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The BMW E39 M5 is overrated

Someone asks about the E39 M5, and if you’ve seen the title, you know you’re in for a ride today. Email yo’ questions! Question Hey Mike! I’m a big fan of the reviews, and I see that Larry just washed an E39 M5. Now it looks like it’s for sale on Cars & Bids. I…

e39-m5

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Someone asks about the E39 M5, and if you’ve seen the title, you know you’re in for a ride today.

Email yo’ questions!

Question

Hey Mike! I’m a big fan of the reviews, and I see that Larry just washed an E39 M5. Now it looks like it’s for sale on Cars & Bids.

I tried to find a review of the E39 on your site, but I didn’t see one. What are your thoughts on the car? Would you recommend buying one?

-Sam

Answer

Thank you for the kind words Sam. You’re correct, I’ve not reviewed an E39. But I have driven one! On track, no less.

Before I shred everyone’s childhood memories, let me first pay proper homage.

The E39 M5 was really really good

When people think of what an M car should be, either this or an E46 M3 are held as the poster children. I can see the appeal. And if you drove one in the early 2000s, your face might slowly be turning red in anger.

Relax. I love the engine in the car, and the suspension struck a perfect balance between comfort and aggression. It looked like a proper M car too, so clean and elegant. Nothing like the overwrought brutes of today.

Also, it really was Ferrari fast. Understand that it might be common today, but 25 years ago it was unheard of for a family sedan. I fell in love with BMW because my best friend’s dad (hi Gary!) had a 528i, and I could tell just how good the E39 5 Series was from the back seat even then.

Now that I have that out of the way…

The E39 M5 has been overshadowed

E90 M3
Hear me out…

You don’t have to look very far for a BMW that surpassed the M5 in just about every regard. Production ended in 2003, and by 2008 there was something better. It’s not even an M5.

The E90 M3.

I see that eye roll, but hear me out, first with numbers:

  • Curb weight: 3,957 lb to 3,650 lb
  • Power: 394 @ 6,600 RPM to 414 @ 8,300 RPM (we’ll get back to this).
  • Torque: 369 @ 3,800 RPM to 295 @3,900 RPM
  • 0-60: 4.1 to 4.1

The E90 is 180 inches long, the E39 188, but the M3 is actually wider by an inch, and they offer similar dimensions inside.

The M3 handled better. It’s more modern. Better equipped. Higher redline. Cheaper. Looks better. It’s nicer inside. Sounds better. The badge isn’t gigantic.

Some of that is subjective, sure. But if you’re sitting here going “Nostalgia”, or “The E39 was special, man”, than that’s just as subjective.

The S62 isn’t even their best V-8

Speaking of engines, there’s only two M cars that have never shared an engine with anything else – the E60 M5 and the E90 M3.

Let’s keep it to V-8s though. The S65 doesn’t come from those plebeian regular BMW models – it’s totally bespoke, built off that glorious V-10 architecture.

That doesn’t make the S62 a wallflower, but you have an additional 1,200 RPM to play with, along with the sound of a street-legal F1 car. The E39 has a more usable torque curve, but the E90 gets max output right at redline.

Which do you think is more fun to drive?

They are going through depreciation things

E39 M5
The days of getting six figures is just about over.

Have you checked the price on one recently?

Holy depreciation, Batman.

You can buy ’em all day at $40,000. Check Cars & Bids and Bring a Trailer.

Sure, there are a few outliers, but if you think you have yourself an investment, sorry.

On the other hand, you can buy E90s all day at 20k. Save up $2,500 for rod bearings and you have yourself a deal.

By the way, no one should be buying an M car that’s over a decade old for six figures – that’s what a new one costs. Actually…

New M5s are better

bmw-m5-generations
I think the F90 makes the E39 obsolete in many ways,

Forget about the E90 for a minute.

Some folks might not want to hear it, but if you drive an E39 back-to-back with a newer M5, especially an F90, the E will feel like a wet noodle.

The steering might give you more feedback, but it’s also not nearly as precise. The shifter gives you the same rubbery feel as in any other BMW with a manual. Throttle response is sluggish. And wow, does it lean in turns.

Of course newer cars are better – they should be. But considering the E39’s reputation, and so many begging BMW to go back to the “good old days”, I was left underwhelmed.

What we need to bring back is a bit of that rough edge, where the steering wheels shakes in your hands a bit and the engine note doesn’t come through the speakers.

Should you buy an E39 M5?

e39-m5-show

This M5, and other cars from the same era, come from a place that does not exist anymore.

Think back for a minute, Sam. I’m going to assume you’re old enough to remember seeing special cars 20 years ago. A Ferrari 348 would make everyone go bananas. Seeing an E39 M5 out in the wild was wow.

But car culture has changed. We used to meet up in Pathmark parking lots with our imports until the cops kicked us out. Now we host cruises and create car shows where thousands of people attend. Is seeing an M5 that special, or rare?

Without the need to impress your mates on a Sunday morning, you’re left with the driving experience. Only you can decide if that’s enough. Remember that good examples still command a premium.

So, like, do you hate old BMWs now?

e39-m5-trackside

Not at all. New ones are great, but they are heavy. Tracking your F90 for a day means a set of new brakes and tires, along with new fluids. Combine it with the cost of the track and insurance, and I bet it’s a $2,000 weekend.

You can have just as much fun in a car that’s lighter and won’t beat your tires to submission. I think the E46 is the sweet spot, and that explains why you see so many race-prepped versions on any given track day.

Oh so the E39 makes a good track car?

E90 M3
Try one of these instead.

Not exactly. We’re back to weight again. The E weighs over 4,000 lbs with you on board. That’s more than a G80 M3 with a manual, and about 500 pounds more than an E90 M3.Though later M5s would have multi-link suspensions all around, the E39 has struts in front. Not a bad thing, but a less sophisticated setup, same as that M3. I’m of the mind that any sedan isn’t really supposed to be a track car – who needs a back seat? But if you must, there are better sedan choices.

The end times are coming

So Sam, the E39 M5 is a great car, just an overrated one. It’s living off nostalgia and a reputation of being fast when you were in the third grade.

But you know what? Get one anyway. The electric future is coming, and I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to hold it off. If you’ve got a wish to own an E39, or any other older car, go for it. Better to scratch the itch than to live life guessing.

Love is irrational, after all.

Here’s the video from AMMO.

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