E39 M5

BMW in the early 2000’s was at the top of it’s game. The E46 M3 was excelling in the sports car market with it’s handsome styling, high strung S54 engine, and sharp handling. However, BMW M also had another product on offer; and in 2000, if you wanted the fastest four door sedan on the planet, it was at the top of your shopping list.

 

By Zachary Giroux

 
“-186 mph flat out-”

“-186 mph flat out-”

Unrestricted on the autobahn, the E39 was capable of 186 mph flat out and 0-60 in about 4.7 seconds, all with four comfortable passengers (with room for one more). For reference, a 2000 Ferrari 360 topped out at 175 mph and ran 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. In typical M5 fashion, it packed the shock and awe of a Supercar into a sedan body.

The E39 M5 represents German muscle at it’s finest. Today, like the E46, it enjoys a massive following from purists. However, nearly 20 years on from it’s conception, can it possibly live up to the hype?


The M5 has always been an intriguing car. It bridges the gap between sports cars and sedans in a way that few other cars can truly accomplish. At the time of the E39, sports sedans often came bogged down with compromises; perhaps it was fast in a straight line but lacked enthusiasm in corners, or maybe it lacked the finesse to be considered a drivers car.

Not the case with the E39. Want to burble around in total comfort with a V8 soundtrack? Check. Roll race Ferrari’s on the highway? Check. Demolish a section of back road? Surprisingly, check.

Weighing in over 4,000 pounds, it certainly isn’t lightweight and it doesn’t feel it. The E39 doesn’t hide it’s weight, it overcomes it through sheer ability.

Weighing in over 4,000 pounds, it certainly isn’t lightweight and it doesn’t feel it. The E39 doesn’t hide it’s weight, it overcomes it through sheer ability.

It’s never going to be as spry and nimble as an M3 or Porsche 911, but it was never designed to be. The E39 doesn’t dance down a back road, it crushes it. There’s immense amounts of grip and the 4.9 Liter V8 fires you out of corners with fury. That isn’t to say that it lacks finesse; the steering is hydraulic and well weighted, offering a good amount of front end feel.

“Roll race Ferrari’s on the highway? Check.”

“Roll race Ferrari’s on the highway? Check.”


“-the 4.9 Liter V8 fires you out of corners with fury.”

“-the 4.9 Liter V8 fires you out of corners with fury.”

Initial turn-in is also sharp for a car of this size. There’s barely any body roll to speak of and it is rock solid over bumps, even mid-corner. To put it simply, the chassis inspires loads of confidence. Turn off DSC and this becomes even more apparent. Stab the throttle mid-corner and the M5 steps out in a beautiful, progressive slide. With a limited slip differential, long wheelbase, and intuitive steering, it’s a joy at the limit.

Let’s get back on the topic of that wonderful V8 though. Code named S62, the 4.9 Liter feels strong through the entire rev range. It loves to be wound out to it’s 7000 RPM redline and power builds dramatically all the way there. The engine is mated to a direct and accurate 6 speed manual, the only option available.

Each generation of M5 gets more advanced and complicated. The E60 that followed this had hundreds of electronic drive modes and adjustments. Then the F10 gained two turbochargers. Now, the new G30 has a dynamic all wheel drive system. So, for better or worse, the M5 evolves over time. Each generation is faster, more capable, and feature packed than the last.

However, outright capability is only part of the equation. Statistics breed discussion. The feel, sound, and way the car connects with you, breed emotion. For that reason, it is important to cherish these older Ms, they represent where BMW came from, and for me personally, where they were at their absolute best.

Can’t drive stick? Tough luck.