Following the formula for this tale, you would have expected me to bump into BMW designer Ulf Weidhase in a bar in Austria or something. No, the Italian experience with Ercole and the E34 was the last great 5-Series coincidence in my life. The last decade was less “sex, drugs, and rock & roll across Europe” and more “caring for aging parents back in the States”. The good life is also a hard life; by the time I made it back to Maryland in 1999 I was incredibly tired and felt like I had aged several times over during my fifteen or so years traipsing around Europe. It was time to settle down and be responsible.
At age 37, I even got married.
Responsibility can coexist with a love of cars though. At least if your partner is accommodating with regard to your automotive sickness. Mine very much was, but our budget did not quite match our taste. Another several years, another M5 arrived to the world; the E39 M5 was born this time and I desperately wanted one. I would find myself glued to the latest Car & Driver. Splayed out across the page was the new 4.9 L S62 V8 engine that brought with it a significant power upgrade over the E34’s 311 hp. I read all that I could find with a voracious appetite. With 394 bhp at 6,600 rpm 369 lb. ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm the new M5 was yet another world beater. Naturally, a Getrag type D six-speed manual transmission was standard, and I decided that this was, yet again, the most perfect car ever built. I put on my best suit and visited my local BMW dealer with the hopes of test driving the new M5. It was fairly early in the production process and the dealership had only received one new M car. “Serious buyers only, thanks for coming, can I interest you in a 3-series”?
But I saw it, I touched it, I yearned for it.
The E60 & The F10
Fast forward six years and again BMW brought us a new big M car. The E60 wasn’t as unanimously loved as the E39, many lamented it’s rounded styling. All I could think of was the S85 V10 engine which upped the ante again with an even 500 horsepower. Five hundred! Ridiculous, amazing, when will this power climb stop? Certainly now with the F10 M5. Now much closer to 600 horsepower, the new BMW super sedan went on sale in November 2011. In the final year of my 40s, I thought perhaps this was my time; my desire to own the latest and greatest M5 would finally come.
Instead my company decided to file for bankruptcy and that 60 month financing deal I was pre-approved for would have to wait. Sure, E39 models were starting to come down in price, but I wanted a new one. I wanted to be the first and only person to put her through her paces, to form a man-and-machine bond that would last forever.
At least in German car years, which are admittedly shorter.
It was 2018 and after decades of chasing the M5, I finally caught up to what had become both my foe and my obsession—but not in the way you think. After a career of boring consultancy work, and the aforementioned bankruptcy, I decided to quit the business world and start writing about cars as an automotive journalist. I had been dabbling with it in my spare time, contributing my energy and content for free to outlets that I liked, usually just providing stuff to friend’s websites. The pay is shit, so my dream of buying a new M5 was starting to look futile.
But damn if they won’t let you borrow one.
This three part series was obviously all a work of fiction, and I realize that I just broke the fourth wall, sorry about that. Hopefully this brought you a bit closer to the amazing machine that is the BMW M5. I recently had the chance to attend a BMW driving event and spend some time with the brand new F90 M5 and this seemed like a more interesting way to tell the tale. There was an impressive lineup of BMW cars to choose from, but I only drove one – the 2018 Marina Blue M5. I have always pined for the M5 in real life and getting the chance to wring one out on some local backroads was as special as I had hoped it would be.
The M5 has always been about ridiculous power, and as you can tell by the horsepower progression of BMW’s halo M-car, the F90 continues the trend. The 4.4 L S63B44T4 twin-turbocharged V8 is a beast to say the least. Wow, that little gem was unintentional, I assure you. It continues the arms race by adding to the F10’s output by another 40 horses which adds up to an even 600. Six hundred. We are truly getting to supercar territory now, in fact this is way beyond what we initially considered a supercar.
The new platform was much maligned when it was originally announced in 2017. Gone were both the beloved rear wheel drive layout and the manual transmission, replaced instead with all wheel drive and a ZF 8-speed automatic. I’m here to tell you that all that doesn’t matter, it’s just specs on a page, engineering blah blah blah that is quickly forgotten and forgiven the second you plant your right foot down firmly into the German carpet.
Find the right ///M setting and let the car do the work, the latest M5 is a bit more Nissan GT-R than original E28. Computers whizz behind the scenes and the AWD system keeps you out of the guardrail, corralling all that power and creating an incredibly easy to drive super sedan.
Sixty miles per hour comes and goes in just 3 seconds. Sorry for the journalistic cliche, but that’s how long it took you to read that last sentence. That’s fast, especially in a big sedan with room for 5 people that weighs 4288 pounds. This thing will run tens in the quarter mile. Just. Still, that’s also an amazing stat. A ten second car.
Of course all that power isn’t cheap, the M5 started at $104,595 for the 2018 model year. It even gets damn near 20 MPG. Amazing.
What’s striking is how easily BMW has commingled crazy fast speed with six-figure sedan luxury. Set the M5 in Comfort mode and the decibel levels calm to an impressive low, you could easily mistake the M5 for a more pedestrian 5-Series in day-to-day commuting. Even the capable Michelin tires don’t produce a lot of road noise around town or at speed on the highway.
Almost every level of new car has some sort of changeable vehicle setting, and most are bullshit. Thumb the average car into “sport mode” and the tachometer revs a bit and you feel like you’re James Hunt. Or at least you’re supposed to. The M5 has noticeable changes between settings, the two performance settings are best left for performance driving as they actually do stiffen up the experience.
James would surely have a clever joke about that line.
The rest of the interior feels like a 5-Series, the materials in a base model 5 are light years above the any comparable BMW from a couple of generations ago. If you were wondering, the M5 generally feels like a six figure car, with virtually ever surface covered in some sort of impressive material. Carbon fiber here and there may get old, but hey, it’s an M5.
I didn’t give a crap about the sound system, the turbo V8 was sufficient.
In The End
From German to Italy to…Maryland, my M5 journey was a long one. If a bit fictional. In the end, I still think this could be my “forever car”. Every car person has one, it’s the one car that you choose if required in some fanciful daydream filled world to choose one car for the rest of your life. It is obviously provided by some wizard or genie free of charge, you don’t even have to pay sales tax. But it’s your last car, the car or truck or SUV that must do everything in life you need a vehicle to do.
The M5 has always been that car for me. And after driving the F90, it still is.