The BMW M5 is the defining full-sized luxury saloon blending luxurious comfort with mind-bending speed and performance. Over its 36 years of production, the M5 has grown in power, luxury, and performance but which M5 is best? Well, Tiff Needell is here to drive every single M5 back to back to find out which M5 is his favourite.
When the E28 M5 debuted in 1984, it was powered by a sweet 280 horsepower 3.5-litrer straight-6 engine, which was derived from the M1 supercar. BMW backed this revvy straight-6 with a 5-speed manual transmission sending power to the rear wheels. With a curb weight of only 1,400 kg (3,100 pounds), the spritely M5 sports saloon immediately became a cult favourite. Thanks to a limited production run of only 2,241 units the E28 M5 remains as one of the rarest M cars ever built.
Gallery: Tiff Needell drives all BMW M5s back-to-back
The E34 BMW M5 retained the manual transmission and straight-6 from the E34 but gained technology and weight. Now with a 1,725 kg (3,800 pound) curb weight, the BMW M5 sacrificed some of its sprightly handling for more power and tech. The E34 was the first M5 to use an adaptive suspension and featured the last straight-6 to be used in an M5, the S38B36 which produced 311 horsepower.
In 1998 BMW introduced the V8 powered E39 M5 which continued on the E34’s path of added technology, power, and weight. The 4.9-litre S62 V8 engine produced 400 horsepower which leads to a blistering 0 to 60 time of only 4.8 seconds. The E39 was a massive leap forward to the M5, however, a manual gearbox remained as the sole transmission. Although the E39 weighed in at 1,770 kg (3,900 lbs) it was a small weight increase over the E34 which was easily masked by the extra V8 power.
A V10 powered saloon. That’s right when the E60 M5 arrived BMW had gone absolutely mad fitting a 5.0-litre V10 under the bonnet of a sports saloon. The 500 horsepower S85 engine in the E60 M5 revved to 8,250 rpm and was exclusive to the E60 M5. The E60 M5 also saw the introduction of the controversial single-clutch automatic SMG transmission. Thanks to a letter writing campaign customers in America were offered an optional 6-speed manual but the rest of the world wasn’t so lucky.
Today we have the F10 and F90 M5s which represent the latest interpretation of BMW’s super saloon formula. These modern M5s are powered by twin-turbo V8 engines that may produce more power than the E60’s V10 but lack the character that made the E60 a legend. Sadly the F series M5s can only be had in automatic transmissions.