BMW 5 Series E39 Power & Performance Mods

"Thank you for reading this BMW E39 tuning guide."

We get emails with people asking us for some recommendations on improving the E39 and which tuning modifications we rate as the best, so we've put together this guide as a guide which covers our go to modifications and methods of modifying and tuning on the E39 engines.

The E39 is a great car modification project to carry out. If you do your planning then you can create an awesome E39 but don't be fooled there are lots of motorsport inspired modifications out there that will simply not suit it read our unbiased guides first.

Before jumping to the mods, it's always good practice to ensure your BMW 5 Series is mechanically sound. A fresh alignment, ideally one with a warranty, is highly recommended, as it is the one that points you in the right direction as to which components need to retire.

Best E39 Mods

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The fifth-generation 5 Series came with a sedan body style and was sold between 1995 and 2004 - they are now old enough to vote, no doubt. They added the wagon body style later in 1996.

But apart from the body style, E39 had a few other firsts.

For example, it was the first 5 series model to use aluminum components in the chassis and the front chassis to reduce weight, and it was also the first to boast a four-cylinder diesel engine option.

However, the E39 did not have an all-wheel-drive version.

An upgrade and refresh of the 5 series icon, such as 540i, or M5, give it a new life lease to compete with the new kids on the block (they are still in shape to dine with the new vehicles). We suggest the following mods.

Tuning tips and articles

E39 Tuning Mods and Upgrades

While in the Sport mode, the stock MSS52 computer tune has a relatively accurate and precise throttle. But you can improve on this and acquire more horsepower without unearthing your secret stash to afford the mod.

Evolve, and Dinan have some decent options, but we recommend the $350 Turner Motorsports Shark tune. The tune has several options, such as the SAI delete, which ignores the service engine-soon code to make the throttle sharper. The manufacturer mentions gains in 23hp and 19lb/ft region – not so bad!

E39 Engine Tuning.

These are the uprated parts that are usually carried out by our members on the E39, decide how far you want to go before you get started.

Fourth generation (E39 1995–2003)


Diesel (turbocharged) :

Getting the best motorsport parts for your planned usage of the car is vital. Stage 3 (competition) mods just won't work well on the road difficult in stop-start traffic.

E39 Tuning modifications.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your E39. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best mods for your E39

  1. Fast road cams are generally the biggest mechanical mod upgrade, but they must be setup by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might have a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft for you.
  2. Intake Upgrades and Sports Exhausts - NB: on their own these mods won't ADD POWER , but they can help lift power after other mods by losing a restriction.
  3. Braking Mods - Improve your E39's stopping power should be near the top of your Mods list.
  4. Lighter flywheels - a lower weight flywheel will improve the engines rev changes. But not always suitable for all E39 engines.
  5. E39 Suspension Upgrades - Replacing worn bushings and shocks dramatically improves E39 handling Poly Bushes and Coilovers are typically fitted to achieve this
  6. Flowing and porting the engine head - for larger gains, you will get better flow and make a more efficient engine if you do this to support your other mods.
  7. Forced induction upgrades - Adding a turbocharger is the most efficient approach to improve intake air supply, this means you are able to use more fuel and make higher power. Typically one of the most expensive upgrades but provides the best gains.
  8. ECU Tunes - E39 engine tuning/remapping provides the biggest gains in terms of cost, aftermarket ECU upgrades, and Tuning boxes are all alternatives.

E39 Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Panel air filter, Lighter flywheelAlloy wheels, Sports exhaust, Suspension upgrade (drop 23mm - 40 mm.), Remap.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: high flow fuel injector, Fast road cam, Ported and polished head, Power/Sport clutch, fuel pump upgrades.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Sports gearbox, Competition cam, Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Engine balancing, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger).

You need to keep as much low end power as possible and aim to get a wide power band rather than a narrow top end power spike.

Spending just a little money on the top engine and handling parts could transform your car into a potential super car beater.

Best E39 Engine Mods

With a bit of extra TLC, the M62 V8 is an excellent engine with tons of power and durability.

A couple of tweaks, such as the AFE Cold Air Intake, combined with the Turner Motorsport Intake Air Temperature Relocation kit, bumps the M62 V8's power to respectable levels.

In addition, fast road camshafts on the M52 enhance the higher rpm power, but it's usually at the expense of lower-end power and smooth idling. Unless you are a race track enthusiast, the race cams will make it harder for your daily commute.

But there still additional adjustments you can make to make the cam mods more effective – we cover more on the same below.

When in good shape, the stock shifter isn't so bad. The problem comes when shifter carrier bushings are neglected, which is often the case for most drivers.

Usually, the E60 545i shifter, paired with DSSR (UCC), is a much more affordable mod option. This shifter is visually appealing, ergonomic, and predictable and gives you a crisp shift to make any driver happy.

Replace the drain/fill bolts, and the transmission fluid with the shifter install to lengthen its life and make it smoother.

E39 Intake and Exhaust Tuning.

Breathing mods are usually next up, so what can be done about the intake on the E39?

Air induction kits only help to add power if your air intake is restricted! Adding an induction kit to most standard engines will see NONE OF A LOW END POWER GAIN AT ALL.

If you have heavily modified your engine and it's need for air INCREASES DRAMATICALLY then an induction kit is the answer and will help remove this restriction.

E39 exhaust upgrades

The right open surgery and transplant of the exhaust system give your bimmer a much more satisfying aggressiveness in the sound. The stock exhaust is not too bad, only that it is a little too conservative and restricts your bimmer's sound potential.

Options such as Eisenmann, with a higher-pitched V8 sound and race and sport sound levels, are excellent for race enthusiasts. But the exhaust is expensive and will take you back $2,500. Install the axle-back Eisenmann Race mufflers and keep the stock cats and headers for an improved visual and auditory.

You are free to upgrade the cats and headers for more sound if you like.

Alternatively, Supersprint headers, partnered with the Supersprint center section with a higher price tag, will add more power, some aesthetics, and irresistible sounds to your E39.

E39 Handling/Suspension upgrades

Improving the handling for loads of people first priority in your E39 tuning project.

We found that most E39 factory suspension setups need tweaking, a few degrees of toe (set some toe out to improve cornering or use toe in for better stability) and you only need around degrees, and slight negative camber will radically benefit your cornering and handling.

Drop the car optimally somewhere in the region of 23mm - 40 mm. and fit sports stiffer dampers, bigger drops will need other modifications in most instances.

The multi-link setup suspension gifted the E39 with agility to feel smaller. But that's as far as the advantages go. It was a bag of uncertainty and faults.

You see, the original suspension has a lot more bushings, fluid-filled and designed to allow fore wheel movement and absorb road impacts. But they are more prone to wear.

While the bushings add a luxurious feel to your everyday driving, they also add a feeling of numbness and disconnectedness - typical of some modern BMWs. The factory suspension is not ideal for street racing, where optimal performance in braking and handling is a must.

The repeated deflection and twisting often cause a premature failure of the rubber bushings and other associated problems such as delayed steering response and degraded handling - something you never want happening when on a high-speed chase or when cruising on the highway.

Considering all these issues, a complete suspension overhaul is necessary.

We recommend the Turner Motorsport Thrust Arm Monoball Upgrade, 6061-T6 anodized and sealed OEM BMW ball joint for optimal durability, instantaneous braking, and cornering response. Combine the H&R sport springs with Bilstein dampers to enhance the overall ride quality and handling, and upgrade the sway bars to improve the sedan's stability around the corners.

It often slips the mind that the suspension is a system, and you cannot improve on one and leave the other unless you want to reduce the benefits and hasten wear.

A replacement of the entire front suspension is critical. This is to restore the original handling and steering performance of your 5-er.

Upgrading your Bushes

What factors should you consider when setting up and selecting your bushes if your E39 is also used as a daily driver?

The suspension components of the E39 may be connected to the car's chassis through bushings, which are rotatable rubber mounts. These rubber ones will lose their shape with time.

Installing new OEM rubber bushes may dramatically improve the performance of your car.

Because the polyurethane bushes are firmer, the ride may be a bit less forgiving, but they will last longer and maintain the handling.

Increased vibration and play may also speed up the depreciation in other suspension components.

A new set of polyeyurothane bushes may be able to lessen the excessive play that comes with rubber bushes.

Some polyeyurothane bushings are hard to locate, but most will find the primary mounts readily available in their local stores You may be able to have custom polyeyurothane bushes created to suit your needs.

E39 Brake upgrades

Putting meatier brake discs and better high friction brake pads will make for sharper improved braking.

We should point out that race friction pads will be noisy and will have to be hot before they start to work.

On a road car the brakes are occasionally used, therefore won't stop you as well so specify pads which have a low working temperature.

Don't just look at the peak power figures, you need to see the whole torque curve when determining if a mod is right for you E39.

Smaller engines do not provide much of a return in terms of power so start with a bigger engine. Engine swaps are a good option if you have a small engine size.

StopTech BBK kits are a decent and budget performance option.

Alternatively, the Turner Motorsport 135/BMW Performance brakes kit comes complete with brake lines, pad sensor, custom caliper brackets, rotors, and 6-piston calipers.

However, the Turner brake kits are not for an M5. We recommend the Zimmermann Coated - blank rotors and OEM Textar options, available with the Turner kit for much stronger braking power.

For more information on Tuning your car please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss E39 options in more detail with our E39 owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased BMW tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which mods work best for them on each model of car. We use your comments and feedback to improve the accuracy of these tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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