BMW M5 Evolution: The M5 Becomes A Lustworthy Monster


Adding luxury and power is like your partner getting hotter and gaining libido.

With the E34 helping the M division acquire a taste for sports car blood, BMW set about creating the next generation of sleeper 5-Series using the E39 chassis. From 1993 to 1998, BMW’s M engineers were doing anything but resting. In fact, they were busy finding ways to bend the laws of physics yet again. The reason why is that the 5-Series managed to gain 200 pounds by changing into its E39 guise. Tipping the scales at just over two tons meant that engineers had to recreate a miracle and teach this elephant how to turn on a dime and outrun a cheetah.

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The latter part was easy, just add a nuke under the hood and let its power do the talking. Fans of loud engines were happy with this decision because it meant that for the first time, the M5 got a V8. The new engine grew by 1.3 liters, from 3.6 in the E34 to 4.9 in the E39. This meant that the new fiver got 84 extra tire-sublimating horses for a total of 394 horsepower. The E39’s superior power to weight ratio and 6-speed manual meant it could best the E34’s 0-60 mph acceleration times by 1.6 seconds, dropping from 6.4 seconds to 4.8 seconds in the E39. An electronic limiter kept the insanity at 155 mph, but hackers doubling as autobahn adrenaline junkies could bypass this and coax 186 mph out of their Bimmers.

For engineers, containing two tons and nearly 400 horsepower was akin to putting a rambunctious hormonal teenager alone in a room full of liquor. What could go wrong? Fortunately the technology of the era had gotten smart enough to play nanny, so the new M5 was made more approachable by adding a traction control system in case driver skill ran out or the roads got too wet. Like a good driver’s car, the system could be turned off so that experienced drivers could use the throttle and do away with the chassis’ slight understeer. Along with the traction control, the M5 made its passengers truly cozy with DVD-based navigation, Bluetooth capabilities, and park assist sensors contributing to the weight gain.

The extra technology and increased performance only made the M5’s duality between comfortable luxury cruiser and sports car killer more apparent. This was good because when the E39 5-Series was released, Jaguar responded with a more powerful XJR and Mercedes had the E55. Both were faster than the 540i, the top 5-Series until the M5 came out in 1998. The E39 M5 was a huge success. As Top Gear’s 1999 review of the car stated, “the threat from Jaguar and Mercedes has been washed aside.” BMW’s Mercedes and Jaguar squeegee sold 20,482 units even without a wagon version and stuck around until 2003. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Bavarian legend returned to dominate this growing segment with a new menace.