Used BMW 5 Series 1996 - 2003 review

Category: Executive car

This version of the BMW 5 Series is a jack of all trades and master of most.

BMW 5 Series (96 - 04)
  • BMW 5 Series (96 - 04)
  • BMW 5 Series (96 - 04)
Used BMW 5 Series 1996 - 2003 review
Star rating

What's the used BMW 5 Series saloon like?

The BMW 5 Series is, in a word, brilliant. It outshone every rival during its lifetime and continues to do better than many of today's more up-to-date options.

Whether you're looking to cruise from Cornwall to Caithness or blast down some country lanes, the 5 Series delivers a really stunning drive. Great weight distribution and well-weighted steering mean it's great to be behind the wheel.


This version of the BMW 5 Series is a jack of all trades and master of most.

  • Classy and comfortable
  • Swift
  • Practical
  • Costly to maintain
  • Tight on rear sear space

The 5 Series is smooth and quiet. It's generally very comfortable, too, although larger passengers might find it a bit of a squeeze in the back.

There's no such complaint with the boot, however, which is easily big enough to swallow a good few sets of golf clubs or a family's luggage for a week away.

Equipment levels are better than you might think, and the car has a strong safety record, too, with a creditable four-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests.

Ownership cost

What used BMW 5 Series saloon will I get for my budget?

How much does it cost to run a BMW 5 Series saloon?

Chances are you'll only need deep pockets if you fancy one of the V8 petrols, which drink fuel and cost a fair whack to run.

Otherwise, running costs are pretty much on a par with rivals from Audi and Mercedes. Our fancied 520i does just over 30mpg and is in insurance group 14. Diesels can return more than 40mpg, but insurance premiums jump up.

Repair costs are relatively low, certainly less than you'd expect to hand over to get a Mercedes or Audi back on the road; and that's despite BMW having some of the highest workshop rates. You may well be better off finding a decent independent garage where you could slash that in half.

Don't lose control of your budget and pay for options you don't want, but remember that leather, climate and automatic gearboxes will be popular when you come to sell on.

Our recommendations

Which used BMW 5 Series saloon should I buy?

The silky, fast V8 petrols can be pricey, but you certainly won't be short-changed in opting for one of the excellent six-cylinder motors, which span everything from 150 to 231bhp. In fact, the entry-level 150bhp 520i, uprated to 170bhp in September 2000, is our favourite.

An awesome 400bhp BMW M5 performance saloon is on hand for those with a real thirst for thrills. And, all of the diesels are good, but the 530d is particularly peachy.

Equipment levels aren't too bad – all except the first entry-level cars come with a decent amount of airbags, air-con, alloys, remote locking and electric windows, but models with climate control, leather and an automatic gearbox are far more popular and easier to sell on. SE trim is the best place to start your hunt.

The car was updated in summer 2000 with a new grille and headlights, while two years later a smarter stability control system was fitted.

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