Ranking the BMW M5 generations
From Worst to Best
What is the greatest car ever made? This is a question many petrolheads are constantly asked and almost all of them give different answers. Some say the Ferrari 458, some the Jaguar E-Type, some say the McLaren F1 and some say the Range Rover. But my answer will always be the magnificent BMW M5, the car that gave birth the whole idea of the sports saloon. Without it, the likes of AMG, SVR, RS and even the M3 would not exist. Unlike it’s smaller brother the recipe for the M5 has always been the same, on the one hand you have a comfortable, practical, discrete and usable saloon car, and on the other it’s a fast, exciting, Ferrari chasing monster. As Tim Rodie famously described a week ago, an M3 is a “tack-sharp youthful sports car” while an M5 is comfortable “luxury saloon with an overstocked cellar of power”. And even though all M5s up till now have been great, (so have all M3s for that matter), there are some that fit this brief better than others. So without further ado, here’s my ranking of BMW M5s from Worst to Best.
6. The E60 (The Problem Child)
Yes, I know, I know, BMW fanboys are going to be furious as are most petrolheads who own this car and pretty much everyone will write below, “You’ve probably never driven one, you’re talking shit.” Well here me out, I don’t deny that of all the M5s, the E60 is probably the best to drive, no scratch probably, it’s one of the most exciting cars BMW has ever made. The steering, the brakes, the turn in is all tremendous and the whole car feels like a proper thoroughbred. But best of all is that 5.0L V10, not only does it rev and sound ungodly but it produces over 500 brake horsepower and if delimited this raging monster will nudge 200 miles per hour. As a thriller this is probably one of the best BMWs but I’m not judging the best thriller, I’m judging the best M5 which does expose some flaws with this car.
As I mentioned as well as being a driving thrill an M5 is also meant to be a discrete, quiet and civilised saloon, which the E60 most certainly isn’t. With it’s deep chin spoiler and noticeable fins it’s about as ugly and restrained as a nuclear power station in the English countryside. Not to mention the engine is groans and growls like a Rottweiler insisting on being let out. That’s not all, M5s aren’t just meant to be thrilling driver’s cars they’re also meant to be comfortable, usable saloons, but I guarantee with the E60, you’ll have an Audi, Merc or another BMW as your actual daily driver, even if you owned one back in 2006. Where do we start, how about the SNG Gearbox which is complex, jerky, slow and impossible to use in a town. Then there’s infotainment system which is way too complex and almost impossible to use, the ride can be a little stiff at times and then there’s reliability. E60s have been known to blow their differentials when pushed too hard, they’ve also been known have expensive servicing and supremely high running costs. For a big usable saloon car, I suspect it would be awfully stressful to own one.
Don’t get me wrong if you’ve got 20 grand and are building a car collection, buy one of these as I guarantee it will be a future classic. If on the other hand you’ve got 20 grand to spend on your next car, you’d honestly be better off with a MK7 Golf GTI (like I own). The E60 is a tremendous car, and in many ways the most exciting BMW ever made, but sadly one thing it isn’t is a proper M5.
5. The E34 (The Least Memorable)
The E34 came along in 1988 and despite it lasting 7 years it’s often the most forgotten of the M5 bunch. It featured upgrades over it’s predecessor including a larger engine and “turbine” wheels to help improve brake cooling. Interestingly this and the E60 were the only M5’s available as Tourings, mind you, you’d be lucky to find one as BMW only build 891 tourings of the E34.
Even by today’s standards the E34 is still a properly quick car, 0-60 takes about 5.9 seconds which is quicker than most modern hot hatches. And dEspite being over 30 years old, it’s bullet proof and still relatively usable, well sought of. I mean it’s not a modern car but compared to the E60, it’s as refined, restrained and relaxing as a Rolls Royce. This was also the last M car to be hand built and right now, is considered a future classic. It is a truly fantastic car.
The only reason why it comes in at fifth is because it doesn’t really have many standout features unlike the others on this list. And in being slightly more heavy and cumbersome it lacks the delicacy of it’s predecessor. But still this is a brilliant car and unlike the E60, is a proper M5.
4. The F90 (The Best and the Worst)
I was really nervous when the F90 was announced because it was having things, I didn’t think were BMWish. For starters, it had 4WD, something that once seemed criminal to the “Ultimate Driving Machine”, secondly the old dual clutch gearbox was replaced with an 8 speed ZF something that I thought would make the car soft and squidgy and thirdly the car would cost around £90,000 which for me sounded ridiculously expensive for what was basically an faster version of your uncle’s car. However when road testers were finally given the F90, I was grateful at how wrong I’d been.
For starters the 4WD system coupled with the 600 horsepower V8 just meant that it could do 0-60 in a ballistic three seconds. It could now batter some serious sports cars and corner with some serious amounts of grip, though if you wanted the old M driftiness, the car was available with a switchable 2WD mode. The automatic gearbox also changed as quickly as a double clutch on a track but proved to be even smoother on the road. And when you finished clowning around, it was as quiet, restrained, comfortable and practical as every other great M5. In fact in many regards, it was better, and not just better than it’s predecessors but better than every other car on sale. The F90 was one of BMW’s biggest surprises and as an all rounder it’s possibly the best ever M5.
So if it’s so damn good, what it’s doing at No.4. Well the problem isn’t really with the car, it’s with BMW. See they’ve decided for no reason I can see, to only sell competition models in the UK. The current post facelift M5 Competition costs £110,000 and according to Mr. Rodie has quite a jiggly ride. And an M5 with a jiggly ride is like a blackened pizza, not bad but slightly soured. Worst of all BMW has now announced a CS version of the M5 and I’m sorry but strengthening and making the M5 more hardcore is exactly what we don’t want. The standard F90 is one of the best cars in the world, a proper M5 and is probably the Best Buy for £55,000. But owing to BMW’s strange and ridiculous decisions in wanting to make the facelift more hardcore, it does leave me very concerned about the future of the M5.
3. The F10 (The Most Underrated)
When the F10 M5 first came out, I was surprised at how many automotive reviewers were slamming it. They said it lacked the character of the old E60 and that it’s turbocharged V8 lacked the immediacy of the old V10 and that as a thriller an AMG Merc or Supercharged Jag were better. Even over the years, despite BMW making small improvements, people still slammed it and still claimed that an AMG Merc, Supercharged Jag and the monstrosity that was the C8 RS6 were better. However for the first and only time in my life, I stuck my fingers in my ears, ignored what the journalists said and still to this day maintain that the F10 is an underrated and amazing car.
First of all there’s the looks. Unlike the ugly and showboat E60, the F10 is discrete and rather handsome, you can turn up to places without people thinking, “Who’s this Yobo?” It was also way easier to drive in town, way, way, way more comfortable and had a way, way way better gearbox. Unlike the E60, you could have an F10 as your one and only car. Oh and it was way, way, way faster. Yes the twin-turbocharged V8 sounded way less good than the 5.0L V10, but it was more restrained, more economical and way more powerful. With 552 brake horsepower it completely obliterated the old E60 and it’s main rivals. Later competition models with 575 brake horsepower could level peg with the mighty Nissan GT-R. The F10 was also the last M car to have hydraulic power steering and the last M5 to be RWD, which meant the handling was epic. The E60 may have been more exciting and more thrilling but the F10 is overall a better M5.
The only problem with the F10 was that the regular 5 series was already so tremendous that sometimes you’d question the justification of buying an F10. But never the less I still maintain that the F10 is an amazing car. It’s to the E60 what the 488 was to the 458. Yes the 458 is more exciting, more thrilling and I do genuinely prefer it but you can’t get away from the fact that as a car the 488 is way, way better. The F10 is one of my favourite M cars and it gave a return to the classic M5 recipe that the E60 so clearly lacked.
F10 30 Jahre
2. The E28 (The Daddy)
And here we are, where it all started, the genesis, the Messiah, what many regard to be greatest sports saloon of all time. It came out of nowhere, one of BMW’s engineers looked at the beautiful and breathtaking M1, that failed to qualify any race series and said, “Hang on a minute, why don’t we take the engine from that and put it in a 5 series?” I imagine at the time, most people would’ve laughed at such an idea, but BMW decided to go ahead with it anyway, the result being, my favouritest M car ever made.
The E28 beautiful and sonorous l6 produced 282 brake horsepower, back then that was more than most Ferraris and Porsches of the time. 0-60 took 6.1 seconds, as quick as most of the current hot hatch clan and the top speed was 156. Only because it was built by Germans, I suspect back then, it was easier to get up speed in this than it would be in a Lamborghini Countach. The handling was also set up by BMW’s racing experts, so it was as agile, no scratch even better, than most supercars of the time. Just imagine the faces of every playboy of the 80s pottering around in their Fezzas, Lambo and Porches and yet all of them are being overtaken by the tax mans 5 series. And better still, he could use his M5 every day of the week, not just once in the summer.
Yes by today’s standards, the E28 maybe a bit of a dinosaur but back then, it was quite simply the best car in the world. It was fast and relaxing, it was exciting and practical, it was sharp and discrete. It gave birth to the whole idea of the sports saloon and without it Mercedes, Jaguar, Audi or any of the other manufacturers that have built sports saloons wouldn’t have a benchmark to try and beat. The E28 is an absolute gem and set the standard that so many cars have followed since. It’s no surprise that Jeremy Clarkson describes this as the greatest ever M car and even though it’s my favourite, there’s one that just pips it.
1. The E39 (The Definitive Best)
Many people will understand, why this is number one, but to those who don’t allow me to explain. The E39 was based on the 90s E39 5 series, famously described as the last of the “Mechanical 5 series” although it introduced several new things that we hadn’t seen before on an M5. For starters, it was the first M5 to utilise a V8 engine, the first to have multi-link rear suspension, the first to have aluminium front suspension components and the first to be built in the same assembly line as the regular 5 Series models. So even more so than any M5 I’ve seen, it was incredibly discrete, you could easily remove the M5 badges and replace them with 530d and no one would notice. It was even easier to use in town than it’s predecessors, more comfortable, more quiet, more subtle.
And yet, from it’s 4.9L V8, BMW managed to extract 400 brake horsepower. That meant 0 - 60 took 4.8 seconds and the top speed was 186 miles per hour. Now to put that into perspective for the time, a Ferrari F355 which was more expensive, less practical and less refined was 3 miles per hour. And you’d certainly feel more confident pushing the BMW to its top speed than any Ferrari. Like it’s predecessors the E39 had a recirculating ball steering system, a manual gearbox and the perfect 50:50 weight distribution. So not only was the handling epic but at the Nurburgring in 1998, the E39 set a lap record of 8:20 seconds. Sounds slow by today’s standards but back then no sports saloon could get close.
What the E39 does is tick the M5 boxes better than any other model. It combines the excitement and rawness of it’s predecessors while being softer and more refined. And it manages to be as usable as the newer models with over complex or over styled. It’s a discrete, comfortable, quiet and restrained saloon one hand and a Ferrari chasing Messerschmidt on the other. It is the greatest ever M5 and the greatest ever sports saloon.
Despite my preferences, it's safe to say that all these cars have been amazing and clearly show why the M5 is not just the king of sports saloons but one of the world's greatest cars. Do you agree, which M5 is the best in your mind? Comment below, what you think and why not rank the M5s for your preference.