My 2003 BMW E39 530i is the best daily driver I’ve ever owned

About a month ago, I wrote a story about the worst car I ever owned—the 1970 Triumph GT6+ that I bought upon graduating high school 42 years ago. The piece generated more responses than anything I’ve written for Hagerty. Some folks thought I was too hard on the feisty little Brit. Others clearly shared my Leyland-Lucas experiences. Still others chimed in with their own horror stories about other makes and models. It was great.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/12/10/2003-bmw-e39-530i-best-daily-driver

Hi Rob – Thanks for this article, as the owner of a 2003 BMW 530i it is reassuring.

When I first got it smogged here in California, the technician remarked with a thick Eastern-European accent, “I always hate the BMW, but this one is great car.”

Mine belonged to the owner of the local dealership for his son to drive, so that should tell you something.

What’s all this about the back seats folding down? Is that in the Sport Package? All I got was a little sign under the trunk lid that says, “How to fit four golf bags.” However, that information has not really been of much use to me.

I’ve owned 38 cars in my 28 years of licensed driving, and for myself, the best all around daily drivers have been my Mk6 and now Mk7 GTI. I find myself constantly telling anyone who asks what I think about them, that “they may not be the best at any one thing, but they are so good at so many things.”

Thanks for the vindication of the e39-our wagon was one of the best BMW’s (of the 37 we have owned) in my opinion. Bought for short money in a DC winter-it promptly stranded son on way to the Pentagon at I 66 and the Capital Beltway at 5AM and 20 below! Yes-it as a frozen PVC valve-and did exactly what yours did-we took it to FL on the Autotrain and it stranded us at Ft Stewart where the baffled mechanic took 18 months to repair it! It was replace by an x1-which shares the garage with an M Coupe (Black) an M Roadster and a 328ica. Have always enjoyed you Roundel columns and now these-and by the way-Louie looks great at the Foundation!

Cool story which very closely matches my own experience but with a 2003 E46 330i Touring, or station wagon in American. This is my best ever daily driver. The similarity extends to me having driven a 2002 tii a couple of decades back, although it was a bit tail happy for my liking.

I think the 330i is perfect. Comfortable, reasonably fast, torquey, great sound when you press on, nothing rattles and the up-spec tan interior has that satisfying BMW solidity about it. And much better than more modern cars, it lets you do things in the order you want, without any annoying beeps or buzzes or lockouts.

It also had flat-spotted tyres and juddery brakes, which might have put other prospective buyers off and helped me knock $1000 off the asking price. I replaced the rear tyres which were nearly done anyway and that got rid of the rumble. But instead of replacing the rotors, I replaced the pads and did a series of 10 hard-braking moves which cleaned up the discs. It’s very rare for discs to actually need skimming or replacing. People get told their discs are warped but that almost never happens in normal use. They just get pad material stuck to them, which you can scrape off as above.

I also replaced the lower control arms bushes (they were shot), replaced coolant header tank, all filters and all fluids. Mine’s an auto. They supposedly have ‘lifetime’ oil but that apparently means 100,000 miles. Mine had done 70,000, so I replaced it. The gearbox oil filter was pretty filthy. Some people have found changing the oil in a healthy autobox has led to problems with the box, but I was careful to select BMW recommended oil (Fuchs) and after another 10,000 miles its been as silky smooth as ever.

The only glitch - the passenger’s side wing mirror doesn’t respond to adjustment, but now I’ve pushed it into the right position I have no need to ever adjust it again anyway, so it remains unfixed.

I switched in/out of Japanese cars over the course of my car ownership career as well, although I relied far more on vehicles to earn a living. For most of my working life I had to get to the place where the work was.

I just deleted two paragraphs of personal history about my lengthy international romp through vehicular history. All I really wanted to say was how much I also enjoyed my 2008 Fit Sport. Stupid good car.

I bought mine new, drove it 100K miles – most of the time wearing a silly grin – and paid nothing at all except gas and tires. What a hoot! Went everywhere all the time. Did everything. Need to pick up a recliner? Take the Fit. (It fit!) Down on power but oh so responsive to enthusiastic inputs. ‘Momentum car.’ With a proper set of summer tires it was hands down the best handling FWD car I have ever owned, and that includes a few Minis. Plus I hypermiled in it, getting 40MPG on my too-long commute. What a car. What. A. Car.

Finally at 100K miles the recall notices and need for adjustment of the solid lifters made me decide to take it to a dealer for service. Get it ready for the next 100K, etcetera and all that.

Which the dealer dutifully did. Then they parked it in their lot. Then the hailstorm-that-will-not-be-forgot came, with baseball sized stuff, to a part of the world where that never happened before. It destroyed virtually every vehicle in their lot, including my wonderful little 2008 Fit Sport, with its Beatrush undertray that fixed high speed front end lift and the nifty summer tires on Mugen rims and the custom short shifter that worked with the JDM console I had waited 7 months for.

I truly miss the Fit. Did you know that the 1.5L motor in those cars powered an open wheel series in Asia? Quite a car. I wonder if someday low mileage 1st gen Fits will be worth money. Probably not, and that’s a bit of a shame.


Enjoyed your article. While you have owned a long list of cars I have owned just one - a BMW 2002 tii that I bought new in 1974. Still going strong as my daily driver with about 250,000 miles on the odo. It seems you are dabbling in this model based on hints in your story. Would love to hear more about it.

Another vehicle worth considering for a driver. A Infiniti EX35 rear wheel drive. Have had my 09 for 10 years now. Close to trouble free. It’s a small SUV based on the 350Z platform. 4 wheel independent suspension, the 09 EX35 has the HR35VQ motor, the HR stands for high rev. ( chain drive overhead cams ) Puts out 297HP with Automatic and rear wheel drive. The interiors are high quality, close to BMW quality.

The car is simply enjoyable to drive. Has good performance, handling and brakes. A really good vehicle for two. The back seat is small.

Parts are easy to find as it shares most of the drivetrain and suspension with the G35, 350Z and FX35.

A driver you’ll enjoy, has some style and inexpensive.

great share, I too had a E39 530i M sport (Canadian market) in manual. had it for 12 years, most reliable ride I ever had. bought it off a lease, and learned that it was x-bmw employee’s car from the ultimate experience center. had the CCV, front suspension, sunroof, seat twist, rear door vapour barrier coming loose, and blower resister twice. keep original clutch which lasted 256K kms, as well most of the cooling system except expansion tank, but having an open thermostat helps in the last 4 years, as it had little to no pressure, kept the load off. even the alternator lasted for 15 years, and when it went, I was able to drive it in the dark with minimal load for 40km to get her home. I miss the car now, but I had a great time with it. brakes were done twice, never seized any calipers, but hand brake shoes did need servicing, but near the end, like you I only replaced what was absolutely necessary. and when I sold her for ~$5K CDN, I missed her for 6 months… Was a solid ride made during an era when driving was #1 in priority. I replaced it with a late model E82 with similar attributes, but having to do a lot more to suspension to get it to the level as the E39.

Good article. Enjoyed your book, and Roundel column. I owned a 2001 530/5 Sport, nice car. Now own the M5. Not nearly as bad as reputation for maintenance cost if you DIY the smaller stuff.

I understand completely. A friend of mine had a Fit, or Jazz as they are known in this market, and thought it was so smart and so practical, and loved it to bits. Replaced it with a new Civic which they din’t love nearly as much.

Mine looks exactly like yours with manual & Sport Pack except it’s a 2002. It has 210K miles on it and pretty much have the same maintenance items as well. I thought about getting rid of it but every time I drive it, it just feels different than other cars.

Thanks for the article. I purchased my almost identical 2003 530 from a dealer new, (including M sports package, manual gearbox, and wheels). I still love driving it every day, (140,000 miles so far) and it is the best car I have ever owned! I have since purchased a 2012 535i, use it for long hauls, but the 530 is my daily driver. When it comes to my next vehicle the 535 will be the trade in, not the 530.