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BMW E28 Five Series - Model Range


From the 105bhp 518i to the 286bhp M5 the E28 range had possibly the largest ever breadth in performance of any BMW model. Yet they all shared great build quality, good engineering and very comfortable interiors. Regardless of the speed any E28 journey was always one done in pleasant surroundings with ample space and refinement.

The E28 was a very pleasant car to own and highly practical. It always looked good even if some models lacked the pace of others. But let there be no mistaking the true performance grunt of the M30 engined cars and the M5, these are fast cars even when compared with today's models - in the the early 1980's they offered undreamt of performance for a four door saloon.

BMW E28 518i

UK 518i with 14" Mahle cross spoke alloys.

518 / 518i

The entry level 518i used the trusty M10 engine which had been the backbone of BMW's smaller cars since the early 1960s. In it's Jetronic-L injected form it made 105bhp which wasn't bad for the time. The car was around 1140kg in weight which really was very light so performance was better than might be expected with 90bhp/ton, it was no rocket ship but it was acceptable. This injected model was launched about six months after the main model launch.

A non-injected 518 was sold in mainland europe from launch until late 1984. It made a mere 85bhp and had a lower final drive ratio to help things along at the expense of top speed and economy. Having had this engine in an E30 with it's woeful Pierburg carburettor I can assure you the 518i would have been worth the extra!

These cars had front discs brakes and rear drums. They may not have been endowed with great power but they were spacious and had excellent interiors, albeit with few options. I'm sure many of these would have been used as taxis in 1980's Germany and they'd have been well suited with their superbly durable and reliable M10 engines.

Automatic transmission was not an option on this model.

BMW E28 520i

Even cats like a nice 520i.


The 520i used the 12 valve six cylinder M20 engine. Most cars had Jetronic-L injection but early models used Jetronic-K, these are rare and I've only ever seen one. I suspect the move to Jetronic-L happened in September 1984.

As was the case with the 518i the 520i had front discs and rear drum brakes. Unlike the 518i an automatic gearbox was available in the shape of the four speed ZF 4HP22 with a 1:1 third gear and 0.81:1 overdrive top, the same ratios as 4th and 5th on a manual. The electro-hydraulic EH gearbox wasn't offered as Motronic injection was needed to control it.

The 520i was one of the most popular models in europe and the UK and sold very well. It drives well and is reliable but is no match for a 525e with the same M20 series engine.

524d / 524td

The diesels used the M21 engine which was BMW's first production diesel engine. It was advanced for it's time and even featured a fly-by-wire throttle on the final versions, another first for a BMW. The company put a lot of effort into this car and it took a pile of money to develop. BMW decided if they were going to make a diesel it was going to be the best car on the market and it was.

The 115bhp 524td launched in 1983 in europe and the USA but not in the UK. The non-turbo 524d was sold from 1986 and had a lowly 86bhp, it was not sold in America. BMW updated the design in 1987 for the final cars with DDE (Digital Diesel Electronics), essentially Motronic for diesels, with a fly-by-wire throttle.

When the 524td was launched almost all diesel cars were normally aspirated and performed accordingly, the turbocharged BMW literally blew them away! Performance was a revelation and it set the scene of market acceptance for the hugely successful E34 525tds and it's M51 engine.

These cars have a loyal following especially for the surviving US cars many of which now have over 300,000 miles under their belts.

BMW E28 525e eta

525e with 390mm TRX alloys.

525e / 528e

The "eta" was launched in the closing weeks of 1982 for the UK market and used a specially modified 2.7 litre M20 engine. This engine was not designed for power, it produced about the same as the 520i, but for economy and mid-range torque. In later years this was the be the market segment filled by diesel cars but in the early 80s that fuel wasn't yet accepted in the luxury car market outside of mainland europe. The eta was designed for the UK and USA as much as the home German market.

Most cars had micro-processor controlled Motronic injection which was very advanced for the time and was a major factor in the fuel economy. This car didn't rev over 4500rpm and was well suited to it's four speed automatic gearbox, the only option in the UK. Manuals were available in other markets but missed the point of the car to some extent. This was about a practical commuting and long distance drive with loads of torque when it was needed but a low revving 2.7 to save fuel. I had one and could get over 30mpg on a run although I've heard of better from other owners.

Etas had all round disc brakes with optional ABS and tended to be sold with more standard equipment than a 520i, the main rival. They were a joy to drive and mine was by far the best town car I've driven, it really suited the automatic. As the car had Motronic injection the EH electro-hydraulic transmission was an optional extra and it's sport mode made the car more responsive on twisty country roads or when overtaking, I'd have loved one on mine.

In America the car was called the 528e as the marketing men wanted to appeal to those buyers after a large engined car, there was no 528i in America. It was available from June 1981 but was Jetronic-L rather than Motronic initially. I think Motronic arrived for the 1984 model year. The final etas from March 1987 year got the super-eta with Motronic 1.1, a higher rev limit and more power. These weren't sold in the UK as we got the E34 five series a year before the US and never had an E30 eta.

BMW E28 525e

Early UK 525e with steel wheels and hub caps.

525i / 528i

The 525i and 528i used the M30 "big six" engine with Jetronic-L fuel injection, they were never sold in the USA. Why did BMW use an M30 2.5 in the E28 and an M20 2.5 in the E30? Well at the time of the E28's launch in 1981 the M20 only went up to 2.3 litres and used Jetronic-K fuel injection which wasn't the most economical thing in the world (not that that stopped VW/Audi using it for another decade). A Jetronic-L 323i did appear but not until early 1984, the Motronic 325i only launched in March 1985. So in 1981 the M30 2.5 was the only option, it was never a big seller and there was little point replacing it with an M20 over half way through the model's life in 1985.

The 528i was a fast car for it's time with 184bhp and a fairly light body. It had all round disc brakes with optional ABS and an optional limited slip differential. Peak power was at a heady 5800rpm and the car could be driven hard to exploit it. Until the arrival of the 535i and M5 in late 1984 this was the fastest E28 and tuners such as Alpina made even quicker versions of it. Automatic versions use the four speed non-EH gearbox. Because it was the top of the range in the early years many 528i's were loaded out with extras by buyers who wanted the best E28 possible.

BMW E28 535i US

My friend Eric's American 535i.


The American 533i (actually a 3.2) used the M30 engine and was produced from June 1982 until September 1984 when the 535i took over. Like the the euro 528i these were Jetronic-L cars but they made 3bhp less despite their extra capacity thanks to a lower 8.8:1 compression ratio and US emissions curbs on their performance. However that didn't stop the car from being the fastest saloon on sale in America for it's launch year at 134mph.

These were desirable and expensive cars in America, few were sold with a basic specification and the options list was long and pricey. The emissions restrictions and extra weight (the horrid Federal bumpers) ironically hurt fuel economy but thanks to the comparatively advanced fuel injection it was still literally miles better than the Jaguars or American cars of the period. Big BMWs have always been surprisingly good on fuel compared to their less advanced rivals.

BMW E28 M535i

M535i with it's unique TRX alloys.

535i / M535i

The 535i used the Motronic M30 engine and was produced from the end of 1984 until the end of E28 production. This was the same wonderful engine used in the E24 635CSi and had 218bhp. The Motronic system not only gave it good power output but class leading economy for it's size, my own M535i used to manage 30mpg on a long run if I wasn't too hard on the loud pedal although 25-27 was more common in B road driving.

ABS was standard on the 535i and a limited slip differential was a very common option, most cars had it. Automatic 535i's had the four speed gearbox with standard EH electro-hydraulic control and the S/E/1-2-3 selector next to the gear level. The Sport option locked out the top overdrive gear and held the revs longer when accelerating. Kick down was activated electronically rather than by mechanical linkage.

Sadly the American car was yet again struck down by the misguided emissions laws and made barely any more power then the preceding 533i. It was on a par with the euro 528i.

The M535i is covered on the //M Cars page. Mechanically it's almost identical to the 535i but had sports suspension, interior and body pack. Americans had a 535is that filled a similar role but still with the lower compression engine and Federal bumpers.

BMW E28 M5

Early M5, body kit was optional but lower spoiler is different.


The M5 used the Motorsport S38 engine. See the E28 //M Cars page for the full story.

The "Lux" and Shadowline Models

In the UK many or even most E28s were Lux spec after 1986. I believe the Lux pack included front fog lamps, leather three spoke steering wheel, velour seat fabric, electric front windows, sunroof and rear head rests.

I always liked the interior in my 525e Lux as the velour seats were very comfortable and I felt they suited the car. The material was hard wearing but faded badly in sunlight, particularly on the top of the rear seat and headrests.

Many of the final UK models had shadowline trim. This changed the chrome window surrounds to satin black along with the tail light edging. In addition the normally black wing mirrors were painted. The effect really suited the E28.

American Cars

In addition to the power and model availability differences outlined above American cars had other changes. The most obvious were the heavier Federal bumpers but even the headlights were different. US law at the time mandated all four lights be the same size, so the US cars had bigger main beams. But they were less effective due to the sealed beam rules. The cars also has US style front and rear marker lights and there were no euro sidelights.

ABS wasn't available on the early models even as an option. I don't think it came in until 1985. US cars had differently marked dashboards with text instead of symbols for the warning lights.

US cars had more standard equipment though, in europe even the radio was optional and not a cheap one at that! The glass moon roof style sunroof was often seen on US cars but is very rare in the UK, I've only seen two. I've never seen a US car with steel wheels and hubcaps so I think 14" or 390mm TRX alloys were standard depending on model year.

South African Cars

BMW has assembled knock down kits into full cars for decades in South Africa. They have a local reputation for building special models such as the E23 745i with the M1's S38 engine. For the early E28s they used left over E12 interiors and other parts until stocks were exhausted. It's not uncommon for rust free South African cars to be imported to the UK and I know of at least one E12/E28 in the UK.