The Search for a 5 Series Wagon Ends

A few months ago I went on record in saying that I needed to go bigger. I needed to move from my E46 3 Series ZHP as the family in residence to something with more space. Today I ‘m happy to announce I found my solution. But first, lets back-up.

What does a BMW enthusiast do when a 3 Series proves too small? Naturally start looking at the 5 Series. That ‘s exactly what I began to do about two months ago thanks to the happy addition of another child to the house. But the constraints of a sedan wouldn ‘t do. I needed something with more utility yet something that behaved as if it were a sports sedan. Enter the E61 5 Series wagon.

As many of you know, finding the right wagon among a series of black on black 528i sedans was going to be a challenge. Of course I didn ‘t want just any wagon but a 535ix with the sport package and Navigation. As it turns out, that was a relatively tall order. The one thing I was prepared to give up on was a manual. Yes, for the first time in my life I was looking for a BMW without stick. I ‘ll spare you all the rationalizing and leave you with just this, with two kids and a load of God-knows-what in the back, 300 hp and a quick sifting six speed auto does a better job of soothing the frayed nerves than almost anything else.

With my marching orders complete I set out to find the car. My search began on, Autotrader and of course eBay. It quickly became evident that I ‘d have to travel quite a distance for the perfect low mileage used 535ix. My target was anywhere from 30k (optimistic) to 40k. That meant it would likely be a 2008 to 2009 535ix. As expected it was a sea of similarly equipped non-sport packaged cars with unimaginative color combinations (i.e. black and black). However, within a week of looking I stumbled onto one in my back yard that looked perfect. A CPO-ed 2008 535ix with under 40k on it for under $30,000. Offered by a local car dealer (and not a BMW dealer), the wagon was clearly priced to move. And move it was about to as I was the third person to call about the car just two days after it came in. Luckily for me I was the only serious buyer within 1,000 miles.

That meant I had the hometown advantage and quickly headed over with money in hand. What I got was a Dark Silver 535ix with black interior (you can ‘t win them all) loaded with the sport, cold weather and premium packages. The car had had all the N54 related maintenance (the three pack as BMW mechanics call it) as well as having an additional CPO warranty.

At the end of that day I was the owner of a $67,000 four year old 535ix for less than $30,000. Thank you America for not wanting to pay for used BMW wagons.

Mods have been few of far between. Just hours after it hit my garage it had the 18 ” M Sport wheels and Continental all-seasons installed and some subtle M Trim added (taking away the rather offensive metal trim on the sport package steering wheel). And of course, as with most of my cars, the ceremonial de-badging. There are plans beyond that but things will remain as subtle as a 5 Series deserve.

So what ‘s it like to go from a E46 ZHP (which ended up being sold after a bidding war) to a 4,000 pound wagon? Astonishingly, not bad. The E61 has a surprisingly delicate steering feel and great weight to it. The xDrive system is almost entirely transparent yet has already been a big help through snow. The N54 coupled with the compliant and capable six speed auto is both utterly comfortable and shockingly quick.

Above all it ‘s also a great family car. There ‘s space, conviencnce and style on top of the performance that I expected was there.

In fact the only real problem I can see with the E61 (not counting the unnecessary complexities it has over the 3 Series) is how badly it depecriates. The proof is in the price I bought it for. In less than three years this $67,000 car had lost over half its value. That ‘s a shocking statement to be made of any car – let alone one this exceptional. As a second owner I know I ‘ve insulated myself to some degree but clearly this is a car that isn ‘t afraid of depeciation.

The price paid makes the things like the unexpected poor MPG (mid-teens in city traffic) and a hopelessly out of date iDrive system seem like almost meaningless issues.

Is it the perfect car? Driving the ZHP or even the 1M in my garage and getting into the E61 can be a little shocking. There ‘s less intimacy and more of everything else. But for its purpose of blasting down highway fully loaded I ‘ve never owned anything that comes close. The combination of comfort and performance is eye-opening when coming from a smaller BMW. And the unique qualities of the E60 family are (at least at this point) rather endearing.

Look for more updates on this and other cars in the BF garage throughout the year.

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  • You mention you were looking for the M sports package on the car, but the pictures above do not indicate that. The sports package has different front/back bumpers (amongst other things), such as can be seen here

    • Good eye.

      They didn’t officially make them that I know of in 2008. The body kit was however a dealer installed option.

      via mobile

    • Anonymous

      US did not see the M Sport until right before the end of the run for the 550.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Nice ride Gabe. The depreciation is an issue, at least for owner #1 anyway. Looking forward to future posts of the wagon and how it works for you.

  • JRobUSC

    From what I’ve seen, the rarity of wagons has actually made them extremely expensive on the preowned side compared to sedans.  No one wants to pay for them new, but everyone wants them used, and they can’t find any because no one bought them new, so the values are exceptionally high.  So I wouldn’t be worried about the depreciation, my only concern would be that you found a CPO vehicle at a non-BMW dealer, in Illinois, a state that doesn’t do title branding or disclosures.  Assuming there’s no surprises down the road in that regard, you got a fantastic deal on that car.

  • Juliansorl

    Congrats. I love these wagons and have been looking for one on and off over the last year. They are rather rare and low mileage one is even more rare at that. I read your original post and I was wondering if you were going to have any luck. Great price too. 

  • Evan

    Beautiful car Gabe!

    I really love the Tourings. The 5er wears the bodystyle well. I think the E61 is much better looking than the E60 and have been suprised by how fresh this gen of the 5er still looks today. I’m in a similar position right now car-wise… The R50 was too little for the first baby two and a half years ago so we added a used E90 325i to the stable as the daily driver. While it’s an excellent car dynamically and stylistically (IMO), we have experienced a few of the first year teething issues with power steering pump, water pump and thermostat all going within 11 months of each other. Plus the auto (I do prefer manuals, but oh well…) is not the smoothest out there and is suprisingly detracting from the car.

    Anyways, with number two on the way, we need more space as the trunk fills up quickly and the backseat with two car seats is tight. The new 3er as a touring is possible, or a Countryman with the bench. They both give more vertical packing space (the true limiter with the sedan) but not much (or a little less…) in terms of rear seat width. That leaves me thinking about an X5 as the X3 has no real advantage over the F31 and F11 is not offered over here… So three cars separated by about $10k with options in increasing overall sizes with the middle one offering the best mileage.

    I’d look for a used E61 but never loved the interior and would really like to be the first owner of my next car. My experience with buying new with my R50 was wonderful without any questions in terms of history. I plan on keeping the car for awhile (5-6 years) so really want something new and nice.

    So, Countryman S All4? F31 328i xDrive w/MSport? X5?…

    • Anonymous

      F31 is a year out…. but the X1 (smallish but bigger than Countryman) is coming this fall….. stay tuned on that! Congrats! -M

      • Evan

        I saw the X1 in the flesh when I was in Canada last summer and its proportions are awkward and the front leaves a lot to desire. It really has no advantage over a 3er wagon which remains closer to the ground and is better looking. I know the X1 has been very popular in Europe (and hence the delay in coming here) but I’m not feeling it.

        Also, I thought the F31 was debuting in June in Leipzig with USA deliveries slated for the fall…. so that’s 7 months away and not a year….

        • Anonymous

          I was told by a well placed source that while it will debut in June and go on sale this fall that does not mean the US will be part of the initial roll out. Expect Spring sales for US I was told.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Gabe, congrats!  A little curious though: you mention the car is “dark silver?”  Pictures look something more like Monaco.

  • goat

    Checking in to say congrats Gabe… I am a sucker for the wagon variants. Like the subdued dark exterior (but not quite black) on black interior. Now just swap out the “humidor” wood trim on the inside and  you are good to go.  🙂

  • Playpendr

    I’d gladly swap out my ‘brushed aluminum’ trim for the ‘humidor wood!’

    • then we should talk as I’d prefer to have aluminum!

      • Playpendr

        How do we do it with me in Boston and you in Illinois?  I suppose I could ask the dealer what would be involved in removing all the trim pieces when car goes in for yearly service on April 2 and let you know.  if you have any ideas, let me know.

  • Mark Smith

    Don’t you mean Hard Drive Based Navingation? All Nav is Satellite Driven.

    • Playpendr

      Yes.  Hard drive based v. dvd.

  • Eric

    Congratulations.  I got one of the last E61s (2010) in the US (sport, prem, nav), always loved the Touring body.  Have been thinking about swapping out the rims, but was confused by all the chatter over offsets and the staggered layout in conjunction with XDrive.  I know the staggered set-up causes the rears to jut out of the body slightly, but are there any other problems you’ve had?  And what is your back up in case of a flat?  Was debating 19″ or sticking with 18″ to try and preserve the ride.  

    • Mine has a spare – actually I thought they all did? I went with a non-staggered 18″ set-up that works on the sedan. It’s slightly aggressive but works well with the look. 

      • Eric

         Gabriel, I see now that your set up is square.  I like the deeper “dish” (concavity) of your wheels.  Do you mind giving me your wheel/tire size and profile for reference?  i.e., 245/40/18.

    • Anonymous

      I can’t recall the offset anymore (but they can be had in the US) but I went with the Individual Wheels in 18″ using the true E61 offsets- of course I have no images of my wagon anywhere…. but mine was an 07 Mystic Blue, Auburn interior with sport and the works (minus HUD). Loved that car but it had to move on for the M3. 

  • Playpendr

    They all (thankfully) came with spares.  Being that all the wagons came with awd, they did not come with staggered wheel sizes.  The wheels illustrated are the standard M-package 18 inchers, which are all the same size, quite attractive but difficult to clean.  In bad climates with pocked roads, they are quite vulnerable.  3 of my 4 original run-flats have developed large bubbles rendering them unsafe and unusable.  The winter wheels and tires, though also 18s, are blizzaks and not run-flats, and none of them have developed bubbles.  I highly recommend getting rid of the run-flats, having the benefit of a spare.