///M Almighty : BMW M5 (E39)

Car Specifications
4941cc, 32-valves, Double VANOS
Cylinder Layout: 
Top Speed: 
approx. 248km/h (electronically limited)
6-Speed Manual
5.3 seconds
400bhp at 6600rpm
500Nm at 3800rpm (full specs below)
  • Stealthy 'q' car with a vicious sucker punch
  • Brawny V8 engine that hits hard across the full rev band

*Click on thumbnails to enlarge

Cult Car Central revisits the BMW M5 (E39)
Vital Statistics
Car: BMW M5 (E39)
Owners: 2
Original Registration: 21 June 2001
Mileage: 184+k km
Revisited: 9th August 2010

What is it about the older 'M' cars and their fastidious custodians...? (Not that we're complaining, of course!) First, it was the Avus Blue E36 M3 with its full set of service records and now this striking Le Mans Blue E39 M5 (it's still on its original coat of paint, by the way).

When it's overcast, it's easy enough to dismiss this colour as being a little drab; it's only under the bright sunlight that the full glory of the Le Mans Blue really shines forth.

Hardly more than a handful of these stealthy beasts continue to trawl the streets of Singapore (about 3, including this one). In fact, to most passers-by, the E39 M5 is nothing more than an 'old 5-Series' - an 'invisible supercar', if you will - since this car was conceived during an era where the aggressive overtures that are now so commonplace in the latest performance/sports cars were subtle, as opposed to the in-your-face results we see so much of today.

Being the huge fans of stealthy 'q' cars that we are, the E39 M5 has always gotten our juices flowing, even back when it was first launched to the world at the 1998 Geneva Motor Show.

Everything about this super sedan was low-key, yet its purposeful stance and barely noticeable addenda were more than sufficient to subtly ward off potential challengers, which really went a long way in demonstrating that in this case, less certainly is more.

Even the 18-inch M double-spoke wheels are an exercise in understatement... since they were finished in a discreet 'shadow chrome', as opposed to the highly polished sheen favoured by many of today's performance cars.

In our test car, the owner has replaced the original brake set-up with a front and rear Stoptech Big Brake Kit (BBK) system. Although low-speed smooth braking needs some getting used to, the high-speed-shedding abilities of the Stoptechs' are nothing short of stupendous.

Originally fitted were lightweight compound brakes, which were found on the front axles of the E36 M3, M Roadster, M Coupe and the earlier E34 M5, but fitted to front and rear of the E39 M5.

Like the other 'M' cars, the M5's body-kit is intended to be first and foremost effective, with aesthetics following behind in second place. Even today, many enthusiasts feel that the E39 boasts a well-balanced design and has the best proportions of all the 5 Series, including the latest F10.

Couple this elegant-yet-sporty timeless design to the subtle 'body-armour' of the M5 and the result is a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing. Potential aggressors who expect the car to 'baa baa' bleat in terror will be in for a rude awakening when they hear the angry bark of the V8 from the quad-pipes.

Stay on its tail at your own peril as the low growl from the pipes erupts into a vicious snarl as the driver downshifts and WOTs into the horizon.

Apart from the rims, the car's most distinctive (and easily the most copied) visual treat is the set of curvy 'M' aerodynamic wing mirrors that actually work to improve the cars' air-flow.

The front spoiler integrates oval foglights and features a larger cooling inlet, while the base has been designed in adherence to the Venturi Principle to reduce lift on the front axle by up to 50 per cent.

Viewed head-on, the trademark kidney grille also boasts slightly wider chrome surrounds, which give the M5 a more aggressive 'flared nostrils' demeanour from the stock 5 Series.

Even that nondescript boot-lid spoiler (a delete option) is functional and increases down-force by up to 35 per cent (which translates to almost 50kg at the car's 248km/h electronically-limited top speed)!

There's a hearty, rev-happy 4941cc V8 (S62; the 4.4L in the 540i was a M62) under the bonnet that certainly makes all the right noises when flogged hard. It's possible to pussy-foot the car around in slow traffic but a quick prod of the gas pedal quickly reveals the M5's 'Jekyll-Hyde' dual personality.

On its own, the V8's technical highlights could form the basis of an entire article. For the purposes of brevity, some of the features include: infinitely variable, map-controlled double-VANOS valve timing, drive-by-wire throttle, individual throttle butterfly control (ITBC: a first on a M car) and oil circulation control to combat the intense lateral forces that can potentially be generated by the M5.

The 5L V8 in the E39 M5 boasts similar traits to Audi's charismatically vocal 4.2L V8 in the discontinued RS 4 (Sedan and Avant) (that also sees service in the R8, S5 Coupe and latest RS 5 - RS 5 in Ascari).

Apart from their formidable low-end and low-speed tractability, these V8s are also capable of gathering their tsunami reserves of torque in a ferocious display of firepower when needed.

Unlike the higher revving characteristics of the delicious naturally-aspirated  V10 found in the E60 M5 and E63 M6 (this V10 is also a 5L, displacing 4999cc to be exact), there's plenty of poke available from the E39 M5's V8 at low speeds, which can quickly be transformed into an elemental forward propulsive force that is capable of inflicting some serious grevious bodily harm on one's internal organs.

In fact, almost 77 per cent of the V8's maximum torque (385Nm) is available from 1000rpm, with 96 per cent available (480Nm) at 2000rpm.

The owner recently sent the car in (unfortunately Singapore's M dealer, Munich Automobiles, was not open for technical operations yet, so it was done at another specialist) to sort out the VANOS solenoids, as well as a refresh of the fuel system and the car has never run better in terms of power and fuel consumption.

The 65L tank serves up approximately 450km in mixed driving, which works out to approximately 7km/L and this doesn't fall far from BMW's figures in the E39 media material, which gives a figure of 13.9L/100km for the combined cycle - this works out to about 7.2L/km.

It's with almost deceptive pace that the 1.8-tonne kg kerbweight behemoth spits itself towards your destination when the need for speed arises. The 100km/h mark from standstill is devoured in just over 5 seconds (bear in mind, this is an 'executive sedan' from 2001!).

Even more astounding is the ease at which it clears 150km/h, which borders on the ludicrous (0-160km/h in 11.6 seconds) and all with the engine barely taxed - perfect then, as a comfortable cruiser for those long cross-country jaunts up North... or so we hear, since we don't condone such speeds on Singapore roads.

Like the E46 M3 Coupe, the M5's dials are finished in an 'urban warfare' matte grey and also feature the same LED indicators (to show how high one can rev the engine safely, which progressively wink-out as the engine warms up to optimum operating temperatures from a cold-start).

Rather than to test the limits, we preferred to let the engine fully warm up before unleashing the beast within. In a straight-line with pedal floored to the metal, the red-line comes up all too quickly and the risk is running out of road before the M5 even comes close to running out of puff.

gearknob features backlit illumination, which comes on when the lights are on
Even with the uprated clutch (by CNS), the clutch pedal never requires thighs of thunder to operate; the gear-changes of the Getrag 6-Speed box are snickety-slick and the throw distance is pretty decent for a stock set-up.

Yes, although BMW's SMG - Sequential M Gearbox - 'automated manual' transmission was already available on the earlier E36 M3 and the E46 M3, the E39 M5 was only available in a manual transmission... as befits all the real sportscars of that era.

Yep, it's as Pure a driving experience as can be... Stick-Shift
In light of the M5's strong performance lineage and impeachable motorsports credentials, one could be forgiven for thinking the cabin would be a wasteland of discomfort, since it's easy enough to expect a certain level of 'racy' inconvenience to accompany such a sporting sedan.

Like the other pre-Joy Ultimate Driving Machines of that era, the 'M' ambience was always distinctive. The Blue-Red illuminated back-light of the 'M' gearknob is certainly a fine cherry topping for the car that never comes across as overly garish.

A full two-tone Nappa-clad interior with a gorgeous Alcantara head-lining are included in the car's luxurious cabin appointments. The special touches like the sports steering wheel with its colourful 'M' stitching, 'M' gearknob and instruments complete the package.

With the exception of the well-worn gear-knob, the rest of the interior is impeccable - practically the same condition as the day it first left the showroom... some 9 years ago!

The equipment level is high, but never too much... basically, if it's not there, you're unlikely to need it.

Unlike the newer cars, there is no 'M' button on the steering wheel (somewhat like the 'S' button in the Audi RS 4) to quickly engage one's preferred throttle-map, steering response or dynamic damping settings.

With these original cult cars, it was just on or off... and with a car like the M5, your skill levels had to be pretty high to be driving it hard with the DSC III (Dynamic Stability Control) completely disengaged - anoraks may want to note that this was the first appearance of an electronic stability aid in a 'M' car.

With the close ratio 6-Speed gearbox and the fat slab of torque, there's so much firepower on tap through the gas pedal that could easily overwhelm the sticky 18-inch low profile rubber that we felt it best to respect the car even with the DSC fully engaged.

However, one does have a 'Sport' (or by its long name: M Driving Dynamics) button to play with (not that the car was much less potent with it off), which served to sharpen throttle responses and alter the 'mapped' reactions of the M Servotronic power assistance for the recirculating ball system (only the 5 Series' with the in-line 6 cylinders used rack-and-pinion; the V8s were still on the recirculating ball system).

Thankfully, there's nothing sluggish about the steering (approximately three turns lock-to-lock), even with 'Sport' left off. The steering had a nice heft and apart from some vagueness about the straight-ahead, acquitted itself well through a series of tighter corners.

With multi-adjustable everything (seats, steering wheel, mirrors, pull-out thigh support), the driving position is easily customised and the E39 is one of those cars that never 'feels big' on the road. It's easy to gauge the proportions and placing the car where you want was never easier, especially when one needs to squeeze into the narrow gaps in traffic.

The 'M Sport' front seats are supportive, yet never too snug, a trait you will come to appreciate on long journeys. There's plenty of room at the back for up to 3 passengers as well; it could have been our imagination but it almost seemed like there was more space in the back of the E39 than the E60 that replaces it.

The car's ride is firm, but never unduly hard and the body roll is well-controlled. Even during high-speed runs, the back end always feels planted with no eerie floatiness that afflicts lesser cars.

Compared to the 540i, the M5 rides on firmer springs and dampers to sit 15mm lower in front and 10mm lower at the rear. Also, the suspension components (Macpherson struts up front/multi-link in the rear) are made of aluminium, which aids in the reduction of unsprung weight.

A 25 per cent locking LSD (Limited Slip Differential) also enhances the car's dynamics, which is cooled by an underbody venturi effect (thanks to the front spoiler design) that accelerates cooling air towards the rear axle. The M5's chassis is perfectly capable of pulling 1.2g of lateral acceleration... no mean feat even in light of today's offerings.

(conclusion after Fast Facts...)

Sibling Rivalry

photos - dk

Engine: 4941cc, 32-valves, V8, 8 individual throttle bodies
Maximum power @ rpm: 400bhp @ 6600rpm
Maximum torque @ rpm: 500Nm @ 3800rpm
Bore x Stroke (mm): 94 x 89
Compression ratio: 11.0:1

Driven wheels: Rear
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual
Gear Ratios: 4.23/2.53/1.67/1.23/1.00/1/0.83:1
Final drive: 3.15:1

Cd: 0.31
0-100km/h: 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 248km/h (electronically limited)

Front: Aluminium double pivot strut type
Rear: Multi-link

Front: 345mm Ventilated discs; Rear: 328mm Ventilated discs
Wheels: (f) 8x18; (r) 9.5x18 - M Parallel Style II
Tyres: (f) 245/40 R18; (r) 275/35 R18 Michelin PS2

L x B x H: 4784 x 1800 x 1412 mm
Wheelbase: 2830mm
Turning circle: 11.6m
Kerbweight: 1795kg
Fuel tank: 70L

The opening of the world's first dedicated 'M' dealer in Singapore only serves to reinforce the power of 'M', especially since owners of older M cars now have a well-equipped technical facility they can confidently send their cars to. A veritable 'q' car that placed an emphasis on performance over perception, the E39 M5 combines power and panache in a potent package that had (and still has) the ability to humble far more expensive machinery on B road runs, yet accommodate 5 in comfort on long haul trips up the North-South Highway. - dk
gearknob features backlit illumination, which comes on when the lights are on
Yep, it's as Pure a driving experience as can be... Stick-Shift
Sibling Rivalry
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