Model: 1997 to 2003 BMW 5-Series
Vehicle type: Sedan/wagon
Approximate used price range: $5,000 to $16,500

History/description: Believe it or not, one of the world’s most highly regarded German sports sedans is now a relatively affordable used car buy. For generations, the BMW 5-Series has been sought after by luxury and performance enthusiasts alike for its world-class blend of instantly-recognizable styling and performance.


One of the most popular 5-Series generations is called the E39 by enthusiasts and BMW engineers. Available in the Canadian marketplace through model years 1997 to 2003, it was available as a sedan or wagon with a selection of driveline hardware and options.


Engine choices on standard cars in this 5-Series generation included both 2.5- and 2.8-litre straight-six engines with 184 or 193 horsepower, or a three-litre straight-six with 230 horsepower. BMW 540 models were fitted with a 4.4-litre V8 that boasted output approaching 300 horsepower.


Look for a full complement of airbags, antilock brakes and even stability control on every 5-Series model from this generation. Xenon lighting, a sport package and navigation were available, too.

What owners like: Existing 5-Series owners typically say they love the understated styling, impressive sportiness, performance and acceleration in models with the larger engines. A high-quality and high-luxury feel are also big positives as stated by 5-Series owners.

What owners hate: The most common 5-Series complaint by its owners relates to the cupholders. There aren’t any Timmies drive-thru’s in Germany, and as such, the 5-Series factory cupholders probably won’t accommodate your morning java. Owners also complain of an unreasonably small trunk and cramped rear seating.

Common issues: Of course, the BMW 5-Series is no Dodge Neon by repair cost standards, but reasonable prices and a fairly solid reputation for reliability should ease concerns.

As it is with many German cars of this era, electrical, wiring and sensor problems tend to be the most prevalent. Ensure all electronics and features work as expected on your test-drive — including all lights, instrument cluster indicators, and the automatic climate control system.
Note any ‘check engine’ lights and have them diagnosed before agreeing to purchase, too. Paint and leather should also be scrutinized for signs of abnormal wear.

The verdict: Find an acceptable price on a well-loved 5-Series, and you’re on your way to one of the world’s best all-around sport sedans. Just invest in an aftermarket cupholder for that morning coffee.