It seems that with every progressive generation of BMW 5-series, the gap between the outgoing M5 and the top of the line non-M 5 series narrows considerably. While there wasn’t much of a contest between the E28 M5 and E34 535i, by the end of the E34 run the 540i M Sport was – for all intents and purposes – a M5 without the S38. BMW upped the ante to 400 horsepower in the new E39 M5, once again widening the gap to the 540i model. But the successor E60 545i offered 330 horsepower with matching torque in 2003 alongside the outgoing E39 and once again the gap in performance became much smaller. That gap was made almost imperceptible in 2005, when BMW revised the E60 with the increased displacement in the N62 motor.
Now sporting 4.8 liters from the N62B48, the new “550i” now had 360 horsepower and 361 lb.ft of torque – a near match for the S62. What was perhaps more amazing was that the new N62 also nearly matched the torque of the new E60 M5’s S85 V10. But while that screaming V10 produced far more horsepower, the peak torque was reached only at 6,100 revolutions – hardly practical in your daily commute. In comparison, peak twist on the N62 came at a much more realistic 3,400 r.p.m.s, and on the fly these 550is were – and still are – seriously quick sedans. They also introduced the next generation of design language and computer technology into the 5-series. Some love the look while others lambaste the design. While it’s certainly not my favorite 5, at least it’s distinctive and different in a world full of cookie-cutter designs and dare I say I think it may look better today than it did new – perhaps a testament to its avant-garde lines. While the lust-worthy V10 captures the imagination of enthusiasts, day-to-day the 550i is likely as fast 95% of the time and much cheaper to get into and run. Couple that with a host of Dinan upgrades and you’ll easily surprise M owners for half the price of the V10:
Update 10/15/18: This M3 Convertible sold for $22,100.
Like yesterday’s base 944, the M3 Convertible isn’t a car I spend a lot of time on. However, the recipe is hard to argue with; you get the beautiful lines of the E46 mated to the sonorous S54 with limitless sky over your head at the touch of a button. When this car was new, it was the fastest production 4-seat convertible available, though at nearly $60,000 it was hardly cheap. Fast forward to today, and it’s generally become the cheapest way to experience BMW’s gem of a motor in the ultimate development of the naturally aspirated inline-6.
Though I don’t write of them often, I do keep my eye on them from time to time. And today’s particular 2003 is a very special package. Presented in 400 Steel Gray Metallic over N5ZM Cinnamon leather, visually this car is quite a looker. Inside you’ll find a 6-speed manual, too, and a scant 34,866 miles on the odometer. Oh, and the auction is no reserve, too:
Update 11/11/18: Price drop from the original $26,997 asking price by $2,020 to $24,977 today.
I casually mentioned in passing recently that we traded our E61 530xi Sports Wagon for an E82 135i Sport. While production overlapped between the two chassis, they are really polar opposites when it comes to BMWs. The 5-Series was obvious all about comfort and isolation, as well as carrying a huge load of anything you could throw at it through any weather. The 1-Series sought to return BMW to its more affordable small car roots by shrinking the swollen 3-Series down substantially.
What BMW unintentionally did was to create an E46 successor. The E82s are similarly sized, similarly equipped and were similarly priced to the E46. And in its most basic, most sporty form, the early 135i Sport is on paper a close match for the performance of the third generation M3. Okay, there’s no doubt that the 135i isn’t a M3 when you get behind the wheel. But is it a special car? Yes. And does it move? The N54/55 are rated at 300 horsepower – about 10% shy of the S54. But they’ve got 300 lb.ft of torque, almost about 15% more than the M3 had. And because they’re a turbo motor and they were able to tune that torque curve in, it’s about as flat as the Makgadikgadi Pan. That means roll-on performance, and the 135i rewards you any time you want. The strange thing is, it really doesn’t drive like it is a turbo motor. There’s no lag, no flat spots, no real woosh. It just feels like a very strong high-compression inline-6. And though it won’t corner like a E46 M3, it’s not far off in acceleration or driving feel.
The dash changed and some of the operations are different, but the seats and small greenhouse will instantly remind you of the earlier chassis. Ours is about as basic as they came – 6-speed manual, manual seats, no iDrive, but with a sunroof. But probably the ultimate spec is the late N55-equipped M-Sport and ‘is’ models. They’re quite hard to find even though they’re fairly new. Why is that?
Update 11/7/2017 – the seller of this car has raised the asking price to $27,490 and provided new photos.
I’ll admit that I seem to be unnaturally drawn to yellow M3s. I can trace that back to the launch of the E36 and the twin Dakar Yellow examples that turned up at Watkins Glen International for a HPDE; like a newborn, I was apparently imprinted upon them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like other colors, though, and this Imola Red example certainly caught my attention. It ticked the right boxes; post-LCI example, low miles, 6-speed, great condition and a fantastic exterior color with the optional Fuchs 19″ Style 67 forged alloys. But even more impressive when scrolling through the images was the interior shade of matching Imola Red leather. Who would have ordered such a specification when the majority of new M3 purchasers were considerably more conservative? The answer was a bit surprising: