1999 BMW 5 Series 523i SE Touring 2.5 straight 6 petrol


Comfy old luxo barge that blew up!!


Water pump failed, resulting in failure of power steering and terminal engine heat damage.

Reverse parking sensors had lost their beep and only clicked!!

General Comments:

What a lovely car this was, and what a shame it met an early end!!

Bought off a chap who'd done mainly motorway miles in it the last 7 or 8 years, and fastidiously maintained as his company paid for maintenance; he was only getting rid of it because he'd been told by his boss he had to run a newer car!

Firstly, I was AMAZED at how well this thing drove for something with so many miles on the clock. It shows how well BMW's are built, that this had less squeaks and rattles than my wife's 18 month old Hyundai i40 company car!

We did several long journeys in it while I had it, simply because it was by far the most comfortable, refined car in the household. It was only bought to stick the dog in the back, so our newer cars didn't get messed up!!

Mine had grey leather (a bit worn), but oddly no heated seats or electric adjustment. The climate control worked brilliantly in hot weather, the stereo sounded great, all the electrics worked, it was spot on! It even had self levelling air suspension at the back!

To drive I found the engine silky smooth, although it had to be revved quite hard to get the best performance out of it, and handling wise was slightly barge like, but very accurate steering, and although it was a bit wallowy when cornering, if you really pushed it seemed to firm up and just go round, I never felt like it was going to lose grip. Got anything from 25 to 33 MPG in it, which I thought was alright for a big, heavy, petrol.

One odd thing that did happen, was on a very, very steep mountain road in North Wales, where I had to stop to give way to a Land Rover coming the other way, and the Beemer just wouldn't move again! No matter how many revs I gave it, it just sat there, until I was scared I was going to burn the clutch out. The handbrake didn't hold it either. It gives you an idea how steep the road was though, that when I rolled the car back to turn round and applied the brakes, it actually just kept going, skidding down the road!

Oh, and in common with other manual BMWs I've driven, the clutch was really uncomfortably heavy and jerky to operate.

It came with good branded tyres all round, and a set of winter tyres. So... you can imagine how gutted I was when the water pump failed, the engine temp shot up, and I drove it to my local garage to be told the engine had "probably" suffered terminal heat damage, and the only way to tell for sure was to put a £350 water pump on it. On balance, I wasn't about to spend £350 on a car I'd bought for £1000 as a run around, to find it was still knackered.

So, scrapyard in the sky for the Beemer. Real shame, I really liked it!!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 15th October, 2013

1999 BMW 5 Series 535i 3.5L V8 petrol


When working, close to motoring perfection, but let me down too many times


Three different failures of the cooling system, each one leaving me stuck at the side of the road.

Transmission required rebuilding when reverse failed.

Fuel pump failed, requiring replacement.

General Comments:

I have never owned a better car, yet I have never owned a worse car. To this day I remain conflicted about my 535.

On the plus side, the 225 bhp V8 petrol gave effortless performance. The handling was sublime, tricking you into thinking you were throwing a much smaller car into bends. Refinement was excellent, the 5-speed auto being so long geared that the engine was barely above tickover at motorway cruising speeds. When the 535 was behaving, it truly did feel like the ultimate driving machine.

Then the car would break down, and the illusion of precise German engineering would be shattered! The cooling systems of E39 5-series petrols seems to be designed to self-destruct - horrible cheap plastic everywhere that's just asking to fail. Of the five friends of mine who bought E39s, each one had some sort of cooling issue within the first six months of ownership.

I thought I was out of the woods after cooling system failure number three and a full transmission rebuild (€2,000, thank you very much!), but then the fuel pump died. I didn't dare go near a main dealer, but even a local mechanic didn't leave me with any change from €800. That was the straw that broke the donkey's back: I felt I had to get rid of the car after that.

Apart from all the breakdowns, running costs weren't what you'd call cheap. Nobody buys a 3.5-litre V8 for economy reasons, but driving in town, expect 18 mpg (UK) and plenty of visits to the petrol station. Motorway runs were better, returning 24 - 26 mpg, and one gentle run on back roads in the west of Ireland saw the on-board computer reading 32 mpg after the 90-minute trip.

If you're looking for a weekend car, or one that won't spend its life in traffic, and you can find one that's had its cooling system and transmission done already, then let your heart win out over your head and buy one. Just be prepared for the worst; that dreadful sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when the on-board computer goes "bong" and flashes up its latest tale of failure and woe on the matrix display.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 2nd November, 2010