E39 M5: The Ultimate Driving Machine.
This, as most of us know, is BMW’s tag line. Back in 1988, BMW really started to show us what they were capable of. The first M5 was released and set the bar for a proper sport sedan. A sedan for everyday tasks, yet capable enough to be taken to the track. It was quite the concept and there are very few manufacturers that have come close to replicating their formula. In the past 31 years, BMW has offered a whole host of different M variations that come in all shapes in sizes. Small coupes and convertibles, and even their larger SAVs including the X3 and X4 now. Many enthusiast pay homage to the E30 M3, citing it to be the best M ever made. Others argue for the E46 M3, and most current, the M2 competition. While all of these are great example of what BMW and M can create; the first M that comes to mind when someone asks “which M is the best?” is simple. The E39 M5.
What is the proper criteria for an M car? First, is a chassis that has a great connection to the road. It’s more than just good handling; the connection from the steering wheel to the road is alive. This is where most modern M’s loose my attention at. The second criteria is perfect balance. Proper weight distribution and care to not make the car feel weighty is another large criteria, especially for a sedan of this size. This is why M’s like the E30, E46, 1 Series M and the new M2 stand out so well over the generations. Last is a proper power plant to merry and push these all together. BMW has always been able to match the chassis to a power plant that doesn’t push it over the edge. The engineering and thought put into these cars makes them truly remarkable and is the reason why older ones are now collectible.
The E39 M5: Driveability
In the current auto marketplace, we are inundated with many sports cars producing a gratuitous amount of power. To 600 hp AMGs from Mercedes, and even more from the Hellcat and others. In most places, you will never truly see the limits of these power plants. I ask then, what makes a car fun and enjoyable? I think it is a car that is easy to daily drive, yet can remind you on a day to day basis what it really is and can still give you the challenge of driving it. A car that doesn’t try hard, but simply delivers. Notice I said, “challenge of driving it”. Most cars that are out today are looking to drive you, not the other way around. Looking over all the M’s I have had the pleasure of driving on and off the track, the E39 is the one that sticks out. Currently, it is still moderately affordable, and overall very reliable.
E39 M5 Reliability
Cast aside your rod bearing, and crank shaft bearing failures. Rear sub-frame breaks, and issues with the first gen dual clutches. The E39 offered an amazingly responsive V8 with three pedals and six gears. This was the last M to be offered standard with a manual transmission. Common mileage you will find while looking for these are over 100k miles, some even hitting the 200k mark and more. Here is an example of a 400k mile E39 that is still going.
Currently, most of these E39 M5 for sale with low mileage are going to be 25k or more. If we start looking at examples with over 100k, they drop under 20k. Don’t be afraid of the higher mileage examples. Get a pre-purchase inspection to check for leaks and check to see if there are maintenance records. Here is a good example of one with 83k miles on it for sale at $22,488. Just in the past few years, this M5 has jumped up in value by a considerable margin. With there only being a finite amount of them left, especially in good condition, expect the value to rise more in the coming years.
The M5 is Well Rounded
I made the point earlier that current manufacturers are putting an unreasonable amount of power under the hood. I am not leaving BMW out of this either. BMW is a culprit of this as well. For us here in the States, there are no places to really see what their potential is any more. I remember when the new 5-series was launched a few years back and BMW brought the M550i in for us to demo. Of course it was fast. Like really fast.
The technology was great, and it was super comfortable. The big but in this was that there was a disconnect. It felt artificial. I was no longer the guiding force in the car, rather it was the computer. The steering is now electronically managed, the transmission is seamless, the power delivery is direct and fast. There is no challenge in driving the car. It doesn’t give you the visceral experience that I know and love about these M’s.
The E39 is still a sedan, yet feels connected and grounded. It has the power, but you have to work with the pedals and the stick shift to get it where you want to go. It is an immersive experience that takes it past just going fast. The sound system isn’t pumping in fake exhaust notes, and the transmission and suspension only have one mode. The E39 M5 knows what it is and doesn’t cover it up with the technology. With 400 hp, and 369 lbs-ft of torque, there is plenty of room to explore the power band and it’s limits. It delivers a pure driving experience that many enthusiast crave.
While considering M’s of new and old, the E39 M5 really checks all the boxes. Out of the M’s that are out there, it tends to be one of the most reliable, and one you can drive without feeling guilty of putting miles on like you may with an E30 M3, or 1 series M. I find it to be the last of a generation; before technology and assists really got a hold of the driving experience. It’s true there are plenty of M’s that are considerably faster, this one may bring the biggest smile to your face. That’s what its all about at the end of the day, isn’t it?
What do you think of the E39 M5? What is your dream M to own, or what has your ownership experience been? If you prefer higher power touring BMW’s, check out the post on Alpina here.