The E39 is heralded as one of the best driver's sedans of all time, and prices are on the rise.
The E39 generation BMW M5 is heralded as one of the best analog driver's sedans ever produced. E39 prices tanked as many high dollar German luxury cars tend to do, but a recent explosion in old M car values has brought prices back up. There are still bargains to be had on the used market, but many pristine E39s are selling for close to six figures; a normal, fairly low-mileage example can cost around $50,000, which is a lot to pay for a 15-year-old car. With this is mind, we have come up with five cheaper options to satisfy your performance itch.
The Chevy SS was highly praised as the "second coming" of the E39 M5. What some people may have forgotten, though, is GM tried its hand at building a rear-wheel-drive performance sedan long before the SS. The Pontiac G8 arrived in 2008 with a 3.6-liter V6 and a 6.0-liter V8. Unfortunately, both of these engines were mated to an automatic transmission. For the 2009 model year, GM gifted the G8 a 6.2-liter Corvette V8 producing 430 horsepower and the option of a six-speed manual. Much like the E39 M5, the G8 GXP has become a bit of a collectible. We still managed to find several manual examples for less than $30,000, and it will no doubt be cheaper to maintain than the German option.
If an automatic transmission isn't a deal breaker, our next choice is a fantastic value. The Infiniti M sedan is technically still sold today as the Q70. The base M37 model was powered by Nissan's VQ V6 engine, but the more powerful M56 model packed a 420-hp 5.6-liter V8. Though it only came with a seven-speed automatic, the M56 was still a very involving car to drive. We found used examples starting under $15,000, with nicer examples costing around $25,000. It may not be as collectible as the BMW, but the Infiniti is more powerful, packs more modern features, and is likely cheaper to maintain.
We were a bit disappointed when Acura decided to merge the TL and TSX lines into the lackluster TLX sedan. The TL was once one of the most underrated sport sedans on the market, and it was even available with a manual transmission. Though it it didn't wear a Type S badge, the fourth-generation TL combined a 3.7-liter V6 with SH-AWD and an optional six-speed manual transmission. It is rare to find a TL equipped with a manual transmission, but we some found nice examples for around $15,000.
Though it was priced to compete with the E46 BMW M3, the first generation CTS-V was more of a direct competitor for the E39. Unfortunately, the E39 went out of production prior to the CTS-V's arrival, and the more powerful E60 M5 trounced the American muscle sedan. This doesn't mean the original CTS-V isn't a good car. Like the E39, it is powered by a 400-hp V8 (in this case a 6.0-liter LS6 or LS2). Also like the M5, it only came with a six-speed manual transmission and has an extremely out-of-date interior. High mileage examples start at under $10,000, but we'd recommend spending more on a well-maintained example.
Our final alternative is the M5's baby brother, the 540i. The 540i may not be as competent as the M5, but with a few upgrades it can be equally as fun on a race track or back road. The 4.4-liter V8 engine produced 290 hp, which was great at the time. Finding one with a manual and the optional M Sport pack isn't easy, but it will likely be less expensive than finding a pristine M5.