Below are pictures of the "Euro"
armrest that I installed to replace the ugly, nonfunctional, uncomfortable
standard US armrest with the phone cradle. This is the smaller, non-sliding
vinyl version (part number 51-16-8-196-936 for black). I've been told
that this is standard equipment on versions of the E39 other than the
540i in Europe. There's also a larger, sliding leather version that
is the same thing as the stock US armrest, but without the phone cradle.
Personally, I like this version better than the
larger leather replacement. It provides the same amount of storage inside,
but the external dimensions are more slim and it isn't as bulky between
the seats. I also think it fits the car better, both in terms of looks
and function. It sits lower and provides a better position to rest my
arm and for shifting. The sliding version also tends to get in the way
of the parking brake lever when it's forward.
The leather armrest has the advantage as far as
comfort. This one is padded, but the padding is thin relative to the
more "plush" padding of the larger unit. If you're really
an arm-rester, you'll probably like the leather one better.
The major advantage of this one is that it's about
$100 versus over $300 for the larger leather version.
Installation is trivial, probably a 15 minute job
A comprehensive guide to the various versions of
the armrest available and detailed installation instructions for replacement
can be found at:
Also, I know that a few have modified the
standard armrest to provide tilt and storage as above, and still maintain
the sliding function and phone cradle. I'll find and post a link when