BMW M5, the Ultimate Performance Sedan

the M5 logo
The M5 Emblem – photo by The Car Spy

For decades, the BMW M5 was the best luxury performance sedan on the market. It set the gold standard for everything that came after. Today, companies like Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Alfa Romeo all set their benchmarks at the BMW M5. Countless times the M5 would debut as the fastest four-door sedan in the world. Now they have stiff competition, but it is all thanks to them. Produced from 1984 on, the M5 didn’t even come with an automatic transmission until 2005! That’s twenty-one years straight where you could get a performance, luxury sedan with a manual transmission only! It was during this period that BMW earned the moniker “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” What makes the BMW M5 so amazing? Let’s explore the past 35 years and find out.

E28 BMW M5

an E28 M5
The E28 M5 

It all started with the E28 BMW M5. Built from 1984-1988, the E28 M5 featured the inline six-cylinder from the stupendous BMW M1. The 3.5-liter engine made 286 horsepower and mated to a Getrag 5 speed manual. With more power than a Ferrari at the time, BMW used a limited-slip differential to get the power down to both the rear wheels. The car hit 60 miles per hour in just over 6 seconds and had a top speed over 150 miles per hour, making it the fastest sedan in the world at the time. It’s also beautiful and box with those incredible wheels. Used examples with high mileage still command nearly $50,000, but you have a true classic. Plus, it is still quick enough to keep up with most cars on the road.

E34 BMW M5

a white E34 M5
An Alpina White E34 BMW M5 – photo by Sugaki

The E34 BMW M5 used the same S38 inline-six, but this time made 315 horsepower. It was slower to 60 because it weighed more than the E28, but it did hit 160 miles per hour. In 1991, BMW upped the displacement to 3.8 liters bumping horsepower up to 335 horsepower, dropping the 0-60 time under six seconds. To me, the E34 is the in-betweener. The E28 was incredible, looked great, and is collectible. The E39 would introduce the V8, making a lot more horsepower. What the E34 did do was give us to the fantastic M5 wagon, which is always the preferred method by me! They also started introducing several variants and special editions and entered motor racing. 

E39 BMW M5

a blue E39 BMW M5
A blue E39 BMW M5 – photo by Neef – 2

The E39 BMW M5 has already made two of our lists, the best sedans of all-time and the best factory wheels of all-time. This version of the M5 is the high-water mark for BMW. They sold more of this model than the two previous M5’s combined. It was the first time BMW put a V8 into the M5 and what a V8 it was. Clocking in at 4.9 liters, the S62 made just short of 400 horsepower and had individual throttle bodies. The car only came with a six-speed manual and would hit 60 miles per hour in just 5 seconds. There’s also a healthy aftermarket with plenty of offerings from Dinan. Prices for these are starting to go up as people realize this was the pinnacle. Right now, good examples are in the $30,000-$40,000 range.

E60 BMW M5

a black E60 M5
A black E60 BMW M5 – photo by Alexandre Prévot from Nancy, France

For the E60, BMW accomplished another first. They were the first manufacturer to put a naturally aspirated V10 into a sedan. Dodge had a naturally aspirated V10, but it was in the Viper. The S85 is found only in the M5 and made 500 horsepower hitting 60 in just 4.1 seconds. Top speed was a raucous 190 miles per hour. Surprisingly despite the big V10 and wider track, the M5 barely cracked the scales at over 4,000 pounds. Like the last model, there’s a healthy aftermarket for this M5. A set of long-tube headers will set you back over $5,000, but man, they sound incredible! You could get the E60 with a 6-speed manual, but most come with the 7-speed automatic.

F10 BMW M5

a black F10 BMW M5
A black F10 M5 – photo by nakhon100

For the F10, BMW ditched the V10 and went with a twin-turbo V8 marking the first time the M5 was turbocharged. The S63 engine cranked out 553 horsepower with a top speed of 190 miles per hour and 0-60 times in the low four-second range. They added torque-vectoring to improve acceleration and giant six-piston carbon-ceramic brakes to improve stopping power. Two special editions were available this generation. Those include the competition package that pushed horsepower up to 575 and lowered and tweaked the suspension. There was also a special 30th-anniversary edition with different emblems and markings. A stage II kit from Dinan pushes power to 700 horsepower for just over two grand, and it’s 50-state legal.

F90 BMW M5

a teal F90 M5
The F90 BMW M5 – photo by Vauxford

The BMW M5 returns for the F90 model, this time featuring AWD. The same twin-turbo V8 returns, but this time power is at 591 horsepower. Reduced weight improved acceleration pushing the BMW to 60 mph in the low 3-second range. The top speed remains unchanged at 190 miles per hour. The competition package returns bumping power up to 617 hp and again improving the suspension. There’s no more manual option, only an 8-speed automatic, continuing BMWs long march to ruination. No more manual, no more rear-wheel drive, no more natural aspiration. How are they going to ruin it next? Oh yeah, that’s right, they’re going to make the grill gigantic. 

The BMW M5 has a long history of being a quick, fun four-door sedan. What started as a simple four-door sedan with a five-speed manual, inline-6, and rear-wheel drive has transformed into an all-wheel drive, automatic-only, twin-turbo V8. At least they’re still fast. I would love to see them go back to naturally aspirated, rear-drive, manuals, but that will never happen. We’re just as likely to see automated, electric-only by the next generation. It was good while it lasted.

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