Life with the E28 M5

We’ve been living with the E28 M5 for a little over a month now, slowly addressing the various needs – large and small – with which it came to us (as these things inevitably go). In between servicing, here are some of our prosaic observations from our all-too-brief time with it thus far on the road:

  • The thing is thirsty. We’re observing under 20 mpg (make that well under 20 mpg, to be slightly more precise) in city driving (we don’t have enough data from highway). We don’t recommend that kind of abysmal mileage for daily driving. The car is probably running rich. Which is making us poor.
  • It doesn’t like puttering around town at low speeds. For that, the 535i that we had was really hands-down the better car. For all we know, the unsung 528e might be the best one of all.
  • The car is happiest operating at speeds that are well above the legal speed limit. What’s more, these speeds still feel normal, even slow. Clearly, this car wasn’t built for US roads. It blasts down the highway with almost disturbingly little drama (though notice we said drama, not feedback).
  • One never escapes the feeling that a big, heavy motor rests right in front of the driver. And yet, the car still manages to feel reasonably balanced and not oppressively nose-heavy.
  • The car starts up quickly and without complaint (especially after new spark plugs and a valve adjustment) and settles into a nice, lump-free idle— it isn’t a long, drawn-out process. It almost feels… modern.
  • Engine rebuilds are notoriously expensive, and like most examples that are on the road today, this one is on its original, 100k+ mile motor. Every time the car is revved close to redline there is a little voice in the back of our mind asking, Should you really be doing that? To which we invariably respond ‘yes’ — and therein lies our Catch-22.
  • Individual throttle bodies look and sound the business. That is all.

We’ll post more photos as we have them. The car doesn’t exactly beg to be photographed – what more is it to the casual observer than a boxy four-door, after all – but it is rather neat to own, we’ll admit. We feel privileged.

~ by velofinds on August 6, 2013.

17 Responses to “Life with the E28 M5”

  1. Sounds like you’re enjoying the M5. Get it outta town on the twisty back roads.

  2. Other than the abysmal mileage around town, is it really so bad around town? And give this or the 535, which would or do you drive daily? Lastly, why kind of things are you trying to refresh at this age?

    • I would say that depends on your commute, but this car really hates stop-and-go traffic, even more than most. If this describes your daily driving experience, then I recommend the 535. On this car, I have had to address parts of the cooling system, exhaust, and a few other electrical and mechanical components.

  3. “It doesn’t like puttering around town at low speeds. For that, the 535i that we had was really hands-down the better car. For all we know, the unsung 528e might be the best one of all.”

    Nope, the 528e might be the worst at slow speeds, at least in stock form. The 2.93:1 rear end is a really poor choice for speeds below 40MPH. Above that it’s the most relaxed engine in the world. I can’t think of another car that turns only 2000 RPM at 65mph in 5th that doesn’t have twice the displacement. The problem is that you don’t really build any more torque than you have at 2000, and the power drops off very quickly on the high end. More than one person has seen a city economy improvement by fitting a shorter rear end, and no other modification. I love mine, but beyond being the lightest US E28, there’s not a ton going for them.

  4. Hey, we’re living the same life. 🙂

    My main complaints with my S6 are the same poor in-town MPG (18.5-19 in my case) and moreso, the fact that the moment you start accelerating you’re at the speed limit and have to back off.

    My engine being a bit high strung and a turbo I watch my oil temp at the start and end of my drive, and every time I take into high revs (hp peaks at 5900) there’s that nagging concern that this time I will blow that t-junction in the hoses under the engine.

  5. […] – Has the E28 BMW M5 ever been on your wish list? Motoring con Brio picked up a lovely example, and they’re documenting what life is like with one of BMW’s original M cars. […]

  6. Love the shot through the sunroof, faved that on flickr.

  7. To quote a BMW ad for the M5 from back in the day, it is “A Practical 150mph Family Sedan.” Perfect!

    Practical never felt so good 🙂


  8. Afraid to say your MPG experience is about as good as it’s going to get around town. Keep in mind it was only EPA rated at around 12 MPG in 1988.

  9. My E34 M5 regularly returns 12 – 14 mpg in city driving, but will average closer to 22 – 23 mpg consistently on the highway. The lowest I’ve seen was 9 mpg in stop and go on a hot summer day in downtown Vancouver rush hour. I’ve given up using it much in the city for fear of parking lot damage or a hit and run while I’m out and about. Just too risky to see a relatively minor hit in a less than ideal spot write off the car. Need to rely on the big bumpers of the W123 for the nitty-gritty city stuff!

  10. The best M5 to ever be made!

  11. You want the best of all worlds? Mileage and performance? My 2010 335d has it all in spades. I have owned a grey market ’81 735 5 speed, ’89 535 5 speed, ’99 540 M sport (the best!). The “d” is a better car than the new M3 I almost bought. It is now a limited editions since they have stopped importing it. Like my plate says, U4EA

  12. I was the second owner of a 33K mile car, which I bought in 1995. Sold it in 2004 with 135K on it. I wish I still had it. I got 16mpg in town, 22 or so on the highway. Mine ate front lower control arm bushing and rear tires (surprise!) but it was a wonderful machine. Dinan stage 1 EPROM, suspension kit, and exhaust cam sprocket really made it come alive. During a track school at Firebird, I’d have sworn it lost 1,000 lbs.

  13. I worked for BMW back in the days (80’s and 90’s) of glory of the M cars, when they were actual very limited production motor cars with exceptional handling, acceleration, and details you could NOT buy in any other lineup. My USA spec 1988 M5 was the most amazingly detailed (from the factory) automobile I’ve ever owned. The sport seats with the M-logo stitched into the tan hides (my example was black/tan leather over the ENTIRE enterior!) were just plain works of art; the special sized and finished alloy wheels were a joy to just sit there and stare at.

    Ask yourself this question: What other performance European sedan had all the sex appeal, panache, and fine, fine finishing (like the hand-rubbed paint that was 6 layers deep) other than the M5, or that very rare M6…both were impossible to buy in California after the production had ceased at M-Sport, then everybody wanted one soooo bad!

    I picked mine up from Hal Watkins BMW, Camarillo, CA 93010, straight off the showroom floor no less, with 17 delivery miles on the clock…that was the most exciting purchase of my automotibile “daze” back then, and I include the Alpine White ’91 M5, a ’97 M3 with the trick 6-cylinder motor in that statement. The car ooozed hand elegance and finish, and I’ll never see another BMW on this earth to equal my 1988 Schwarze (black) M5. The only car I ever owned that was *close* to the ’88 M5 was my hand-built BMW 3.0S Sedan (1973 California model), as it, too had the entire guts of the interior covered in various finishes and grades ot top leather that was harder than Rolls-Royce leather and yet softer than other high-end cars back then…it was just purrfect leather for such a fine motor car as the M5 and the 3.0S too, with headliner, boor panels, lambswool throws over the plush deep tan carpeting making the interior become a place with time well spent in; If for no other reason than sensory overload from all the leather!

    Those were all great BMW’s no doubt, and certainly the finest automobiles that the M-Sport boys ever cranked out for USA consumption. Less than 550 1988-spec USA M-5’s were ever brought into the dealership realm, discounting the gray-market jobs, and those who received the M5’s were the privileged dealerships, ie not everybody got one, or two in the case of the LA dealership cadre.

    BMW salesman, sales manager, and zone executive all brought their perks, the lucky few that had access to such a car that I knew, well, we all bought one some way, somehow, some scheme to unfold!

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