No doubt news of the M550i’s UK introduction has put more than one PHer in the mind of a fast, svelte BMW – so as a service to the nation may we turn your attention to the oft-forgotten E39 535i? We’re all big fans of the E39 5 Series at PH – that much was clear when we pitted the M5 against its progeny last year – and the V8-powered 535i is no exception. Unlike the classic-grade M5, it's easily attainable in 2020 and still brimmed with the same big BMW nineties charm. What's not to like?
Alright, yes - the fuel bills. BMW’s M62 3.5-litre V8 was said to return 23.5mpg back in 1996 when it was a brand new motor and combined testing was a little more, erm, lenient; you can be certain age will have knocked the edge off that original figure even in the best kept examples. But the unfiltered vocals of BMW’s aluminium-blocked, atmospheric M62 more than make up for its thirst; there’s a purposeful bass but nothing too shouty. 235hp is less than half the M550i’s output, but in a 1.65-tonne saloon it’s enough for a 0-60mph dash of 6.6 seconds. That’s Jaguar XK8 pace in a much roomier package.
Unlike BMW’s latest quick 5 Series, the 535i wasn’t tuned by Bavaria’s performance division, so it’s not claimed to be the sharpest tool under the sun. But the talents of the E39 are rightly famous; it was the first 5 Series to extensively use aluminium in the front suspension and the first to incorporate the lightweight metal at the back, too. While every E39 variant has always felt more grand tourer than sports car – all the way up to the brilliantly involving M5 – the balance and poise of the setup always shone through.
The 535i, with its 236lb ft of unboosted torque, is an ideal example. Expect effortlessness in operation combined with real confidence when tackling bends. The E39 was all about consuming miles at a consistently high pace. It does that while occupants are surrounded by that warm, cossetting nineties BMW interior decor, with wood veneers and simple dash designs. BMW’s tidy instrument cluster dials do exactly what they need to; display information in a tidy, easy-to-read manner. The current version should take note.
Thanks to its ease of use and all-round loveliness, the three owners of today’s Spotted, a 1997 example, have clearly put the car to good use. It has 139,000 miles on the clock, which is a decent chunk by anyone’s measure although nothing when you consider the car’s age. Anyway, the forums will have us believe that an E39 535i’s relative simplicity also lends it to decent reliability; indeed, some suggest the M62 block is so strong you may as well go for the higher power 540i and enjoy 50hp more for the same running costs.
In 2020, though, the priority ought to be condition over a few extra horses, which is why we’ve picked out this car, which is described in the ad as having no faults and being HPI clear. It’s MOT’d up to August and best of all, the asking price is negotiable, so you could very well be looking at a big-engined 5 Series for under £4k.
SPECIFICATION - BMW 535I (E39)
Engine: 3,498cc V8
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 235@5,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@3,300rpm
First registered: 1997
Recorded mileage: 139,000
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £4,000
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