Among BMW enthusiasts, few models enjoy exalted esteem like the landmark E39 generation 5 Series range produced from 1996-2004. As the successor continuing BMW’s popular boxy E34 midsize sedan, the fluid yet taut E39 design struck a nuanced balance between conservative evolution and technical revolution for the era.
This calculated strategy paid off handsomely reflected in the E39 securing strong rankings among BMW’s greatest contributions advancing sports sedan engagement through bespoke engineering masterfully blending poise, luxury appointments and backroad excitement into the ultimate 4-door configuration. Two decades later, the poised E39 persists as an archetype showcasing core BMW strengths at their apex through human-centric machines optimized for real world enthusiastic driving. This article pays tribute to the venerable sports sedan by looking back at advancements and achievements cementing the E39’s enduring status among BMW’s post-war pantheon.
Evolutionary Styling, Revolutionary Engineering
Heading into the mid 1990s after decades crafting rear-drive sedans, BMW felt minimal urge chasing radical reinvention with the 5 Series. Under the guidance of head designer Joji Nagashima, the E39 gracefully evolved its predecessor’s quintessential three-box silhouette into more organic yet muscular forms honoring BMW tradition.
But beneath sheetmetal, momentous change lay with the adoption of a stiffer unitary shell, redesigned suspension geometry, and myriad handling technologies blurring the analog/digital divide.
Double-pivot front and multilink rear suspensions benefited ride smoothness without compromising reflexes and agility. Servotronic variable-assist steering improved feedback sensing inputs. Stability control arrived preventing understeer and keeping BMW’s rear-drive balance in check. Yet this technology influx enhanced engagement rather than insulate the thrill of driving – a calculated strategy at the heart of BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine ethos.
Unmatched Driving Dynamics in a Refined Package
While entering a new technological era, the E39 maintained BMW’s sacred commitment delivering zealous driving thrills intersecting with everyday livability and practicality expected of a premium sedan then and today. Even base 528i models gained sophistication moving occupants seamlessly from inner cities to sweeping mountain switchbacks without breaking composure or driver focus.
Crowning the E39’s outstanding competency, the 300-horsepower 540i and wild 400 hp M5 high performance variants channeled renowned 3.0/4.9-liter inline six muscle into overwhelming authority once called upon. Yet around town or in traffic, these same super sedans remained discreet luxury cars masking monster credentials. Regardless of motivation, the E39 formula stayed heroically balanced and satisfying at every turn thanks to obsessive engineering.
BMW E39 Establishing The Benchmark: Critical Acclaim and Audi’s Pursuit
With driving dynamics unmatched by competitors, the praise flowing in for the E39 validated BMW’s tireless refinements elevating capabilities beyond mainstream expectations.
Renowned Car and Driver declared the E39 5 Series “as close to perfect a car as can be created” during its premiere 200,000-mile long-term test. Collecting comparison test victories and elevated reviews across publications affirmed the company finally distilled its sports sedan hypothesis into long-sought Platonic ideal.
Meanwhile in Germany, envious rival Audi rushed development of its first performance variant A6 dubbed internally the “BMW Fighter” – direct aim towards matching the benchmark E39. Yet the Audi never matched Ingolstadt’s goal, proving just how far beyond Munich’s engineering elevated the balanced E39 into a class above competitors or expectations. Two decades later with countless newcomers aiming for the target, the E39’s complete synthesis remains untouched.
A Pillar of BMW E39 Identity: The Ultimate Balanced Machine
Through seven successful years and over 1.4 million sedans built, the E39 5 Series came to embody BMW core values and identity arguably better than any predecessor through engineering artistry benefitting drivers beyond mere specifications. To this day, BMW continues chasing the same perfection threshold raised by this seminal E39, but never again quite eclipsing its complete balance between technology and joy once achieved.
In retrospect, the E39 elevated expectations around engaging real-world sports sedans by blending rigid structure, athletic powertrains, digital enhancement and lightweight balance into one irrefutable pairing. It showed BMW at both the height of its capabilities yet oddly also just the beginning of tackling the perpetual quest striving towards a platonic automotive ideal just over the horizon. Two decades later this vision still captivates imaginations, thanks to one special sedan that got closer than any before or since.