BMW E60 5 Series Buying Guide Straight-Six Petrol Models

BMW E60 5 Series Buying Guide Straight-Six Petrol Models

Buying Guide. The E60 might not have quite the following of the E39 but the six-pot petrol models are a great buy. BMW E60 5 Series straight-six petrol models. The E60 5 Series was a great car and provided you buy wisely we reckon one of the six-pot petrol-engined machines is a great used buy. Words: Bob Harper and Andy Everett. Photography: David Shepherd and BMW.

Launched in 2003, the E60 had a hard act to follow as the E39 was almost universally loved and the new Bangle-era styling of the E60 wasn’t appreciated by everyone. Initially the all-new machine was only available in SE guise and the styling didn’t sit very well with small wheels and some of the drab colours didn’t show it off in the best light either. But over the years the arrival of the Sport package and some delectable petrol straight-sixes has ensured that the car now has a decent following and with the diesel backlash surely just around the corner we reckon that now’s the time to buy one of these excellent cars.

The interior had also moved on considerably, although for BMW traditionalists it wasn’t a step in the right direction. Gone was the driver-centric dash, which had remained a fundamental aspect of BMW interior design right up until the demise of the E39. Instead, the centre console was set straight on in the dash, a vertical wall housing the basic stereo and heater controls. The upper level of the dash has a flowing design, with the instrument cluster melding in to the iDrive screen. At least the car retained a traditional handbrake and gear selector, as opposed to the electronic parking brake and column mounted affair of the BMW E65.

iDrive was perhaps one of the car’s biggest bugbears and was enough to deter buyers who’d become used to an array of buttons and knobs. The Five’s iDrive, only the second time the system had appeared in a car, remember, had thankfully been simplified from the Seven’s eight-way system, but some owners found it tricky to negotiate. We reckon though that with a little bit of familiarity it shouldn’t cause owners new to the system any real problems.

Beneath the all-new body was a host of new technology and an innovative body-chassis structure, which blended steel and aluminium to keep weight to a minimum. The heavier materials were kept towards the centre of the car, which resulted in a lower polar moment of inertia, helping to improve the handling. As far as new technology was concerned, BMW chose to debut Active Steering, Head-Up Display (HUD) and adaptive headlights on the car while items such as PDC (with a new coloured screen to give visual warnings) and Dynamic Drive were borrowed from the 7 Series.

At launch there were two petrol models to choose from – the 2.2-litre 520i (170hp and 155lb ft) and the 3.0-litre 530i (with 231hp and 221lb ft of torque). These were soon joined by the BMW 525i E60 packing 192hp and 181lb ft from its BMW E39-sourced engine. In 2004 the Touring was launched and it was a fair bit more capacious than the E39 version offering a load capacity of between 500-1615-litres. 2004 also saw the introduction of the Sport models, which accounted for around 60 per cent of E60 sales.

Visually similar to the BMW M5 E60, the Sport models featured a new front bumper with wider air intakes, flared side skirts and a new rear bumper with PDC and rear apron. The window surrounds were de-chromed, 18- inch double spoke alloys were fitted, as was M Sports suspension, which featured recalibrated dampers and stiffer springs that lowered the car by 15mm.

Inside, Sport models were treated to part cloth/Nappa leather, part electric Sports seats, aluminium cube interior trim, M steering wheel, M kick plates and anthracite headlining. In late 2004, other additional options were introduced, including new colours, interior trim options and digital TV.

In early 2005, BMW introduced the first new models which would join and replace the existing line-up. The 520i was dropped and in its place came the 523i, powered by a detuned version of BMW’s new lightweight, magnesium and aluminium straightsix. As with previous models, the engine was actually a 2.5-litre, now producing 174hp and 170lb ft of torque. The BMW 525i E60 remained but with the new engine in place, power rose to 215hp, accompanied by 184lb ft while the 530i’s output swelled to a substantial 258hp and while its maximum torque of 221lb ft was no more than that of the outgoing model, the torque curve was flatter, which meant more low down urge and a stronger mid-range. All models also benefited from improved fuel economy and the six-cylinder was now equipped with DSC+.

The E60 came fairly well spec’d, with all models receiving a six-speed manual gearbox, with the option of a six-speed Steptronic auto or on pre-2005 cars, six-speed SMG, though it was rather at odds with the nature of the car. Alloy wheels were standard across the board, as were front, side and head airbags, a rain sensor, auto headlights, CD player, OBC and auto aircon among others. As you progressed up the model range, things like metallic paint, PDC, bigger wheels, advanced air-con and leather could be found on the standard equipment list. There were plenty of options to choose from such as active cruise control, active front seats, bi-xenon headlights, electric rear blinds, sat nav, Logic 7 Professional hi-fi and TV.

In 2007 the E60 received its LCI face-lift and as well as the expected changes to lights and bumpers there were further changes to the engine line-up, too. The six-cylinder petrol line-up still consisted of the 523i, 525i and 530i but thanks to the introduction of direct injection outputs were now 190hp, 218hp and 272hp respectively while torque figures had swelled by between seven (523i) and 15lb ft (525i and 530i). Performance incrementally improved but it was in the economy stakes that the LCI cars made big savings, showing gains of around five miles per gallon on the combined cycle. This was in no small part down to the introduction of brake energy regeneration (as part of BMW’s EfficientDynamics programme) while changes to the six-speed auto (including a new style gear lever) made the autoequipped machines more or less on a par with the manuals both in terms of performance and economy. The E60 range continued up until the arrival of the all-new BMW F10 generation of Five in March 2010.


Buying one

As you can see from the spec panel on page 90 there are a plethora of models to choose from, and it’s worth taking some time to work out which is which. There were three versions of both the 525i and 530i, so you need to know which one suits your needs best. For ultimate reliability of the drivetrain the earlier M54-engined machines probably just shade it but so long as you look after a later car these should also be capable of doing big mileages.

As you’d expect with a machine that dates from 2003 prices start pretty low – you can get behind the wheel of an E60 from around the £2k mark (although it will be a very tired example). As ever, there will be a few gems hidden amongst the chaff, but reckon on paying twice this amount for a machine that’s still got plenty of life left in it. At the other end of the scale you can still pay up to £15k for a late model, low mileage 530i from a BMW main dealer with all the bells and whistles, but at this price point you could almost bag an F10 example which is where our money would be going. £10k would get you a very nice 530i Sport with sub-60k miles.

Sport models seem to command significantly higher prices than an SE but watch out for Sports with the 19-inch wheels and run-flat tyres. Yes, they look stunning but M Sport suspension and run-flats with these wheels aren’t great bedfellows – we’d compromise on looks somewhat and look for a car on 18-inch wheels. If you have your heart set on 19s then do make sure you test-drive it first.


Wheels, tyres and brakes

The standard E60 came on some very sorry looking 16-inch alloys, many of which have now been recycled. The E60 wheel centre bore went back to the old BMW E34 size (72.5mm), meaning that many aftermarket wheels intended for the E39 will require plastic or alloy spigot rings. The 17-inch alloy wheel is a good compromise and tyres were all run-flats – only the 16-inch wheels avoided this. These days runflats are much better than they were but are still quite expensive – a regular quality 245/45 R17 such as a Bridgestone or a Dunlop will be around £100, but a run-flat can be around £30-40 pounds more. Also, remember that on E60s with run-flats a space-saver, jack and wheel brace were optional and not standard – so it’s hard to find these second-hand. If you choose to replace the run-flats with standard tyres, be sure to inform your insurance company in writing.

Brakes don’t pose any major problems. Unlike the E39, the ABS module doesn’t often go wrong, assuming the battery is all in order, that is… Rear brake pipes are now at the age where they can go rusty, but they aren’t a massively expensive to replace. Discs and pads are cheap enough – even BMW charges less than £200 for the fronts and a motor factor will be charge you less than £150 for Ate or Pagid stuff.


Bodywork

The E60 marked another huge step forward for BMW in the fight against rust. The E39 wasn’t perfect when it came to rust and the E60 really has cured that. Even a late 2003 car should still be rust-free and any arch or other cosmetic rust will be down to serious neglect or repaired accident damage. All cars rust eventually, so it’s worth getting the undertrays off and looking at the various underbody seams. Cars that have lived in harsh climates may have surface rust but it’s unlikely to be anything to worry about. The E60 had an all-alloy front end and so any accident repairs must have been carried out properly. The bonnet should still have the correct alloy panel – some repaired cars will have had a steel bonnet fitted and whilst that’s not a huge issue on a cheaper car, you may find the additional weight will overcome the bonnet gas struts – especially old ones or the cheaper new ones. Like the E39, window regulators are really not a common issue on the E60 and neither is the central locking system. Wiper linkage arms can sometimes break, particularly on later LCI cars for some reason.

Beware of cars with sunroofs, particularly the E61 Panoramic glass roof. Like the E34 Touring double sunroof of old, it was a great idea when new but now represents water leaks and bits breaking, as well as rattles. It’s something you might want to just avoid but if you must have it, frequent use and regular lubrication is the key to success.

A well-known problem on the E60 is water getting into the cabin due to blocked scuttle drains. When this happens, water builds up until it comes over the back of the scuttle and soaks the front carpets as well as expensive ECUs. It takes an hour to remove the rear under bonnet trims and poke the drains clear so do it annually, if not more often.


Interior

After the solid E39, the early E60 felt like an old Carlton with its dubious plastics and awkwardly angled window switches. Leather is fitted to most cars and it’s generally the base-spec 520is that had the cloth trim. Whilst some of the door plastics can look scruffy with age, the seats wear well and the black plastics clean up well. We’ll cover the gadgets in the electrical section but just make sure everything works. Also check in the boot for water ingress. Lift the carpets up and be suspicious of any dampness. We’ve mentioned the wet front carpets scenario below.

The E60 is well stocked with air conditioning, four electric windows, CD player (single slot) plus iDrive with a central screen and cruise control as standard. There are other interior options, though. The standard central screen can be replaced with either Business navigation (6.5-inch screen with Professional radio) or the 8.8-inch wide Professional navigation. Both systems are DVDbased so make sure the disc is present and for cars with Navigation (Code 672) check that the six CD changer is fitted in the glovebox. The air conditioning can either be the standard automatic type or the Advanced system which features chrome-rimmed rotary knobs with ‘Max’, ‘Off’ and ‘Rest’ in the centres. This system has automatic air recirculation (AAR) as well as solar and screen mist sensors and temperature control for the rear passenger centre vent. Seats are either standard, Comfort or Sport – the last two are well worth having as are heated seats and active seats that massage the driver and front seat passenger – another option is ventilated active seats, rare on sixcylinder cars.

From 2005, N52-engined cars were available with the M5-type HUD, heated steering wheel and a TV function for the Professional navigation system. As ever, check what options the car has and make sure everything still works. Although the old DVD based systems here aren’t that great, with disc updates they’re still worth having.


Electronics

The E60 has a battery that is controlled by a power saving module (IBS). This intelligent ECU controls how much battery power the car needs and how much it needs back from the alternator. It’s a clever and reliable system, as long as the battery is the correct type and is properly coded. As the battery starts to wilt in old age, the battery control unit will recognise the signs and start to shut systems down – you might find the radio stops working because the car knows you’d prefer to get home rather than listen to The Archers on the hard shoulder. The life of a BMW battery is about ten years in normal use (look for four numbers stamped into one of the terminals) and if you suspect it’s on the way out, you must get a new battery fitted and properly coded in (registered) to the car as soon as possible. If you just drop a scrapyard special in, it won’t work properly and the car will start to display some bizarre electrical problems. You can use either a lead acid battery or preferably, the AGM (absorbent glass mat) type that is lighter and more powerful. It will cost around £60 for a BMW dealer to code in a new battery.

There are three types of headlights on the E60. The first is the standard halogen type, and then there are the xenons that come with headlight washers as standard. A further option was adaptive xenons with swivelling inner lenses to follow the steering angle – not much use when you have some opposite lock on. They are also very rare and fearsomely expensive at nearly £1200 each with VAT. From 2005, the E60 was also available with high beam assist, a modern version of a 1950s General Motors design where a sensor detects oncoming cars at night and dips the beam.

The E61 Tourings have the dreaded BMW tailgate wiring scenario with broken wires. This takes a lot of effort to sort out and due to the CANBUS electronics can cause some very odd electrical glitches. All cars have iDrive so make sure the controller works as it should. A common problem on the E61 Touring is a failed radio amplifier. Don’t bother with used ones, just buy new.

Electronics played an increasing part in the make up of the E60 and it was the first mass market BMW to feature an iDrive screen as standard.


Steering and suspension

A standard E60 rides, steers and handles extremely well, so avoid the rare Dynamic Drive option. This uses hydraulically powered anti-roll bars and a leaking one is both an MoT fail and an expensive fix at well over £1000 for the part alone. As well as that, you have a special PAS pump to power the system, hoses, a valve block and so on. While it’s theoretically possible to fit a standard anti-roll bar and PAS pump, coding the system could be a nightmare. The other option to avoid is active steering that takes the steering wheel angle and turns the pinion more – this involves electronics and thus the possibility for eye watering cost. A new steering rack is over £3000 and good luck finding a used one.

On standard cars, the steering and suspension don’t pose any particular problems. The aftermarket supplies a full range of arms, bushes and dampers as well as steering racks – not active steering though! Euro Car Parts do a REMY exchange standard rack for £168 and a servotronic rack for £299. Boge Sachs alloy dampers are around £100 each depending on model, and the surprisingly good Anschler brand does them for under £40 each but Lemforder front arms are still £100 a pop, and there are four of them. Tourings have rear air suspension, and new airbags cost around £150 each aftermarket. The pump in the boot is not the same as the old E39 – they are often killed by water leaks into the spare wheel well.


Engine

The original E60 (built until February 2005) used the M54 engine from the previous E39 cars. Apart from the engine wiring loom, the E60 version of the BMW M54 is identical to the E39 version – even the sump is the same. Quite recently we found a 2004 525i auto at a car auction with a whopping 340,000 miles; the M54, with care, will do a lot of miles. The 520i used the 170hp 2.2 unit, the 525i used the 2.5 with 192hp and the 530i was blessed with 231hp. Oil consumption is often a problem and the reason many E60s are sold – they can really gallop through the stuff. Replacing the entire CCV (crank case ventilation) system is a must at this age – lift the inlet manifold off and replace all the hoses as well as the valve. Oil leaks are fairly common – the plastic cam cover can crack or warp and a new rubber gasket may not cure it. All E60s use the push fit pencil coils and the type of cam cover that was fitted to the last of the E39s. Oil leaks can also occur from the oil filter housing to block joint. The gasket is cheap but the labour is quite involved (around four hours).

M54 engines will need the cooling system looking at. The plastic impeller water pump isn’t as iffy as it’s made out to be, but ten years is enough for any pump and a new one is only £30-40. A BMW radiator is £311 plus VAT and about £200 for a Hella version.

From 2005, the new N52 engine was used, an all-new engine sharing nothing with the previous M54. This is another great engine, the 3.0-litre making 258hp. However they aren’t quite as good at hiding neglect as the M54. The main problem is wear in the camshaft housing in the cylinder head where a steel sprung ring sits, acting as an oil seal.

This will eventually wear a groove in the cam carrier allowing pressurised oil for the Vanos unit to escape. The check engine light will come on and the fault will be logged as a faulty Vanos unit. Even if the Vanos unit is replaced the light will still pop back up. Repair is very involved and expensive – we’re talking thousands here. So, ignore the oil change intervals suggested by CBS and change the oil and filter every 8000 miles with a fully synthetic. The N52 timing chain setup is pretty much identical to that on the four-cylinder N42 and N46 but it’s much longer lasting. The BMW N52 can also leak oil from the cam cover gasket as well as the brake vacuum pump at the back of the cylinder head. Just to put your mind at ease, the N52 in these cars doesn’t use direct injection with a high pressure pump, just a slightly updated version of what the M54 used.

However, the LCI versions from 2007 certainly do use the high pressure direct injection system, and this engine was carried forward into the F10 in 2010. By and large these cars are fine but be aware that any fuelling problems could very expensive to sort out; recoding the injectors and replacing the NoX sensor and the fuel pressure sensor can cost up to four figures. The BMW N53 runs quite noisily from the top end due to the injections ‘ticking’ but, that apart, make sure it starts and runs perfectly with the EML engine check light doing what it should. Both the N Series engines use electric water pumps.


Transmission and drivetrain

The manual gearboxes on these are generally very tough. The Getrag GS6 is a close ratio six-speed unit and it was used on both the M54 and the N52 engines but with a different bellhousing bolt pattern. It was used on all M54 cars (520i, 525i and 530i) as well as late six-speed E46 cars as well. There isn’t really a lot to say about it – it’s sealed for life and can last indefinitely. An oil change can help it along but if you have an iffy syncro, a good used ’box isn’t going to be dear.

These cars have a dual mass flywheel but these rarely give any bother either. A new clutch kit is a reasonable £212 plus VAT from BMW and £143 all in for a LuK kit from ECP. The ZF 6HP six-speed automatics are also good boxes, with provisos. These too are sealed for life but that doesn’t mean you can just neglect them. The plastic-finned sump is known to warp and leak oil in old age, and as it incorporates the filter, it’s well worth replacing this sump and topping up with the correct oil. Oil can also leak from where the wiring plug fits into the side so at service/MoT time, it’s worth dropping the plastic undertrays and examining the box for leaks.

Problems with harsh shifting can mean the valve block needs a rebuild. Until fairly recently this meant a four grand mechatronics unit but these days they can be rebuilt more easily. Reckon on around £1000 to supply and fit a rebuilt valve block.

SMG was an option on the 530i and it’s thankfully a rare one. This unit was derived from the Marelli-developed E46 SSG and it’s very similar to the Alfa 156 Selespeed system. If that doesn’t put you off, nothing will. It’s okay when it works but there are problems with both the pump and the control unit and you can absolutely forget about used parts as this was such a rare option. Want a new pump? Sure, but it’s several thousand pounds and it only comes as a complete gearbox. In other words, avoid it. Either have the six-speed manual, or the superb six-speed auto. A conversion to a manual ‘box is possible but not really worth the bother.

E60 diffs are very tough but 520i driveshafts are unique to this model and are BMW-only as they are not available aftermarket. They can also wear out so listen very carefully for any driveline clonks from the back end. You may feel a clonk as you dip the clutch and engage first gear and this means tired CV joints. Be aware that manual and automatic 520i shafts are different as well, but E60 shafts are the same left and right. Cost? Just £529 each, plus VAT.

The arrival of the Sport package and some delectable petrol straight-sixes has ensured the car now has a decent following.


Verdict

The E60 is a very good car really. Whilst many derided it after the E39, time has shown that it’s every bit as durable (possibly more so). On paper, the M54-engined cars with few options are going to be the cheapest to run and repair, but in reality the later technology has proven reliable. Some things are probably worth avoiding though – SMG and active ride and active steering are three options that will be cripplingly expensive to repair and don’t add much (if anything) to the driving experience. It’s not as if the standard cars aren’t superb to drive in standard form. Manual or auto? We’d go for an auto every time really.

TECH DATA FILE
BMW E60 520i (2003) 523i (2005) 523i (2007) 525i (2004) 525i (2005) 525i (2007) 530i (2003) 530i (2005) 530i (2007)
ENGINE: Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve Six-cyl, 24-valve
CAPACITY: 2171cc 2497cc 2497cc 2494cc 2497cc 2996cc 2979cc 2996cc 2996cc
MAX POWER: 170hp 174hp 190hp 192hp 215hp 218hp 231hp 258hp 272hp
MAX TORQUE: 155lb ft 170lb ft 177lb ft 181lb ft 184lb ft 199lb ft 221lb ft 221lb ft 236lb ft
0-62MPH: 9.0 secs (9.9) 8.5 secs (9.3) 8.2 secs (8.7) 7.9 secs (8.7) 7.5 secs (7.9) 7.1 secs (7.7) 6.9 secs (7.1) 6.5 secs (6.7) 6.3 secs (6.5)
TOP SPEED: 143mph (143) 146mph (144) 147mph (147) 148mph (145) 152mph (150) 154mph (153) 155mph (152) 155mph (155) 155mph (155)
ECONOMY: 31.4mpg (28.8) 33.2mpg (30.4) 38.7mpg (37.7) 30.1mpg (28.5) 32.5mpg (30.1) 38.2mpg (37.7) 29.7mpg (28.5) 32.1mpg (30.4) 36.7mpg (37.7)
PRICE: £25,455 £26,530 £28,191 £26,955 £27,925 £30,560 £30,955 £31,975 £34,610
Figures in brackets refer to vehicles equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission    

 

Yes, there are potential problems but they are quite rare and the E60 just drives so much better as an auto, particularly the lower-powered versions. Models to avoid? The 2.2-litre 520i should only be bought if it’s cheap, and the 177hp 523i is nowhere near as good as the 218hp 525i with a virtually identical N52 engine – it’s a bit sluggish and doesn’t use any less fuel and is another E60 that’s only worth having if it’s cheap. As ever, the 530i is the one to have. The original M54 version was slightly less than sparkling but is still a very good car, but the N52 version with 258hp and the six-speed auto is a superb car.

 

BMW E60 PETROL SIX UK  Servicing costs
TYPE SERVICE BMW DEALER SPECIALIST
OIL SERVICE £139 £120
OIL SERVICE PLUS MICRO FILTER £209 £15 570
MAJOR SERVICE £389 £288
BRAKE FLUID £119 £4 193
VEHICLE CHECK £99 £9 480
FRONT BRAKE PADS £149 £126
REAR BRAKE PADS £169 £117
Many thanks to Sytner BMW Sheffield (Tel: 0114 275 5077) and Parkside Garage, Worksop (Tel: 01909 506555) for supplying the service prices. Costs are inclusive of parts, labour and VAT.

Tech file

  • 170-272
  • 155-236
    • Petrol
  • 2003
  • 4800
  • Positive

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