Given that the 707-hp Dodge Charger Hellcat is now the 2nd most-powerful model in its lineup, it’s easy to forget that sedans have rarely been performance cars. That especially applies to classic luxury sedans, which were typically more about refinement than outright speed. But back in the ‘80s, one car helped change that perception: the E28 BMW M5.
Thanks to a racing powertrain, the E28 BMW M5 was the fastest production sedan in the world
By the time the second-gen 5 Series, the E28, arrived, BMW already had a reputation of building practical sporty cars, Automobile reports. This started with the earlier 2002 and continued with the E28’s predecessor, the E12.
The E12, in fact, was the first 5 Series to get the M treatment, in the form of the M535i, Classic Trader reports. It had a 215-hp 3.5-liter inline-6 engine, a limited-slip differential, better brakes, a “closer-ratio transmission,” and Recaro seats, Automobile reports. But, while the E28-spec M535i was fairly fast for the time, the motorsports division thought it could be taken even further, CarThrottle explains. Specifically, by using the M1 supercar’s powertrain.
The result was the hand-built 1985 E28 BMW M5, sold in North America has a 1988 model, Hagerty reports. Under the hood is an updated version of the M1’s 3.5-liter inline-6 engine rated in Euro-spec at 282 hp and 251 lb-ft, Road & Track reports, linked to a 5-speed manual. That doesn’t seem like much today, but that’s more than the contemporary Porsche 911 and Ferrari 328 have, Silodrome reports. Sadly, due to emissions regulations, the US-spec car ‘only’ makes 256 hp and 243 lb-ft, Hemmings reports.
But while the E28 M5 is heavier than those cars, it’s also faster. Even with less power, the US-spec car goes 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds, Car and Driver reports. And it has a claimed top speed of 147 mph, Car and Driver reports. And in Euro-spec, the sedan tops out at 153 mph, R&T reports. At the time, that made it the world’s fastest production sedan. And it’s perfectly possible to reach that top speed on the autobahn, MotorTrend reports.
The E28 BMW M5 helped establish the ‘super sedan’ segment
To be fair, the E28 BMW M5 didn’t create the idea of putting a bigger engine in a reasonably-sized luxury sedan. AMG did something similar in the late ‘60s with the 300SEL 6.3. But what set the original M5 apart wasn’t just its speed—it was its handling and refinement.
The E28 BMW M5 has upgraded suspension, larger anti-roll bars, and vented front brakes, Autoblog reports. The suspension also includes an automatic self-leveling system, a limited-slip differential is standard, and the 4-wheel discs have ABS. Plus, the M5 rides on sportier tires, Bring a Trailer reports.
Today, the first M5 feels somewhat soft, Evo reports. But it’s still “’ a joy’” to drive, R&T reports. There’s plenty of steering feel, and while the shifter throws are a bit long, the shift quality is excellent, as is the pedal placement, Car reports. In the corners, the sedan feels surprisingly delicate, but in a good way. It’s light and neutral, yet stable at speed. And that M1-derived engine sounds “magnificent,” Autoblog reports.
Yet the E28 BMW M5 is also a good luxury sedan. It has standard powered seats, power windows, power steering, and A/C. North American models have standard leather upholstery.
The sedan also offered optional heated seats and standard BBS wheels. And while the E28 M5 doesn’t have airbags or modern crash structures, that makes for a roomy interior with great visibility. You could, theoretically, comfortably drive this sedan every day.
That is if you can find one.
It’s one of the rarest M products
Sources differ on exactly how many E28 M5s BMW built. But the general consensus is about 2200, BaT reports. BMW originally planned to sell just 500 North American examples, Autoweek reports, but in the end, sold 1340. But despite its rarity, the original M5 isn’t as expensive as you may think.
True, a pristine example can go for almost $100k, Hagerty reports. But most E28 M5s sold on BaT go for less than half that price. And while some electrical parts can be pricey, overall, the E28 5 Series is a fairly-solid car. The biggest issue with the E28 M5, apart from the typical classic-car corrosion, is making sure the timing chain is replaced at least every 100,000 miles. But it’s not unheard-of for these super sedans to travel hundreds of thousands of miles with few major issues, R&T reports.
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