BMW 523i Touring | Shed of the Week

Oh hello – who's a pretty boy then?

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, 10 March 2023 / Loading comments

A couple of weeks ago Shed brought you a BMW M Sport Touring. Today, he is bringing you another BMW M Sport Touring. What can we tell you? Like buses or Mrs Shed’s good days, there’ll be none for ages and then there might be one in a row. Or two in the case of buses. 

In Shed’s defence for this apparent duplication, today’s car is a very clean-looking petrol-powered 523i rather than that sadly neglected £1,300 diesel 320d. Unlike the Three (which despite its bagginess and the horror on the forum has been bought by somebody) this 523i is at the top end of our recently embiggened £2k spending limit. Big money in Shedland, certainly, but you would have paid well over £30k for this car when it was new in 2006, which was even bigger money back then, and the car still looks good today. 

It looks quick too with its M Sport accoutrements (which may or may not include stiffer suspension) although admittedly there’s a touch of mutton dressed as lamb going on here. The straight six in the 523i was the weediest unit you could get in an E61 5 Series Touring of this vintage. The 525i had the same 2.5-litre N52 but with 215hp/199lb ft instead of our shed’s 174hp/170 lb ft and it wasn’t hard to discern the 523i’s performance shortfall relative to the 525i when both were fully loaded. 

Unloaded apart from a reasonably skilled mug in the driver’s seat, a manual 523i Touring could manage an 8.8sec 0-62mph time, but in old-time auto format, as here, you were down in the mid-nines. In terms of average fuel consumption, there was hardly any difference between the 523i and 525i (32.5mpg vs 31.7mpg) which made you wonder why anybody went for the 523i when the price gap between the two was only £600. Oh yes, things were very different then. 

So, a good-looking car we think? Yes, but the N52 engine was not exactly problem-free. If a mechanical or electric fault hit the VANOS solenoids, which it often did, the VANOS assemblies would seize up and camshaft wear might then ensue. Insufficent lubrication to the hydraulic valve lifters on engines built before 2008 (when a new cylinder head design was brought out) might well result in the crestfallen owner having to replace all twelve of the exhaust lifters. Coils, thermostats and water pumps conked out, and transmission faults caused by leaky seals and/or low fluid levels are not exactly unknown on the ZF gearboxes that were fitted to pre-‘08 cars. 

This June ’06 E61 falls into the build window when steering angle sensors blew. A tech bulletin was put out on that so it should have been fixed under warranty. Talking of windows, E60/61 regulators are famous for not regulating. Oil sometimes struggled to stay in the N52, escaping via the valve covers or the oil filter housing, and sure enough an unspecified leak was reported by the MOT tester in 2020. That was the year when this car’s fault rate began to ramp up, spoiling what had up to then been a pretty innocuous test history with little worse than worn tyres being noted. Loose front suspension arms in 2019 explained the uneven tyre wear and hinted at more trouble to come. 

A coolant leak was picked up and apparently sorted in 2021 but by September 2022 the oil leak had resurfaced and corrosion was doing its brown thing to both front springs and both anti-roll bars. The tyres were in a bit of a state last year too, but the only remedial action taken at the time was to replace one dangerous exposed-ply rear tyre, so that plus the other bits and bats like a binding parking brake and damaged windscreen might still merit attention by the next owner. 

Looking on the bright side you’d like to think/hope that this car has either already been through, or somehow managed to dodge, all of the generic issues. We’re told that there’s lots of service history. Good. That will be worth a read. The leather and interior generally have held up quite well but, like Mrs Shed in a party frock, it’s what lurks beneath that might be your main source of worry going forward. Or indeed backward. 

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