assumed a 540i Sport would be somewhere in between.

  • Jobbo 12 Apr 2012

    I used to take my 540i Touring (which had the MTech suspension option) to Wales for a blat quite regularly. Much better at playing the fun car than either of my E60s.

  • fluffnik 11 Apr 2012

    The Stiglet said:
    Or maybe I just need new bushes!
    Could be...

    I've not driven an ///M5 either but the B10 V8 is a remarkably capable B-Blaster...

  • The Stiglet 11 Apr 2012

    kbee540 said:
    The Stiglet said:
    The v8 in particular really suits an auto, I wouldn't want a manual unless it was an M5.
    Sorry Stiglet, but have to disagree. The v8 with the manual turned my 540 into near enough a sports car. Sure the auto is nice for wafting about, but the 6-speeder meant you could properly drive it. The steering on the v8 wasn't as good (recirc ball), but good enough.

    No worries, each to their own smile

    My view is based on the fact that these cars just aren't sports cars, they are pretty heavy and you do feel that. I've got sport suspension on mine and it's a great ride with exceptional damping, good composure and it's fine in the corners but there are times when the nose wants to wash-out. The V8 steering is a little wooly for the reason you describe and although the car is perfectly acceptable being hustled down B-roads, it's far from being a lithe, nimble 3 series.

    I've always seen it more as a continent cruiser with a nice big V8, comfortable seats, a very nice driving position, toys and the ability to hustle should you need to. For this application I think the auto box is better.

    Going off topic, having never driven an E39 M5 I have always wondered how much better they actually are in the twisties. I would be very disappointed if, after a test drive, I viewed that vehicle in the same light as my 540i sport. Thing is, how different can the suspension actually be? I have almost the same suspension (M-Sport II) minus some strengthening and weight saving; the steering ratio is tightened up, sure but I wonder if that's enough to make me think Wow?

    Or maybe I just need new bushes!




  • ziggy1024 11 Apr 2012

    Jon_Bmw said:
    I had a manual 540i touring for 2.5 years and did 24k miles in it.
    A five forty manual? That's a ****ing good car.

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