Redesigning a luxury car is no easy task for any automaker. On the one hand, a redesign must not be too radical and extreme, risking the loss of loyal buyers, many of whom have more conservative tastes. Yet on the other hand, a redesign must not be too evolutionary and restrained, because this too might risk the loss of buyers who find it not different and exciting enough. It’s a fine line to walk and it seems that in every case, the automaker is subject to criticism.
Historically, updates of luxury cars tended to skew far more towards the evolutionary, conservative approach. The last two decades or so, however have seen luxury automakers take more risks with bolder, more extreme redesigns and new models. Some of them, such as the 2002 E65 BMW 7 Series and 2009 Acura TL, faced backlash and criticism from the start.
Other cars, such as the 1998 Lexus GS and 2003 Cadillac CTS, to name a few, were warmly received upon introduction, but simply haven’t stood up the test of time. Conservative approaches, such as the 2006 Infiniti M and 2010 Audi A8, simply look far more outdated than they really are in 2017.
Yet through all the various industry design trends of the past two decades, there is one luxury car that stands out in my mind as the most timeless design that has stood the test of time: the 1997-2003 BMW E39 5 Series.
Yes, I know I may be biased, but this has been a car I’ve been in love with since it debuted twenty years go now, and one that I love just as much if not more today. It’s design was hardly earth-shattering at the time, drawing influence from its big brother E38 7 Series, but there was something about its updated take on the traditional BMW styling cues, sleek but inoffensive lines, and size that was and still is very perfect.
Add in its low belt lines, naturally-aspirated I6 and V8 engine choices, the availability of a 5- and 6-speed manual, and the absence of overly-assisted electric steering, and the E39 would make a great daily driver today, provided you find one that’s been maintained, and you or your mechanic is familiar with their often sensitive control modules.
This isn’t to say that other luxury cars of the past 20 years haven’t aged gracefully, with the 1999 Mercedes-Benz W220 S-Class coming in a close second on my list. If you had to pick a luxury car released within the past two decades that has aged well, what would it be? The E39 or something else? Bonus QOTD: What luxury car of the past twenty years would you say has aged most poorly?