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Just How Good Was the M5?
Winding Road / Issue No.1 / 15

With skidpad and straight line performance in Porsche 911 territory, the 1999–2003 M5 seemed the perfect “have your cake and eat it too” machine. It had 400 bhp, a breakthrough power level for a sedan before Mercedes went on a quest for horsepower without a mission. And BMW tweaked its already superb E39 chassis for superb handling. But looking back on it, how good was the M5? We borrowed a low mileage 2003 M5 from a cooperative owner to find out.

First off, the M5 motor is simply great. It has ample low-end torque, and the massaging done by the M Division means it pulls hard all the way to the redline. Because it is normally aspirated, power comes on linearly, and throttle response is near-instantaneous while being easily modulated. An important note, though, is that this engine has only modestly more torque (369 ft-lb vs. 330 ft-lb) than the new and superb 4.4 liter V-8 in the 545i.

The M5 six-speed manual is a serviceable but not great gearbox. Throws are relatively long and the feel is a tad notchy. It doesn’t snuff out the fun, but it could be better.

The M5 suspension is firm, with relatively low body roll, and a classic BMW balanced feel. It does tend toward mild understeer as you push it, but for a sedan it is very good. The steering on the other hand, like the transmission, is acceptable but not great. The V8-powered E39 BMWs have recirculating ball steering and you can feel it. On center, things are a bit wobbly, though feel is better than expected

Overall, the M5 feels old, but in a good way. The suspension doesn’t filter out the road, so you could call it coarse, but you also need to call it connected. The transmission and steering, while far from state of the art, are quite mechanical. Even the dashboard design, while plain, seems classic. In the end, the integrity of the M5 gets you away from picky analysis because it is a blast to drive.

Currently, you can readily find moderate-mileage M5s in the $60k range. Sure, there’s warranty difference, but with depreciation on the M5 likely to be lower, we think this is an intriguing alternative to the best of this roundup.

:cheers:
 

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Robert,

The review is spot on. We are all enarmored by the E39 M5 here, but the OEM shifter, steering and suspensions can undoubtly be improved. I'm surprised he did not mention the clutch as well.

All that being said, the M5 is still one of my all time favorite cars. When the 03s drop into the mid $40k range, I'll be hunting for a replacement.

CP
 

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Thanks for posting. Brought a smile to my face :M5thumbs:
 

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I'll add my thanks.

However, I find it strange for a relatively new "supersedan" to be referred to as "old". In America our quest for new and better sometimes outweighs common sense.

OK, as someone in his mid 30s perhaps I have a biased view now!
 

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I too find it funny that it is called old. Dont get me wrong, then E39 is an old platform, but there has been very little that triumphed over the E39 M5. Old compared to an E60 maybe, but that car isnt something I concider to be dated. Great article all in all, and it put a nice smile on my face.
:cheers:
 

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KevinM said:
I'll add my thanks.

However, I find it strange for a relatively new "supersedan" to be referred to as "old". In America our quest for new and better sometimes outweighs common sense.

OK, as someone in his mid 30s perhaps I have a biased view now!
Unfortunately, in 2005 it is considered "old" because many more affordable cars are coming out with 400 HP engines. I know HP is not everything, but I'm sure you've read multiple car magazine editors say "we've never met a HP we didn't like!" We have to admit that the majority of us rank 0-60, 0-100mph, 1/4 mi times ahead of skidpad and braking results. I know I do. I remember reading the 12/99 issue of MT, about the "400HP Supersedan" from BMW, and saying to myself, 'Holy s***, 400 freakin HP'. That was unheard of just 5-6 short years ago. Now unfortunately, you pick up any car magazine and read about the 400HP car of the day (ie Caddy CTS-v,STS-v, GTO, Chrysler 300, etc.)

Our car isn't unique anymore(in terms of power), but I still love driving it.
 

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sublimaze said:
Unfortunately, in 2005 it is considered "old" because many more affordable cars are coming out with 400 HP engines. I know HP is not everything, but I'm sure you've read multiple car magazine editors say "we've never met a HP we didn't like!" We have to admit that the majority of us rank 0-60, 0-100mph, 1/4 mi times ahead of skidpad and braking results. I know I do. I remember reading the 12/99 issue of MT, about the "400HP Supersedan" from BMW, and saying to myself, 'Holy s***, 400 freakin HP'. That was unheard of just 5-6 short years ago. Now unfortunately, you pick up any car magazine and read about the 400HP car of the day (ie Caddy CTS-v,STS-v, GTO, Chrysler 300, etc.)

Our car isn't unique anymore(in terms of power), but I still love driving it.
You are correct. That is the bad news. However, the good news is that technology has also improved on the aftermarket front. If you otherwise thing the E39 M5 is superior to the competition, then if the only weakness of the E39 M5 is horsepower, that can be remedied to your $$$$$ati$ifaction!! And if you buy a well sorted used E39 M5 and then add the power, it should cost no more ( and often less) then the new and improved replacement (discussion about new competition in other aspects saved for another time). So, for example, E60 M5, estimate $85-90 large. Used 01, say $45-48K, add $30-35k for power upgrades (personal choice would be D/A, but they are not the only choice) and problem solved!!! :wroom:
Regards,
Jerry
 

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Forget the numbers, when you get in and drive it, does it make you smile? If yes then its a great car. If no then its not. Without fail, every time I am driving the M5, I think to myself: this is a great car- a classic. Does it have some weak points, yes, the article mentioned them, they ignored the squishy brake feel too, but who cares, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Mine's a keeper. :flag:
 

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Ever since day 1, I've thought the e39 styling suites me perfectly. I don't get the edgy styling of the new Caddys or the gangster look of the 300C. So in terms of styling, the m5 is still #1 in my book, only the new E55 comes close.

What still sets the M5 apart from almost every other performance sedan is the 6 speed. That makes the car more involving and fun to drive. It also allows the M5 to perform better with less HP. It is still quicker in the hands of a good driver than most of the more affordable models.

Add to that the full leather interior, impressive list of features and safety (especially considering its relative age), and the e39 M5 is still a winner to me.
 

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greg said:
I hope to drive mine until is crumbles into a heap of dust. At 85,000 miles it still feels new and still makes me smile every time I drive it.

85K miles, and still the WOW factor.
 

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I was thinking the same thing last weekend at sears point, while out on track with some other instructors with their M3's, some track prepped and a couple of students in their 911 gt3's. The M5 is quite a force on the track, really amazing. As my student who was along for the ride said "this thing is a monster..."
Mike
 
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