Driving Experience: BMW M5 E39

The BMW E39, produced from 1997 to 2003, embodies the true essence of Bavarian automotive engineering. My older brother acquired one of these vehicles in a collector’s condition. It was planned to be a weekend car, but it ultimately turned into a garage treasure with an annual mileage of up to 3000 km.

The M5 in the E39 body represented the third generation of the legendary vehicles of the Bavarian brand with the M5 index. Created in the spirit of old-school design, this car was one of the masterpieces of Chris Bangle, whose creativity left a significant mark in the history of BMW from 1997 to 2009.

Technically, the M5 E39 series continued the development of Bavarian engineering thought in enhancing atmospheric engines in M-family sedans. All generations of M were equipped with individual throttle bodies, but it was in the E39 that a 5-liter V8 was first used, delivering 400 horsepower. This was a response to the trend of using V8 engines by competing German manufacturers. Despite fans’ concerns about the large mass of the engine over the front axle, the V8 weighed only slightly more than the 6-cylinder S-engine in the E34 body, thanks to the use of aluminum and a forged crankshaft in the S62, significantly reducing its mass. Vanos systems on the intake and exhaust were used for the first time.

The car’s ability to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.0-5.3 seconds at that time was impressive, especially considering the absence of launch control and other electronic aids – everything depended on the driver’s skill. Moreover, the M5 E39 was exclusively equipped with a manual gearbox, unique front struts and a rear coilover suspension, reinforced brakes, expanded internal rear arches to accommodate wide 280/30 tires, and specially designed forged style 65 wheels. The rear bumper with a diffuser framed two pairs of exhaust tips. A small spoiler and special mirrors reduced aerodynamic drag. Overall, the Germans hid the “devil in the details,” which is very much their style – no one would tell by its appearance that the car could reach 300 km/h, but from personal experience, I can confirm that it indeed could.

Speaking of the driving experience, I have been driving a Honda Civic with a fairly stiff suspension for the last two years. The steering of the Civic is so precise and fair, it resembles a scalpel for pinpoint operations. BMW is completely different: 5 liters on manual transmission – it’s not just a juice box, it’s more like Mjolnir metaphorically speaking.

It’s unlikely that someone will sit behind the wheel of the M5 and be ready to exploit its full potential right away. You don’t expect it to accelerate so quickly, you’re not prepared for how it brakes and handles. You will feel the weight of the car with all your being – it pushes you into the seat, spinning the 280 tires in a drift under the low bass of the exhaust. And the stabilization system won’t save you if you thoughtlessly open the throttle. With the press of the sport mode, the steering wheel becomes heavier, the throttle response – very nervous.

Yet, it knows how to handle turns, but this comes with time when you start trusting it and its wide tires digging into the asphalt. If you’re sitting as a passenger with an experienced driver, you might think that every second the car is at its limit, although this is far from the truth. The M5 still retained the steering for which the M family is famous.

The M division did extensive work to give you a crazy, fun, and frightening experience behind the wheel of this car. You need to merge with the car, trusting its wide tread, increasing the speed through the turns. No, there’s no grip fest like with the Honda, rather it’s about driving tastefully. If you lack grip, open the throttle more, and there you are, drifting sideways in white clouds of smoke with a goofy smile on your face… feeling the unity with the road and the engine… Everything we love in the M series.