The Iconic BMW That Redefined Modern Sport Sedans

It's no exaggeration to say that BMW's M5 was a trailblazer in the world of sleeper sedans with near-supercar abilities. Suddenly, it was possible to have a sensible and spacious family vehicle that could spend its weekends speeding around with even the most pedigreed sports cars at the track. Sure, other manufacturers had shoehorned monster motors into nondescript sedans before, most notably Mercedes with its 450SEL 6.9-liter. But none were as well balanced as the M5. Not only could it accelerate like a banshee, it could also handle corners and brake with the best of them.

The M5 has an interesting backstory. In the late-1970s, BMW shocked the world with its mid-engine M1 sports car. Although it was a tour-de-force in motorsports, it had very shallow market penetration, with only 399 street legal units ever sold. By the early 1980s, BMW decided that some of the M1's excitement should be showcased in a package with broader appeal, a sedan. What resulted was the first M5 ever, launched in 1985 and based on BMW's E28 5-series platform.

[Featured image by HLW via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 3.0]

Any color, as long as it's black

Initially available only in Europe, the M5 packed a 286 hp inline six-cylinder lifted directly from the M1 sports car. At the time, the M5 was the speediest sedan on the planet. The United States had to wait until the final model year of the E28 platform, 1988, for the M5 to arrive on its shores, and it did so with an engine that was slightly detuned from its European counterpart thanks to the more stringent U.S. emissions regulations. Nonetheless, Americans devoured the M5 and purchased nearly 1,300 units out of the 2,200 total sold worldwide over four years.

Like its contemporary, the Buick Grand National, the M5 for North America was solely available in black, though Euro-spec cars did received a choice of colors. Externally, the M5 only had subtle differentiations from the more pedestrian 5-series, including a trunklid spoiler, M5 badging, and the epitome of 1980s rolling stock; mesh-style wheels made by BBS. Inside, nearly all of the first-generation cars had beige leather interiors, although a tiny handful were allowed a black interior. Like all BMWs from this era, the center console's control stack is oriented toward the driver for better access. Other amenities included an onboard diagnostic computer, power headrests, and heated seats.

The M5's performance specs were formidable. Car and Driver reported that zero to 60 mph could be achieved in just 6.3 seconds, on its way to a maximum speed of almost 150 mph. That quickness didn't come cheap, though. In 1988, an M5 would have set you back $48,270 which is equivalent to $122,070 in todays dollars.

[Featured image by HLW via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 3.0]