Jul 01, 2023

10 Ways The E39 BMW M5 Is Better Than Modern Sports Cars

In 1985, BMW created the first-ever M5 to critical acclaim, and to this day, it still outclasses many of today's sports cars.

BMW gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s with their Neue Klasse cars. By the 1980s, the German company was a household name and racing extraordinary cars at the racetracks of the world. In the early 1980s, a sporty version of the 5 Series was produced for a racing series. That model was the BMW M535i.

Following the demand for a fast sedan, BMW created the first-ever M5 in 1985 to critical acclaim. The E34 M5 followed suit in 1988, and 10 years later, the greatest of the M5s arrived on the scene to demolish all other sports sedans that had sprung up in the previous decade. The E39 M5 finally gained a V8 engine and continued the trend of being a comfortable cruiser on the street and a ferocious beast on a track.

Yes, the M5s that followed were better in terms of performance, but none could quite equal the E39 M5’s near-perfect chassis tuning and driving feel. Here are 10 ways in which the BMW E39 M5 is better than modern sports cars.

All informational data regarding the BMW E39 M5 was retrieved from automotive websites such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, CarEdge, Hagerty and CarSurvey. BMW's own website and the E39 forum were also used for real-world opinions.

The E39 M5 is rapidly rising in value due to its popularity. The M5 goes for between $10,000 and $40,000 – with perfect condition examples selling for over $100,000. According to Edmunds, it is possible to get hold of an E39 M5 for just under $20,000, with the most expensive one coming in at a rather ridiculous $275,000 – but it only has 746 miles on the clock.


Avg. Used Market Range

Original MSRP




The more regular E39 M5s on the market cost around the $40,000 mark for a good one with low mileage. There are $50,000+ examples for sale, but they have modifications and the general rule of thumb is to avoid used cars with modifications, as the cost to repair any potential problems could be a lot.

Related: Watch This E39 BMW M5 Take On 2 Alpina B10 V8s In A Drag Race

The E39 M5 was designed and engineered during the time when automakers like BMW were still over-engineering their models. The engineers were in charge and made the car as good as it could be for the time. It wasn’t until the succeeding model that the accountants took over the company and began cutting costs.

As a result of this over-engineering, the E39 M5 is relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain. The engine and gearbox are straightforward and the electrics well-made. The biggest problem E39 M5 owners face is the double VANOS system, which may cause significant problems if not repaired or replaced in time.

The late 1980s and whole of the 1990s are considered the peak of BMW design. The E39 is spectacular to look at, and the E38 7 Series is by far one of the best-looking sedans ever made. The controversial design which we have come to know and tolerate – and later, accept – began with the E65 7 Series.

While the E65 made ugly waves, the E39 persevered with its elegant yet muscular styling, the strong line running the length of the car, the angry front end and the gorgeous ‘Angel Eye’ headlights. Even today, more than 20 years after the E39’s debut, it remains a handsome car and the M5 even more so thanks to the M-Sport body kit and aggressive bumpers.

In the late 1990s, BMW created what is known as the most perfectly balanced sedan chassis ever made. It was so good that even BMW themselves struggle to recreate it, and multiple other companies have employed ex-BMW engineers and tuners to try to recreate the chassis – but to no avail.

As such, we now have the Chevrolet SS and the Genesis G90 – both of which were tuned by ex-BMW mechanics. Granted, they are wildly different, but each has a slight flicker of E39 M5 in them. The E39 M5 is the standard for sporty sedans – even if it can no longer keep up with the modern rivals.

Related: This Is The Best Feature Of The 2023 Genesis G90 Luxury Sedan



Production Years





4.9 liters (268 cu in)


394 hp


369 lb-ft



Noteworthy Applications

BMW E39 M5, BMW E52 Z8

Something which is becoming more evident is the absolute reliance on turbocharging. Most sports cars on the planet use turbochargers to get more power and use less fuel. On the market, there are maybe a handful of naturally aspirated sports cars left.

Back when the E39 M5 was new, most sports cars were free from forced induction. They instead relied on the engine alone to make the power – apart from the higher-up AMGs, which used superchargers. The E39 M5 made 400 hp with nothing but pistons and explosions. The induction and exhaust noises were separate entities, which made it sound like the car was breathing. This was only exemplified by the E60 M5 with its naturally aspirated V10.

Related: The E60 BMW M5's V10 Is The Most Awesome Engine To Go In A Sedan

With modern automatic transmissions being faster, more precise and more efficient than manual transmissions, many automakers simply choose an automatic for their sports cars. Even BMW is doing it now, offering only automatics for anything below M-cars.

Unlike the succeeding E60 M5, the E39 M5 only featured a manual transmission – with no automatic option. This meant that it was a proper driver’s car, which forced the owner to be engaged with driving, rather than just sitting back and letting the car do all the work. Granted, the E60 and F10 M5s still offered a manual transmission in the US, but very few customers actually went for it.

According to the non-official BMW E39 forums and webpages, the S62 V8 in the M5 can easily last 300,000 miles with the original components. Then again, if the proper maintenance schedule isn’t adhered to, the engine struggles to last even 40,000 miles under the stresses and rigors of high-performance.

0-60 MPH

5.3 seconds

Top Speed

155 mph (186 mph unrestricted)

Curb Weight

3,957 lbs


394 hp


369 lb-ft


Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive

The E39 M5, though, has some pretty impressive figures. The M5 completed the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.3 seconds – still really good by today’s standards. With all this performance, the M5 still achieves a respectable fuel economy of 17 mpg – not at all terrible for a naturally aspirated, manual V8 sport sedan.

With all the accolades the E39 M5 has – whether they are official or unofficial – it has become quite the collectible vehicle. While all M5s are great, most potential owners prefer the later models, which were sold between 2001 and 2003.

Another reason why the M5 is so collectible is because of the excellent build quality and longevity of the model. It is also one of the most-loved – if not the most-loved – M-car of all time. Luckily for potential collectors, BMW built over 20,000 units across the production run, so there are quite a few on the various used car markets of the world.

Related: Why Alex Roy Chose The BMW E39 M5 Sports Sedan To Break The Cannonball Record

While most owners of the E39 M5 have almost nothing but praise for the car, there are a few slight issues which are worth noting. CarSurvey reported that one owner had the car for four years and all the rubber parts failed, leaked or squeaked, and needed replacing. Another owner pointed out that he had various build issues – such as the trunk release not working, the A/C having an electrical issue and some corrosion on the rear doors – all of which were repaired under warranty.

While these owners do note the faults, they continue to praise the car and its performance. The way the engine sings at high rpm and the near-relentless power from the V8 is intoxicating. Many comment that it is one of the best cars they ever owned.

There is a vast aftermarket community for the E39 M5. The options and parts available could be anything from ways to fix the VANOS system, to adding forced induction to the engine in the form of turbochargers or centrifugal superchargers. With the popularity of the E39 M5, many owners improve the already existing formula with more modern equivalents.

Most M5 owners keep their cars stock and in excellent condition, but there are tuning companies who improve the E39 M5 just a little, by fitting a better air intake, more free-flowing exhaust, less-restrictive ECU and some nice wheels. Evolve in the UK actually offer whole kits to improve the responsiveness of the engine, creating a modern E39 M5 which still looks and sounds fantastic.

Michael De Kock is passionate about cars and everything from avocados to particle accelerators. He has studied psychology and knows a little bit about fixing cars (old Land Rovers mostly). He also blogs and has a book, 125 Creative Writing Prompts for Petrolheads, available on Amazon. His philosophy in life: Stop the hate - Adopt a V8.

BMWsports sedansTrimAvg. Used Market RangeOriginal MSRPAvg. Yearly Maintenance Costs:Recalls:Problems Owners Report:Highest Mileage Reported:ManufacturerProduction YearsConfigurationDisplacementPowerTorqueFuelNoteworthy Applications0-60 MPHTop SpeedCurb WeightHorsepowerTorqueLayout