Future Classics: BMW E39 M5


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The Future Classics road was destined to be driven in a BMW E39 M5. It is the last 5 Series to have a truly clean, uncluttered design, and will likely be the last to keep a naturally-aspirated V8 under the hood; it was also exclusively available with a manual transmission, which is guaranteed to never happen again. Unlike the E60, which was famously overstyled by Chris Bangle and utilized a ridiculous 5.0L V10, the E39 was a perfect sleeper with just the right amount of power under the hood. At the time, the M5 and its 394hp 4.9L V8 was the most powerful sports sedan on the market, easily outperforming the Mercedes E55 AMG and Audi S6. Although it is a heavy bastard at more than two tons, the S62 was able to launch the midsized tanker from 0-60mph in a tick under 5 seconds. The power, luxury, reputation, and a current price around $20,000 make this M5 a Future Classic.

The 5 Series made the switch from the blocky, squared-off edges of the E34 to smoother, more rounded E39 in 1996, although the M5 variant wouldn’t see the light of day until 1999 after its 1998 debut at the Geneva Auto Show. The 4.4L V8 from the 540i had its bore and stroke increased, resulting in a final displacement of 4.9L in the M5, increasing the power output by 112hp to 394; this allowed the engine to breathe freely to its 7,000RPM redline. All the power was routed to the rear wheels by way of a Getrag six-speed manual transmission. Shocks, anti-roll bars, LSD, and brakes were all upgraded from the 540i to beef up cornering and stopping performance, helping counteract the M5’s heaviness.

The E39 was the first M5 not hand-built, as it was constructed on an assembly line in Dingolfing, Germany next to the other 5 Series sedans. This doesn’t make the E39 any less special, however. Although larger than its predecessor, the addition of two extra cylinders and 80hp more than offset the 200lbs weight gain in the transition. Also in transition was the M5 and its adaptation of 21st century technology. It featured the first use of satellite navigation in a 5 Series, and was thankfully introduced before the first generation of the much-maligned iDrive system percolated throughout BMW’s lineup.

So now that we’ve established what makes the E39 so fantastic, which years are the best to buy? The M5 was refreshed in 2001, with a larger display for the infotainment system, the steering wheel from the E46 M3, and a new headlight and taillight treatment, among other revisions. The 2001-2003 models are the ones to get because of these modifications, along with the probability of a low-mileage example. What makes the E39 M5 a future classic? It is likely to be the only M5 with a naturally-aspirated V8, an engine that was very well received upon its initial release and continues to be held in high regard. It was the last M5 offered solely with a manual transmission, before BMW started pandering to drivers uninterested in rowing for themselves (the subsequent E60 M5 was offered solely with a seven-speed auto until enough BMW diehards convinced the company to offer a standard transmission). There were far less electronic aides and components than in the later iterations, making it more of a driver’s car than a second office for its occupants.

Well-maintained M5s start at less than $20,000, but expect to pay $20-25,000 for low-mileage examples.


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About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.

3 responses to “Future Classics: BMW E39 M5”

  1. John English says :

    The E39 M5, a close relative of my beloved E46 M3, is IMHO one of the most beautiful cars BMW ever made.

    • Cameron Rogers says :

      I vastly prefer both the E39 and E46 to their respective successors. The E92 is just fine, but it’s just a little bulbous and the design doesn’t really reference its heritage the way the E46 did. Plus, there’s something so satisfying in saying that your engine puts out a straight 333hp. It’s a shame that the straight-six it shared with the Z4 M will likely be the last NA 6-cylinder with an “M” badge ever.

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