Unlike so many overblown modern equivalents, the M5’s chassis and steering work in most settings. It feels big but not huge; the suspension copes with narrower single carriageways with no little fluency, provided the surface doesn’t get too rough or the inputs too spiky. The steering, meanwhile, is pretty moderate and measured but wellweighted and consistent. There’s just a hint of squidginess to the take-up of the recirculating ball set-up that’s detectable as you load it up for a corner, but thereafter it’s impossible to fault. The fairly relaxed but super-intuitive gearing it has suits the car’s slightly lazy, classic front-engined, rear-driven, long-wheelbase handling character like a glove.
But as good as that handling balance is, it’s the M5’s wonderfully taut, stable and composed motorway ride that is its crowning glory. The suspension filters a little at speed and is always comfy and supple, but it keeps the car’s mass under effortless and eerily close control all the time. This car must have felt like Concorde when it arrived on our roads in 1999. For this one to feel as poised as it does, when closing in on 20 years of age, is nothing short of remarkable.
Now, of course, the only thing that’s worrying me is how different the average 20-year-old BMW M5 might feel to one that’s been so lightly used and, at the same time, maintained without regard for cost at the hands of the company that made it. I suspect the answer to that question is ‘quite a lot’. One day, I certainly hope to find out, so here’s to there still being unleaded in the petrol pumps, and mountain goats in Cheddar Gorge, when I do.
Have we persuaded you to buy one?
The cheapest E39 M5s currently provide an entry point for ownership at around £15,000, while the priciest command values of £40,000 and above. The cheapest are always likely to stay cheap, but if you get a tidier one now and look after it, there’s every chance it will look after you and be worth more than you paid for it in years to come.
Facelifted cars, which arrived in 2000, brought those ‘corona ring’ headlights, front parking sensors, a slimmer steering wheel and white-on-grey instruments, but they’re also prized for the under-bonnet revisions that bolstered the car’s reliability.