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Stockton McMullin’s BMW E39 5-SeriesNEIRAD enilno edition
Even though Senior Stockton McMullin may not realize it when driving his father’s 1997 528i sedan every day, enthusiasts will always remember the E39 5-Series as the most expressive, quintessential 5-series BMW has ever produced. It is not that the other 5-series generations were bad; it is that they were just not as good as the E39 5 series. For instance, take the E34, the 5 series from 1987-1996, a great car, but just too much of a drivers’ car to be the perfect 5-series. It was too raw, rough, and harsh, almost like a simply elongated E31 M3. The exterior had sharp edges, an aggressive rear and mean front end. The width of the rear tires on the E34 540i were about the length of one’s leg, and while it could drive and handle like a very large go kart, it did not strike the balance between performance and livability that is needed in the sport sedan segment.
Now let’s look at the former E60 5-series generation from 2004-2010. It was pretty much the opposite of the E34, a sports sedan that just got… fat. The exterior just looked lazy, with a lethargic round front and plain boring sides. The headlights are reminiscent of staring female eyes with swooping eyelashes, and that is just something not appropriate in a powerful, high performance executive’s sedan. The E60 was infinitely more luxurious than any of the preceding 5 series generations. The body was large, the ride was soft, and the interior was as comfortable and magnificent as a mega yacht lined in sultry leather. Where the E34 was too much like a 3-series, the E60 was scarily close to the 7 series. That leaves the E39 5-series, the middle between the two previously mentioned. The E39 was available in the US between 1997-2003, and throughout its lifetime remained very much unchanged. Leaving a car constant for 7 years is not a bad thing – it is not that BMW’s design team was lazy, or that they couldn’t think of anything new – but instead a testament to the sublime perfection exhibited by the German auto manufacturer in the E39 5-series.
Like many comparisons, contrasts bring out the best of each front. Take cuisine for example: sweet and salty, hot and sour –contrasts in flavor bring out the essence of each extreme. The same is true for the E39 5-series. Unparalleled performance, comfort, and elegance brought the 5-series to benchmark accreditation all throughout its 7 year reign. The E39 5 series was the perfect balance between a high performance sport car, and a luxurious executive’s saloon, that failed to compromise in either respect. When the 5 series was introduced to the US market in 1997, it was revolutionary. One would look at the sleek lines of the exterior and be instantly mesmerized by the fluidity of the body, from the front kidney grills to the rear diffuser. The interior was sophisticated, yet focused, with a handsome display of masterly crafted wood surrounding the cabin and clear, thoughtful driver interfaces. The dash was angled adjacent to the driver, creating a concentrated cockpit, showing that this sedan was intended to be driven. The 5 series provided the unparalleled comfort for all four passengers, unseen in any other mid-size sedan during its unveil. The ride of the E39 5 series was smooth but not lazy with long wheelbase and suspension eager to stiffen up and become composed whenever the road got twisty. Lightweight aluminum suspension components of the independent setup allowed bumps to be absorbed immediately, leaving the chassis and cabin unaffected, and more importantly, stable. The steering speed and ratio was immaculate due to years of a honed rack and pinion setup. The relayed feedback made the driver felt like they were inches close to the wheels in absolute, harmonious control. However, probably the most addictive factor of the E39 5 series was the unprecedented overall refinement of the interior, exterior and power train. The three engine options, the 2.5 liter inline six in the 525i, the 3.0 liter inline six cylinder in the 530i, and the magnificent 4.4 liter V8 in the 540i provided a rush of smooth power pulling from the bottom to the top of the rev range. The each power plant was exceptionally polished in delivery and sound, making BMW distinguished for their renowned inline six-cylinder platforms. “It’s not the newest car but it’s nice and gets the job done,” Stockton said speaking modestly.
The new redesigned 5 series for 2011, denoted as the F10, was deliberately designed to move away from the past E60 version, and make a more contemporary version of the iconic E39 5 series, with a tighter body, more distinct styling lines, and more driver oriented personality. The E39 will always be one of the most emotional 5 series ever produced. It is also one of the most memorable and perhaps nostalgic. The now trademark BMW ‘Angel eyes’ apparent in the headlights of every current BMW model, first appeared on the E39 5 series in 2001. The quad rings now accompany the twin kidney grill to give all bimmers their signature front fascia. There will be no replacing the E39, however hopefully this new generation will provide drivers with the same unsurpassed satisfaction that the legendary 5 series continued to deliver.
If there was one thing that brought the E39 5-series down from being the ideal sports sedan, it would be the lack of a four wheel drive option. BMW failed to introduce their Xdrive option in their 5 series lineup until the introduction of the E60 in 2004. BMW’s largest competitors have always been its neighbors Mercedes Benz and Audi. By the year 2000 however, Mercedes Benz and Audi both had an all wheel drive option for their midsize sedans, the E-Class and A6 models respectively. Mercedes Benz had their ‘4-Matic’ all wheel drive system, and Audi never failed to incorporate their legendary “Quattro” all wheel drive system. Although a rear wheel drive setup may be optimal in consistent handling and performance driving, in the higher latitudes such as Darien for example, an all wheel drive option is essential to the success of any estate car.