- Written by Andrey Rudnitsky
What looks like a four door sedan, but drives like a sports car? Well... the first car that comes to mind is the BMW M5. The M5 has always been a favorite of mine because it's an excellent mix of luxury and solid performance. This vehicle can transport you and three of your friends comfortably from point A to point B. However, the beauty of the M5 is that you can always choose to throw comfort out the window and give your friends a scare of a lifetime!
In a nutshell, the M5 is one of the most practical race cars ever made, if not the most. It has four doors, all the creature comforts of a BMW, seating for five, a huge engine and handles like a dream. In our video review, we drive two of the more recent generations, the 2003 E39 M5 and the 2010 E60 M5. Both are very fast cars, but the way they carry themselves is very different.
About the M5
The 2003 E39 M5 is the last year BMW built that generation of the M5 and is the best year for that model. Earlier E39 models had problems with the Vanos timing systems (which were expensive to repair), issues with carbon buildup and a couple of other minor things. However, in 2003 all the wrinkles have been ironed out and the car was near perfection.
The E39 M5 has a 4.9 liter V8 that produces approximately 400 hp at 6,600 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm and redlines at 7,000 rpm. Despite a curb weight of 4,000 lbs, the E39 M5 can hit 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds according to official performance specs, but some have claimed they could consistently hit 0-60 mph times of 4.5 seconds. Additionally, the car is very well balanced and handles like a dream and gives the driver good feedback. I used to take mine out to the mountains and I was not afraid to push it on the curvy mountain roads following a group of M3s, which is not an easy feat.
The 2010 E60 M5 is also the last year BMW built that generation of the M5 and is likely the best year. Earlier E60 models had issues with the iDrive system and the 7-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) III, but after a series of upgrades, these issues seem to have gone away.
The E60 M5 has a 5.0 liter V10 that produces approximately 500 hp at 7,750 rpm and 383 lb-ft of torque at 6,100 rpm and redlines at 8,250 rpm. Although the E60 M5 also has a curb weight of approximately 4,000 lbs, the massive power upgrade propels it from 0-60 mph in only 4.8 seconds. What's interesting about the two is that, up until 60 mph, both M5s are nearly neck and neck. However, the E60 M5 starts to pull away quickly after the 60 mph mark, and it keeps going and going. What's more interesting is that the E39 M5 feels faster as the car's peak torque is achieved at a much lower rpm (3,800 rpm versus 6,100 rpm for the E60 M5) and hits the driver instantly, whereas with the E60 the driver has to be a little more patient.
Uniqueness of the M5
Both of these M5s are very rare, to be specific, only 20,482 E39 M5s were built from 1999-2003 compared to total BMW worldwide production during the same period of 3,544,234. That means that the M5 represented only ~0.6% of total production during the same time frame. However, despite all of the unnecessary criticism from hardcore enthusiasts, the E60 M5 was the most successful M5 yet with 20,548 units sold from 2006-2010. However, total BMW worldwide production during the same four-year period increased to 5,957,170 lowering M5 production as a percentage of total production to ~0.3%. So technically, the E60 M5 is rarer than the E39.
Interior & Technology
When I look at cars I want to buy, I put a much greater weight on performance and a very small weight on the interior, but nonetheless an attractive and comfortable interior does matter. That said, I like both interiors but my preference goes to the newer E60 styling and technology.
The E39 interior is comfortable enough, but less ergonomic relative to the E60 and, as you would imagine, has much less going on in the technology department. The seats are comfortable but the leather is not as soft as the E60's. However, the overall appearance of the E39 interior is attractive and I personally like the more contemporary look of the brushed aluminum trim rather than a wood trim. It just makes you feel younger.
The E60 interior is more ergonomic as everything is positioned to conform better to your body. For example, the door hand rest has a downward sloping angle towards the front of the car and is more comfortable relative to the flat hand rest in the E39. BMW took this concept and applied it the other interior features making the driving experience all that much better in terms of comfort when compared to the prior generation (E39).
Both cars have navigation, heated seats, dual zone climate control, interior active charcoal air filters, a premium sound system, rain sensors, driver seat/wheel/mirror position memorization and a lot of the other standard creature comforts that you normally get in a BMW. However, the E60 has a far more advanced user interface which is called the iDrive system. It includes a much better navigation system and multimedia management system which can store mp3s, play CDs and easily play music on a connected mp3 player. I am also a big fan of the Bluetooth connectivity, which did not come in the E39 model.
Another impressive E60 feature is the customization ability of the performance settings. For example, you can program the car's horsepower to increase to 500 hp from the default 400 hp and have the suspension go to the stiffest setting from comfort when you press the "M" button on the steering wheel. The beauty is that you can adjust these settings to fit your driving style. Additionally, I am a big fan of the heads up display for speed and rpm that pops up when the "M" button is engaged.
After I had the chance to drive both cars, I noticed that the E39 was more of a "brute force" type of car whereas the E60 felt more like a "gentleman's car." The clutch pedal in the E39 was a lot tougher to press, the steering felt more "responsive" and the throttle response was instant as the torque hits you a lot quicker due to the E39's low rpm max torque peak (at 3,800 rpm) compared to the E60 (6,100 rpm). In fact, at first I was actually misled by thinking the E39 was just as fast as the E60. However, despite the fact that everything (clutch, seats, steering, etc.) in the E60 feels more comfortable, when put head-to-head with the E39, the "gentleman" actually spanks "brute force" after 60 mph and I believe that a good driver can also spank the E39 from 0-60 mph.
In terms of top speed, both of the cars have an electronic limiter at 155 mph, but when removed the E39 can achieve 186 mph while the V10 E60 can hit a max of a whopping 204 mph. I think top speeds are very impressive given that we are talking about four-door family sedans here, not a Ferraris. What's also impressive is how fast these cars keep accelerating past 100 mph, it just keeps going and going and going. It makes you wanna keep going to see how high it can go.
At first, I liked the E39 M5 better than the E60 M5, but after two days of driving, my preference for brute performance was abolished by the more comfortable yet solid performance of the E60 M5. Anyways, enough reading, go ahead and watch the video.