Double Take 540i/6: E34 or E39? 1995 BMW 540i Sport v. 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport

My recent M5 v. Alpina B10 post took a look at two exotic versions of the E34. Of course, BMW offered their own alternative to the M5 late in the production cycle, as the introduction of the M60 V8-powered 540i produced nearly as much usable power as the more expensive M variant. Such was the success of the 540i that BMW initially judged the M5 dead in this market; it was removed from the U.S. in 1993 after slow sales and wouldn’t return until the new millennium.

As a result, the 540i flew the 5-series performance flag for two generations and still is very popular today. Especially in Sport versions, the E34 and E39 540is offered power, refinement and outstanding chassis dynamics in a package that was attainable for more people. So which is the better buy today – the first or second generation?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport on eBay

Roll the Dice? 2002 BMW M5

As we drove home in our E61 the other day, an E60 M5 with temporary plates sat in front of my wife and me at a light. She commented “Are those getting cheap? Because I’m seeing them more often…” She’s right. The E60 M5, with its screaming 500 horsepower V10, now can be had for around the same price as an entry level Hyundai. Pound for pound, they’re now the cheapest way to get into an M-branded 5-series. But though we own a fifth generation five, I’ll admit frankly that it’s not a car that’s for everyone. It’s big, heavy and complicated – and can be quite expensive to fix. Couple that with any M engine and drivetrain, and these cars are capable of draining your wallet as fast as they can accelerate.

So although the power levels are lower and they’re not as flashy or modern, for many the E39 model that preceded the one we saw is still the epitome of M5s (though they’re often challenged by an equally vocal group who says the first one is the only one!). We’ve seen them start to trend upwards after dipping a bit low over the last few years, and now places such as Enthusiast Auto Group have a plethora in the $35,000 – $80,000 range depending on mileage. So you missed out on this fan-favorite, as well?

Not so fast.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2002 BMW M5 on eBay