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This review is for the E39 M5, built from 1999 to 2003 in the UK, and specifically the facelift, built from 2001.
The M5 is the performance peak of the BMW range, and has the best of a high specced 5 series BMW, so four doors, 5 seats, plenty of room and a high spec, accompanied by awesome performance.
In the E39, BMW 'M' used a 4.9 litre V8 naturally aspirated engine producing around 400 BHP and 380 lb/ft of torque, so at the time the most powerful BMW ever made. The power figures aren't the whole story though, the way the power is delivered is what makes the M5 engine such a pleasure. From very low revs you have masses of torque available, and it isn't delivered in big lumps, like a turbo, but just smooth, massive power delivery all the way to the 7k rpm redline. And you will not get a better sounding engine - the V8 is a peach.
So, you have a fairly big and heavy saloon car with a big engine with big power - not too much new there. Well the car is quick and once the rear wheels get grip you can hit 60 in 5 seconds and keep going to 180 mph if you have it de-limited. But take it on some country roads, and you will forget that you're in a big M5, and it feels more like an M3 - aside from the fact that you are still sitting in pure luxury.
You have switchable traction control, and when kept on, if you lose traction the car's computer will use a combination of throttle control and braking any one of the 4 wheels, to keep you on the road - to be honest the system is a little too intrusive and will come on if you try to get a bit of drift on or get the back end out, and keep you sensible! It also wants to come on regularly in the wet, i.e you could get it come on changing up to 4th and flooring it as the masses of torque lose grip on a wet road. But, in the wet it is probably best to keep it on, unless you can catch it quick when the backend goes on a roundabout.
In the dry though, flick the ESP off, switch it to sport mode (quickens steering, stiffens suspension and makes accellerator more sensitive) and you will get one of the most involving drives around. It grips well, and loses grip progressively, allowing most drivers the chance to fell the limit, get to it, and stop themselves ending up in a hedge (or Armco, as such driving should be kept to a track) and is so satisfying when you get it right.
As for luxury, the spec includes front heated and fully electric memory seats that move every way but eject; cruise control; all electric wiondows and mirrors; electric adjustable steering column (that you can memorise with the seats for different passengers), full leather, computer; auto-dim mirror; satnav (if you are lucky enough to get one with comms pack), and illuminated gearstick!
The car is a pleasure to drive either quickly or sedately, and I regard it as the best M5 ever made - the E60 is more powerful at 500 BHP, but there is so much computer input that the drive is just not as involving.
The car looks fairly similar to a standard 5 series, aside from wider staggered deep dish 18"alloys, twin dual exit exhausts, bigger brakes and a small rear spoiler - Purposeful but discreet.
Maintenance can be pricey but for a super-performance car they are fairly reliable. You need to ensure that if you get one it has had regular servicing and in particular regular oil (they use oil) of the right grade - generally 10w60.
Basically you can get a family of 5 in, travel to and from work, shops etc, and then take it to the Nurburgring and do close to 8 minutes (if you can drive). For me, it does everything a car should and that I need - and fuel consumption ain't half bad either for such a big engine.....sort of.
As you can now get these cars for £7k upwards, they are a genuine bargain, being £60k+ new, 10 years ago, and still out performing most cars on the road with a level of luxury not found in many cars even now.
If you get a chance - buy one, you won't regret it.
To be honest, it's really best to start with the M5s exterior, as that is something very important to lots of M5 customers. People who want a quick 5 series, but without all of the bling generally go to Alpina's B5 (Alpina are famous for modifying BMWs) which is excellent, subtle and very very fast. However, to the untrained eye it looks very similar to the 520d that the boring accountants buy.
The M5 isn't overly brash, as some reviews may have you think, but it certainly 'aint subtle. There are M badges adorning many of the grilles and vents, and a massive 'M5' badge at the back. There's also an agressive bodykid, big wheels and four massive exhausts at the back. I think it's just the right blend between being too subtle and being too brash. The average guy on the street is gonna know that this is an expensive (we're talking around £60,000 for the saloon) and quick Beemer.
Climb inside and it's typical 5 series, which is really no bad thing. Sure, I prefere the A6's cabin, but there's a good deal of leather and nice wood, as well as some nice aluminium touches scattered around. It's a very nice place to be. BMW's iDrive system (read onboard computer) has improved over recent years, but is still quite fiddly to get to grips with, and some of the less technologically minded might have trouble programming destinations on the sat nav, or even choosing your favourite radio station.
Start the 5 litre V10 engine, and it's rather underwhelming - it sounds a bit like a diesel. However, prod the throttle and you can really hear that V10 howling at higher revs - it sounds very much like the V10-engined F1 cars of old (i.e. spine tingling).
Moving around town isn't too much fun in this car. It's got an SMG gearbox, which can be quite jerky at lower speeds - moving off smoothly from stationary in particular can be difficult. Seeing as how most M5 owners will live in the city, this is a real shame. The ride around town is on the firm side, but is far from unbearable, and the seats are very comfortable yet supportive.
Out on the motorway, this thing flies. In 'standard' mode it has 400 BHP, which you might say is plenty, and it is, until you find a little buttom marked 'M' on the steering wheel. Press this, and the suspension firms up, and that 400 BHP is transformed into 507 BHP. It really makes overtaking laughable - without the 150 mph electronic limiter that BMW fits, this is a 200 mph car.
On smaller country roads the car is good fun, with decent steering feedback and good grip. Disable the traction control, and it's possible to get the back end out, however, even when it's on the edge it's controllable and doesn't bite. Interestingly, the seat has mini bolsters on the side, which operate in a corner to help bolster you in - very useful.
Practicality wise, it's standard 5 series, so you won't have any problems fitting in luggage and kids for a week or so away.
This car seems to have it all. It's got the image, the practicality and, above all, the perforamance. A car truly worth of it's 'M' badge.
Transmission: 7-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG), 6-Speed Manual Gearbox
Engine: 5.0L 507 hp (378 kW) @ 7750 rpm V10
Curbweight: 1,830 kg (4,034 lb)
0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed (limiter removed: 204 mph
BMW, a name eternally connected with sporty refinement, class, image and the slightly less glamorous adjectives such as reliable and well built. The 5-Series has been around for a couple of years now and has become a permanent fixture in company car parks and suburban driveways. The economical man goes for the diesel, the dull man goes for the 520, but the smart man goes for the best, the M5. No, not an English motorway, but the original and best sports saloon in the world. I have never driven a car more perfect than the M5, but I would love so much to make driving such a beast a daily occurrence. M5 owners must invent reasons for driving ("We only have 3 bottles of milk left love, I’ll run down the shops in the car for more"). Nothing surpasses this package. It is technically far superior to any other competitor including offerings from both Mercedes and Jaguar. Maybe I've lived a sheltered life, but my one drive of that car on the Donegal roads is one of the greatest memories of my 19 years. In fact its closest rivals are the Mitsubishi Evo VI and the Subaru Impreza. Both are packed with technology but have the subtlety of a man in pink at a funeral. They are quite simply hideous, while the M5 is graceful and elegant. Only its massive 19 inch M-badged wheels, the subtle little slip for a spoiler at the back and the deeper front spoiler suggest what this car really is. The 5 litre 6 cylinder engine is tucked away were no one can see it, but a look under the bonnet reveals a work of art. On the road, it almost matches a Porsche 911 Turbo for performance and can match it in terms of ride and handling. It hugs the road like a child to its mother. For the driver of questionable ability it has ESP, traction control, ABS and a mountain of other safety features, including the usual airbags etc. You may think that computer chips are getting in the way of your fun, so you may as well risk life and limb by taking of
f the traction control and going mad around the race-track. This is the only way you can enjoy yourself more than on the road. Such is the engineering in this car, that fast speeds seem a lot more easier to handle than a lesser car and it is true. If I had had this car for longer than a day I may have lost my license through speeding penalty points by now. Nothing beats this as a drivers car. Oh but there is more! The M5 is an executive saloon. If you’re mad enough to take your family with you (an they’re mad enough to come with you) they can all fit in happily and watch the on board TV (an optional extra). It sort of looks like an ordinary 5-Series, so when you see that little boy-racer in his girlie little convertible about to over-take you, you can accelerate away, even in 5th gear!!! Easily! This car has 6 gears in its manual gearbox and such is its torque, it can drive off in 4th or fifth from a standstill. Be amazed, be very amazed. That's not to say that this car can not be driven like normal sane people. The blend in the M5 is remarkable, because you can actually drive it like a family saloon, sedate, conservative and relaxed and it will feel like the executive cruiser the 5-Series is so good at being. The gimmickery allows you to choose between sports suspenison and the more composed softer ride at the touch of a button. The amount of extras fitted with this car is too much to catalogue. You get your CD changer, phone socket, climate control, electric, heated leather seats and all those things you never knew you needed until you drive the car. I remember getting into our VW Passat for the first time after the M5 and thinking that the centre console and the steering wheel looked so sparse, something that had never occured to me in 3 years of driving the same car! Safety is catered for as it would need to be in a car like this with front and side airbags, plus all the technical extras like ESP and the t
raction control. Hidden behind those massive tyres are massive brakes with suitable stopping power. As with all BMWs, this car as rear-wheel drive and near 50-50 weight distribution, it can be composed but never ordinary. It will always be a joy to drive as long as you don’t put it in a ditch. All this of course comes at a hefty price, but when you consider £82,000 for the Z8 with the same engine, it sounds like a snip at the £52,000 price tag. If you’re considerably richer than me and you live anywhere on the earth, this is the finest car you can buy for any money. Don’t buy an S-Class if you’re going to drive the car yourself. Please buy an M5! Maybe I can pick it up second-hand from you in 10 years time.