Best and Worst Years for the BMW 5-Series

Austin Parsons

Meet Austin

Austin graduated from the University of Colorado Denver in 2021 with a degree in technical writing and remains in the Denver area. Austin brings tons of automotive knowledge and experience to the table. Austin worked as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW for over 5 years and drives a heavily modified E30 325i with a stroker kit, all of which he built from the ground up.

The 5-Series is one of the most iconic models that BMW has ever released. With a history spanning more than 50 years, the 5-Series is the go-to luxury family-friendly sedan with plenty of performance too. With eight total generations, it can be hard to decide which year 5er is the right one to purchase. That’s why I made this guide.

After a lot of research and recounting my own personal 5-Series experience, 2001-2003 (E39), 2008-2010 (E60), 2013-2017 (F10), and 2020-2023 (G30) are the best years available for the BMW 5-Series. While there weren’t any terrible years for the 5er, 2004-2007 and 2010-2012 model years tend to be more problematic than other model years. Let’s go deeper into detail and discuss how I came to that conclusion by looking at reliability, ride comfort, interior features, and common 5-Series problems.

BMW 5-Series – History

The BMW 5-Series can be traced back to the early 1970s, with BMW building on their successful Neue Klasse formula from the 1960s. Since the E12 was released in 1972, there have been 7 subsequent generations of the 5-Series, making it one of BMW’s longest-standing model ranges. It is important to keep that in mind, as the first three generations are considered vintage at this point, making them more of an investment than practical and comfortable daily drivers. 

Before we jump into a brief history of the generations, it is important to preempt by saying that any time there is a discussion about “the best” of anything, there is a lot of subjectivity involved. There’s no certainty in claiming that there is the best version of anything, and that goes for the BMW 5-Series, too. Not least of all since most generations of the 5-Series are fantastic and beat out other generations in their own right. So, just keep that in mind as we continue throughout the article.

E12, E28 and E34

The first generation E12 5-Series was released in 1972 as a replacement for the popular Neue Klass sedans like the 4-door Bavaria. Between 1972 and its discontinuation in 1981, the E12 was offered in 12 different models, powered by engines ranging from carbureted M10 4-cylinders to beefy M30 6-cylinders. At this point in time, the E12 is truly considered an antique and a classic. They are especially hard to find in good condition nowadays, too.

Following the E12, the E28 5-Series was released in 1981 which evolved the 5-Series formula far past the Neue Klasse for the first time. It featured modern technology (at the time) including anti-lock brakes, cruise control, and an onboard diagnostic check panel. It also featured new safety elements, like a safety cell, and advancements to make the overall driving experience better, like independent front and rear Macpherson suspension. The E28 generation also introduced the M5 to the 5-Series lineup.

BMW E28 M5 / Credit: Jaredtown/Wikimedia

The BMW E34 5-Series was introduced in 1987 and was a direct competitor for the Mercedes E-Class. The E34 is one of the least talked about and celebrated 5-Series generations, mainly because it is sandwiched between the E28 and E39, which are often considered two of the best 5-Series generations. Having owned an E34, it’s hard to understand why it doesn’t get more praise. In terms of chassis balance, it is one of my favorite BMWs that I’ve ever owned. The E34 was also powered by a number of truly iconic BMW engines, including the M20, M30, M50, M60, and S38.

E39, E60, and F10

1995 saw the introduction of the E39 5-Series, which is often considered the best 5-Series chassis ever made. Having owned an E39 540i, I can attest that the styling, interior comfort, and driving dynamics are second to none, even today. The E39 also introduced some serious innovations to the 5-Series, including aluminum chassis construction, curtain airbags, and aluminum suspension components. If you are interested in learning everything about the E39, check out my article where I cover every aspect of the E39 5-Series in detail

Following the E39 came the E60 5-Series which was introduced in 2003. The E60 was the first truly modern 5-Series, introducing features that continue today like BMW iDrive, a heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. The E60’s styling was quite divisive, often considered one of Chris Bangle’s worst designs. Many BMW enthusiasts aren’t a fan of the E60’s numb driving characteristics either. However, the E60 M5 is frequently considered one of the best M5s due to the screaming Formula 1-derived S85 V10 engine under the hood.

BMW E60 M5

 If the E60 was the first modern 5-Series, I would consider the F10 to be the first 5-Series that is truly still daily-drivable today. Released in 2009, the F10 provided many newer and more reliable engine options than the ones that were offered in the E60. It also built upon many of the technological elements that were in their infancy in the E60. The F10’s iDrive system was far more advanced, featured double-wishbone front suspension, and had active rear steering. It was offered in 6 different models for the US market.

G30 and G60

There was a pretty sizable leap from the F10 generation 5-Series to the G30, which was released in 2017. The G30 was the first 5-Series to be built on BMW’s modular CLAR platform which it shared with larger models like the G11 7-Series. It also uses the most modern BMW engines from the modular engine series, including the B48 inline-4 and B58 inline-6. As a result, the G30 has proven to be one of the most reliable 5-Series generations to date. The G30’s double-wishbone front suspension and 5-link rear suspension also make it exceptionally comfortable on the road. However, many BMW purists dislike the modern electric power steering that detracts from the steering feel.

BMW G60 5-Series

Finally, bringing the 5-Series up to the modern day, we have the BMW G60 5-Series which was released in 2023. In many ways, the G60 is an extension of the G30, as it is still built on the BMW CLAR platform and features many of the same engine options as the previous generation model. However, there are three electric models available that fall in line with BMW’s initiative to provide more green vehicle options. The G60 is the largest 5-Series in history, even larger than many of the previous generation 7-Series. It is also unquestionably the most technologically advanced 5-Series, with the most driver assists and sophisticated drivetrain technology ever offered.

Best and Worst Years for the BMW 5-Series

Now that we have covered some of the basics about one of the most popular BMW models over the years, let’s get into the best and worst years for the BMW 5-Series.

When trying to determine the best years of the 5-Series, we took a number of things into consideration. Since reliability and dependability are a big deal when it comes to daily driving any car, I am factoring that heavily into the equation. Overall driving experience is also important, especially amongst BMW enthusiasts, so I’ll also weigh that pretty heavily. 

After looking at reliability and driving dynamics, I’ll focus on aesthetics, interior quality, suspension and transmission considerations, electronics, and overall reliability. It is important to remember that the 5-Series has been around for over 50 years at this point, with the first 4 generations technically considered classics at this point. For that reason, I’ll discuss E12, E28, and E39 ownership through that lens instead of considering them true options for a daily driver.

Best Years for the BMW 5-Series

The best years for the BMW 5-Series are 2001-2003 (E39), 2008-2010 (E60), 2013-2017 (F10), and 2020-2023 (G30). Each of those year ranges corresponds with each generation of 5-Series, since the E39, with those years being the best of their respective generation. Overall, the generation that you choose boils down to personal preference and what you need out of your 5-Series. Earlier E39 and E60 5-Series are celebrated for their chassis dynamics, especially the E39. Later F10 and G30 5-Series are more complicated, especially in the later years, with more modern modular powertrain technology, updated luxury interiors, and a larger focus on comfort.

As far as collectors go, E28, E34, and E39 5-Series generations are your best options. That is especially true for the E28 M5 and E34 M5, which I included in my Best Investment BMWs of 2023 list. Their pedigree, connected driving experience, and hand-built construction makes them worthy additions to any collection. The E39 is my personal favorite 5-Series generation, and many BMW enthusiasts will agree that it represents the 5-Series formula the best. It is connected, reliable, practical, and fun. If you aren’t concerned with modern amenities, E39s make a great daily driver, as I learned from driving mine for three years. 

F10, G30, and G60 5-Series are unquestionably the best generations in terms of overall comfort. Later 2013-2017 F10 5-Series received reliable N20, N52, and N55 engines which made lower-tier models extremely dependable and fun to drive. The F10 still holds up well today on the technology front too, with a more modern iDrive system and driver assists. The G30 is undoubtedly the best option in terms of reliability, powered by bulletproof modular engines like the B48 and B58. It also has the best interior of any generation 5-Series.

Absolute Best Years

In terms of the best overall experience, 2013-2017 and 2020-2023 models take the cake for being the absolute best years for the BMW 5-Series. While it is hard to ignore some of the earlier generation 5-Series generations in terms of their pure driving experience, late model F10 and G30 5-Series blend reliability, interior comfort, modern technology, and a dynamic driving experience into a single package. 

F10 (2013-2017)

The tail end of the F10’s production was undoubtedly one of the best periods for reliability. Unlike the E60, which featured a number of extremely unreliable engines like the N54, the F10 received very reliable engine options including the N52 (often considered one of the most reliable BMW engines ever made), N20, and the N55 which resolved many of the issues that plagued the earlier N54 engine. If reliability is a chief concern, 520i, 528i, and 535i models are particularly strong. It is best to avoid 550i models, as the early N63 is known to be problematic. 

BMW F10 5-Series

The F10 is also a good size compared to earlier and later 5-Series models that either aren’t roomy enough or are too large to fit into a garage. Styling is also a strong suit for the F10, which returned back to traditional BMW styling and away from the questionable design of the E60 generation. The F10 received a facelift in July of 2013, which updated its front and rear styling along with a few other upgrades like Bi-Xenon headlights. 

G30 (2020-2023)

If you have a bit more in the budget for a more modern G30 chassis 5-Series, I’d recommend going in that direction. The G30 does everything that the F10 does much better. In many respects, the G30 can be considered the most reliable 5-Series ever made due to its modular engine options.

The B48 and B58 have proven to be some of the most reliable engines ever made, even outside of the BMW sphere. Additionally, they produce ample power to get the larger chassis going under its own weight. If you can swing it, the 540i and M550i are two of the best cars that I have ever driven. Power delivery is smooth and effortless and the B58 seems to be made for that chassis.

2020 onwards are the best years for the G30 5-Series, as the chassis received a facelift that year. The redesigned G30 is significantly better looking than the pre-facelift version, with completely restyled front and rear bumpers, sharper kidney grilles, adaptive LED headlights, and revised rear taillights. The G30’s facelift might be one of the most significant aesthetic advancements of any BMW mid-cycle redesign. The updated look is definitely worth finding a later model car.

BMW 5-Series Years to Avoid

The years to avoid the BMW 5-Series include 2004-2007 and 2010-2012. Overall, there has never been a truly terrible 5-Series. Even the worst years for the 5-Series are still good overall, they are just more prone to issues than some other model years. It is generally advised to stay away from the first model year of any generation, as there tend to be some initial teething problems, which is true for early model E60, F10, and G30 5-Series.

Certain early model E60 5-Series were known to have a number of significant powertrain problems that were very costly to repair. That is especially true of the N54-powered 535i models which suffered from high-pressure fuel pump failure, wastegate rattle, and water pump failure. N62-powered E60s, including the 540i, 545i, and 550i, also have some serious engine problems like excessive oil consumption and faulty valve stem seals. 

While the F10 5-Series received the updated N55 engine that replaced the troublesome N54, the first few years of the N55 had very similar issues to the previous engine. The early 2011-2013 N55 535i used the same high-pressure fuel pump as the outgoing N54, which was one of the most expensive and time-consuming problems to fix on both engines. Early F10 550is with the pre-technical update N63 are also extremely troublesome, suffering from excessive oil consumption from the engine’s hot-vee design, as well as fuel injector problems. The problems with the 550i were ultimately somewhat resolved with the 2014 F10 facelift.

Each Generation BMW 5-Series Has Something to Offer

When the BMW 5-Series was released in 1972, it was designed to take the reigns from the larger Neue Klasse models and become BMW’s go-to family-oriented sedan. That is largely still true today, with each of the 5-Series generations continuing to build upon the formula that made the 5-Series such a success in the first place. 

While the first few 5-Series generations are looked at as investment opportunities now in 2024, they are still fantastic driver’s cars. Earlier E12, E28, and E34 5-Series are getting harder and harder to find in good condition, but are great options for a collector. While the E39 lacks many of the modern features that most people want in a daily driver, its balanced chassis and timeless looks make it a fantastic weekend car. 

Looking at consumer reports and throwing my own hat into the ring as a previous 5-Series owner, the best years for the BMW 5-Series are 2001-2003, 2008-2010, 2013-2017, and 2020-2023. Those years have the best reputation for reliability and an unproblematic driving experience. 2004-2007 and 2010-2012 5-Series are best to avoid due to a number of drivetrain and powertrain issues that can cost a lot to repair.

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