From friends to auto writers the E39 M5 has long been held up as the perfect sports sedan. With BMW sizing up the 3 and the 5 we thought we’d take a look at why this 10+ year old car continues to fascinate so many of us.
Perhaps the quickest way to sum it up is that the E39 M5 possesses the perfect ratio between size and power. But there’s mushers that makes this car so special. There’s the feel of the six speed manual. The perfection of the cabin and how it wrapped neatly around the driver. It’s the simplicity of the exterior design. Devoid of the ornamentation of the E60 and similar cars, the E39 is 100% classic BMW. Proportion, design, it’s all there.
Like other M products of the era it all started with the engine. The E39 M5 had a high-revving 4.9 V8 known internally as the S62. Based on the M62 found in “normal” 545i BMWs, the S62 produced 400 hp and featured a 7,000 rpm redline, Double-VANOS, individual throttle butterflies for each of the cylinders and (at the time) shockingly fast rev times for such a large engine. Not unlike the current manual found in the MF10 M5, the E39′s six speed manual was actually the same unit found in the 540i. But it’s hard to argue with the precision and feel it had.
Thankfully the S62 produced plenty of power and torque because the E39 M5 was not a lightweight at 4,026 lbs. Unlike the the S65 V8 found in the E90 era M3, the S62 V8 had a fat torque curve and plenty of flexibility. The result was a car that felt ready to put the hammer whenever needed yet liked to rev to heights not normally associated with a V8. It was magnificent and is still considered by many enthusiasts as the best V8 the brand has ever made. Oh and by the way, it remains the basis of the “BMW Powered” DP class entries in Grand Am because of its flexibility and relatively low cost to performance ratio.
But there’s much more to the E39 M5 than the S62. Not unlike the E46, the E39 seemed to be perfectly sized to offer just enough space and comfort for its segment while feeling like a proper sports sedan. It stood perfectly at the cross-section between luxury saloon and sports sedan. And while it was no lightweight, the power to weight ratio was spot on for more than adequate acceleration and speed.
And it was simple. This is where the argument gets a little difficult. I loved the new F10 M5 – especially in manual form. But the E39 M5 is a car that, ten years on, is more attractive due to its simplicity. There was one button – sport – to sharpen it’s throttle mapping. Everything else was purely analogue. A formula used in the E46 M3 and 1M brilliantly.
We’re not saying the almost infinite adjustability of current M cars is a bad thing. But there is something beautiful about simple. And when you add powerful, nimble and luxurious to that equation you have something remarkable.