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1997 BMW 523i review
OWNER RATING 8.3 /10
  • Driving experience; Quiet; Silky smooth engine; Leather and walnut; Handling
  • No cruise control on my car; Cost of repairs as it gets older
PRICE N/A
ANCAP RATING N/A

by Michael Clarke

This is my second E39 – both cars over the 200K mark, and both genuine second-hand vehicles.

What a privilege it is to drive the E39. As soon as you sit in this car, you are wrapped in the leather seat, all controls are readily at hand, gauges clear and simple, and walnut trim understated but clearly rewarding you for your choice of vehicle. That reward continues when you start the engine – it’s so quiet and smooth. You move off in a measured but purposeful fashion, and the throttle is progressive and predictable with the gearbox changes barely felt.

On the road, and while this engine is the baby 2.5-litre, it has adequate acceleration, changing to more than adequate if you slip into sports mode and let the free-revving engine have its head in the 3000–5000rpm range. Handling is superb, predictable and enormous fun if you want to push it a bit. When you want to stop, the brakes are just superb. The steering is not super light, but very progressive and predictable.

My owner’s manual advised me the top speed is 214km/h. That is not a theoretical figure, because as soon as you sit in this vehicle it is so solid on the road, so predictable, you understand that it is built to cruise safely at 200km/h. It’s one of the very few production vehicles I have driven that’s realistically capable of doing so either on an autobahn or on a track. Even at 21 years of age!

When buying second-hand, though, look for a car with a good service history. Look for oil leaks, rocker cover gaskets age and become brittle, power steering lines tend to be hard and leak at the ends, and overheating can be a problem if not sorted. Air pockets can develop in the system leading to intermittent overheating problems. I was lucky enough to get a remedy from my old friend, the YouTube mechanic. It worked, so I’ve been happy to share it.

Maintenance – do as much as you can yourself. Other issues are the door window regulators can fail, and also the door handles, internal and external, at this age. The ignition or steering locks can decide to give up the ghost. Buttons on the heater air-con control may decide to break, but it’s an easy fix.

Avoid spending too much money on the car unless it’s a long-term keeper. Get a trusted repairer, as they can be a money pit, but get it all right, keep up the oil changes and you won’t be sorry.

NOTE: With no photo supplied, we have used an official (German) press image for this story. 

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1997 BMW 523i review Review
  • 8.3
  • 7
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