Unlike its predecessors, the E39 M5 was not handbuilt at the BMW M GmbH factory; in order to increase production, it was produced on the same assembly line as the normal E39 5-series at the Dingolfing factory in Germany. In fact, the E39 M5 was almost not built at all; BMW believed that the 210 kW (286 PS; 282 bhp) 540i was powerful enough, but when Jaguar released the 272 kW (370 PS; 365 bhp) XJR, andMercedes-Benz introduced the W210 E55, which had over 260 kW (354 PS; 349 bhp) BMW responded to the competition with a 294 kW (400 PS; 394 bhp) M5.
Introduced in 1998 at the Geneva Motor Show, production did not begin until late October of that year. A total of 20,482 E39 M5s were made from 1999 to 2003. BMW M produced three versions of the E39 M5, the European LHD and RHD versions, and the North American specification version.
The E39 M5 had a highly tuned V8 engine based on the M62 engine called the S62, which displaced 4.9 litres and produced 294 kW (400 PS; 394 bhp). The engine featured a 7,000 rpm redline, Double-VANOS, which varies the intake and exhaust valves timings for both cylinder banks, and individual throttle butterflies for each of the cylinders, allowing for a much faster engine response time.
All E39 M5s were equipped with a Getrag Type D six-speed manual transmission which provided the following gearing ratios:
- 1st gear: 4.23
- 2nd gear: 2.53
- 3rd gear: 1.67
- 4th gear: 1.23
- 5th gear: 1.00
- 6th gear: 0.83
It is the same transmission used in the E39 540i, but some changes were made to cope with the extra power the S62 engine produced. A reinforced clutch, rear differential utilising a shorter 3.15:1 ratio, and a limited slip differential with 25% maximum locking.
The E39 M5 suspension shared its basic aluminium-intensive MacPherson strut/multi-link design of the V8 engined E39 5 series. However, several changes were made by BMW M. Reduced spring height, 23 mm (0.9 in) lower. A specific shock valving, thicker front and rear anti-roll bars, polyurethane auxiliary springs, and steel balljoints.
Like all V8-powered E39 models, the E39 M5 was equipped with a recirculating ball steering system. Overall steering ratio was reduced to 14.7 from 17.9. It featured a Servotronic vehicle-speed-sensitive power assist which provides two levels of resistance controlled via console mounted Sport button. The Sport button also adjusted the electronic throttle butterflies for faster throttle response. The E39 M5 is equipped with four-wheel vented disc brakes measuring 345 mm (13.58 in) in diameter in front and 328 mm (12.91 in) in diameter in the rear. On European-specification models, the rotors are of a “floating” two-piece design for reduced risk of cone distortion. Their lower unsprung weight improves ride quality and traction on bumpy surfaces as well. Anti-lock brakes, EML (fly-by-wire) throttle control and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) were standard.
During its five years in production, there were some cosmetic changes in 2001 to include:
- Revised headlights incorporating illuminated “Corona Ring” design (incandescent plastic rings surrounding the headlights, often incorrectly and nonsensically referred to as “Angel Eyes” despite BMW themselves clearly making reference to them as “Corona Rings,” named for the outer plasma “atmosphere” of the sun visible during a solar eclipse.)
- Jewel tone Celis tail light design
- Park Distance Control sensors in the front bumper (previously in rear only)
- Thicker three-spoke M steering wheel identical to the one fitted to the E46 M3
- Grey instrument panel
- Improved solar sensor for standard automatic climate control
- Revised navigation/audio unit with larger (6.5-inch) monitor (Standard on US Spec 2001-2003)
- Rear head protection airbags added
- Second-generation M Mobility tyre repair system in place of earlier version
- Available M Audio System with special tweeters, Kevlar/carbon coaxial speakers and two subwoofers behind the rear console
- Alcantara headliner included with Extended Leather interior (previously only included with Complete Leather)
For the subsequent two model years, changes were limited to the addition of new exterior colors (from 9/01 production) and the upgrade to a DVD-based navigation system (from 9/02 production).
The official BMW of North America statement (mentioned in the 2003 brochure) for the acceleration time from 0-60 mph is 4.8s. Official statements from BMW are typically conservative and many reviewers claim to have achieved this under 4.5 seconds and the less restricted European version is routinely clocked at 4.2. It is electronically limited to a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph), making it the fastest 4-door saloon in the world at the time it was manufactured and just .1 (1/10) of a second off the 0-60 time of the latest M5 model.
E39 M5 Touring
Although an E39 M5 Touring was considered, and at least one prototype was constructed (in Titanium Silver with a Black Exclusive leather interior), BMW M decided not to produce an E39 M5 Touring due to financial considerations. In February 2010, as part of BMW’s 25th Anniversary of the M5, they revealed this prototype M5 touring along with an E34 M5 Cabriolet, which also was never produced.