New & Used BMW M5: In Depth
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The BMW M5 is synonymous with the term "sports sedan." Offered as a stand-alone model since 1985, the current versions pack as much as 600 horsepower and thrash some modern supercars in acceleration and top speed.
The M5 story began in 1980 with a car wearing a different badge, the M535i. As the official motorsport version of the 5-Series at the time, the E12 M535i was considered the first full production car released by the BMW Motorsport division. This 3.5-liter, 215-horsepower sport sedan offered Recaro seats, a limited-slip differential, larger brakes, and other performance enhancements.
MORE: Read our 2015 BMW 5-Series review for more details on the M5
The first vehicle to be badged an M5, however, was the E28-generation model introduced in 1985 and sold until 1988. Only 2,200 of them were made, about 1,300 of which were brought to the U.S., but the car still managed to start a legacy for itself and the M brand. Power came from a version of the inline-six that powered the M1 supercar, packing 256 horsepower in the U.S. version. European cars had about 26 hp more due to less-restrictive exhaust; they were not required to have the catalytic converters that choked cars that came here.
The E34 M5, built from 1989 to 1995 (but sold in the U.S. only during the 1991–1993 model years), truly established BMW's reputation in the sport sedan world, however. Over 12,000 units were sold worldwide and the car set a new benchmark for performance and luxury in its era. Again, power for U.S. models was reduced in comparison to its European cousins, but less markedly; U.S. E34 M5s were rated at 307 horsepower, a loss of just 4 horsepower compared to the freer-flowing models in the Old World. This generation also saw the first station wagon to wear an M badge, the M5 Touring, introduced in 1992, although none were brought here. In U.S. trim, the M5 was good for 0–60 mph in about 6.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
As the M5 evolved, it grew not only larger and more powerful, but also more high-tech. Among the equipment featured on the car during its model run was front and rear Park Distance Control, a wireless car phone, solar-sensing automatic climate control, and DVD-based navigation. The E39 M5, built from 1998-2003, sported an S62 V-8 engine rated at 394 horsepower, fitted to a Getrag six-speed manual transmission. Unlike the E28 and E34 before it, however, the E39 M5 was no longer hand-built by the M Division, but based on a series-produced chassis with modifications from M. The changes included lower, stiffer springs; revalved dampers; a limited-slip differential; quicker steering; stiffer anti-roll bars, and other performance upgrades. This M5 was even quicker than the last, despite its increased size, hitting 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds, but still topping out at the same electronically limited 155 mph. A Touring model was also built for this generation, sharing its equipment with the sedan.
In 2005, a new M5 joined the fold, and this was the largest and most high-tech yet. With the world's first production V-10 engine in a sedan, the E60 M5 produced a sound unlike anything else, and quickly won fans around the world. Rated at 500 horsepower and paired with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed Getrag SMG III single-clutch, semi-automatic transmission. The SMG transmission was often maligned for its jerky operation, but for its time, it was an innovative addition to a relatively affordable performance sedan, with features like launch control, paddle shifters, downshift rev-matching, and 65-millisecond shift times. The six-speed conventional manual was introduced largely to meet American demand, and while slower in acceleration dests, offered greater driver engagement. A Touring version was built for European markets, but was never officially sold in North America. Top speed was once again limited to 155 mph (later 170 mph), though de-limited motels could hit speeds in excess of 200 mph.
The most recent version of the M5, the F10, began its life in the U.S. in 2012 as a 2013 model. Reducing the cylinder count for the first time in the M5's history, the F10 M5 returned to a V-8 configuration, but added a pair of turbochargers. The result is a monstrous 560 horsepower, enabling 4.4-second 0-60 mph runs and a top speed of 190 mph with the M Driver's Package (electronically limited to 155 mph otherwise). This performance, despite its nearly 4,300-pound curb weight, places the M5 sedan among the highest-performance sedans in the world, regardless of price. A new M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission was the only offering at launch, bringing with it launch control and paddle shifters once again.
In 2013, BMW added a six-speed manual offering to the car at the Detroit Auto Show--again to service American demand. No M5 Touring model has yet been offered, though Europeans do have the option of a diesel-powered M Performance model called the M550d xDrive Touring.
For the 2014 model year, BMW added a new Competition Package that increased the output to 575 horsepower, as well as enhancing the suspension with new coil springs, damper calibrations, and anti-roll bars. The electronic stability control system was remapped for higher thresholds before intervention, and the exterior of Competition Package models received black-tipped exhaust outlets, and unique 20-inch alloy wheels. Updates across the line for 2014 included available LED headlights, revised tail lights, and an updated kidney grille; interior tweaks include a new M Sport steering wheel, updates to the iDrive system, and minor trim updates.
For 2015, BMW is celebrating three decades of the M5 with a 30th Anniversary edition. This limited-release car—only 30 will be sold in the U.S.—includes everything from the Competition Package and adds to that a 600-horsepower version of the twin-turbo V-8 engine, as well as matte gray paint, black wheels, black chrome detailing, and a slew of 30 Jahre M5 logos scattered around the exterior and interior. At this point, they're likely all spoken for.