Changes by Model Year
The 1996 model year 5 series E39 was introduced into the US market in late 1995. Models available were the 528i with a I6, and the 540i with a M62 V8.
The 1997 model year the E39 went through minor design changes. The on-board computer, called the Multi-Information System (MID), was upgraded in mid 1997.
For 1998 optional rear side airbags became available, and both models also gained BMW’s exclusive new Head Protection System, which consists of two tubular bags that inflate upon a side impact and pop out just above each front door. A new Sport Package for the 528i and 540i, as well as an automatic transmission 540i were added options. The Sport Package included black body trim (standard models had chrome around the top of the windows), a sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch (430 mm) wheels and tires. In September 1998, the 540i’s M62B44 was updated to the M62TUB44, adding 15 ft·lbf (20 N·m) of torque.
The high-performance M5 sedan returned to the BMW fold. Built in limited numbers, the M5 used a 400 hp (300 kW) V8 S62, and came with a firmer suspension, 18 inch wheels, a 6-speed manual transmission, and exclusive interior trim. Lower-body rear side airbags were standard on the M5, remaining optional for other models.
1999 saw the introduction of the Touring (station wagon) body style and joined sedans in both 6-cylinder and V8 editions. Added options for 1999 were brighter xenon headlights, Park Distance Control that warns of obstacles when backing up, and self-leveling rear suspension for wagons. Standard on V8 models and newly optional for 528i versions was BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control, designed to aid control in fast turns.
In 2000, rain-sensing windshield wipers and xenon headlamps became standard on the 540i, and were newly available for 528i models. The “M Sport” package was added (replacing the standard sport package), and included the M Sport steering wheel, door sills, and shift knob. The 528i versions also gained the 540i’s standard stability control system. All models now had daytime running lights, and fog lamps.
For the 2001 model year, BMW updated the E39 with newer, clear-lens tail, side marker, and headlights which first displayed the now-popular “angel eyes.” Rear tail lights were changed to “wave-guide” LEDs (Hella, the OEM, refers to these lights as “CELIS”), while the side and rear turn signals were changed from amber lenses to clear. The black trim was now painted to match the body color, and the front bumper now featured rounded fog lights. Internally many changes were made to electronics; items such as window regulators and the air conditioning were updated. The 528i was replaced by the 530i which had a new 170 kW (228 hp) M54B30 3.0 L inline-6. A new entry-level 525i was introduced featuring a 143 kW (192 hp) M54B25 2.5 L I6 and a slightly lower price. The available navigation system was changed to a wide screen version. The front grill was also changed to a new, more pronounced design.
For 2002, BMW Steptronic-equipped E39s had their manual shift direction switched to match BMW’s SMG. Also, in 2002 the 540i V8 32V engine power was increased from 210 kW (282 hp) to 216 kW (290 hp) while torque remained the same. All models got a standard in-dash CD player, 6-cylinder models added a standard power passenger seat, and the 525i received automatic climate control standard. Consumer Reports declared the 2002 BMW E39 the best car they had ever reviewed.
2003 marked the last year for the E39 platform; they were differentiated by the addition of extra chrome trim on the trunk (boot) and on the sides of the body. In all 6-cylinder model 5-Series add a standard sunroof. The optional navigation systems upgraded from CD-ROM format (8 CDs to cover the entire USA and Canada) to a single DVD-ROM. The optional sport package on the 540i carried parts from M-technic. This included a full M-tech ground effects, M-tech II suspension, 18 inch wheels, and a variety of M badging. Isofix/LATCH child seat anchors were added. The E39 wagon (touring / estate) was continued into 2004 until the touring version of the new E60 5 Series was released.