The M5 isn’t the M3

Sounds obvious but it may not necessarily be, especially to the casual observer or a person who has had seat time in neither. Consider: at a glance, our E28 M5 and E36 M3 are both four-door sedans with 24-valve DOHC inline-sixes and are roughly the same size, weigh approximately similar amounts, and produce about the same power, give or take a smattering of horsepower and “torques” (more on that in a minute). What’s the point, right?

Wrong. Despite the superficial similarities, the cars could not be more different to drive. The M3 is playful, bounding out of the gate and eager to play around town at “around town” (read: lower) revs and speeds. It behaves like an athlete and loves to run with what it’s been given. Power delivery is instantaneous and effortless. In comparison, the M5 feels downright sluggish off the line and hates any semblance of stop-and-go traffic— never fun, but the M3 in the same situation is docile, even pleasant.

The M5’s upside? It has an unnatural ability to pull and pull at highway speeds, seemingly never running out of breath— the revs just keep coming, the speed keeps piling on. The peaky nature of the race-bred engine means it’s happiest (and making the most power) from 4,000 rpm and up. This car was clearly built with the wide, limitless expanses of the Autobahn in mind, not to go stoplight to stoplight. With the M3 you risk getting pulled over; with the M5 you risk losing your license.

The verdict? The M3 is oodles of fun around town and wins that contest hands down. Every time we think we’ve fallen out of love with it, all it takes is five minutes behind the wheel to be brought back into the fold. The M5 is more like a bear that needs to be roused from its slumber, but once you poke it with a sharp stick, watch out. They are addictive in their respective ways and we feel fortunate to get to experience both. Variety truly is the spice of life.

Some relevant specifications (aggregated from a variety of sources including Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and Edmunds):

1998 M3 (sedan)

  • Curb weight: 3175 lbs.
  • Weight dist. F/R: 49.7%, 50.3%
  • Horsepower: 240 hp @ 6000 rpm
  • Torque: 236 ft-lbs. @ 3800 rpm
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 0.076
  • 0-60: 5.5 seconds
  • 1/4 mile: 14.0 sec / 99.2 mph

1988 M5

  • Curb weight: 3420-3504 lbs. (though our example probably shaves 150 or so lbs. thanks to its Euro instead of US bumpers, manual seats, and self-leveling suspension delete)
  • Weight dist. F/R: 52.2%, 47.8%
  • Horsepower: 256 hp @ 6500 rpm
  • Torque: 243 ft-lbs. @ 4500 rpm
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 0.073
  • 0-60: 6.3 seconds
  • 1/4 mile: 14.6 sec / 95 mph

~ by velofinds on September 17, 2013.

6 Responses to “The M5 isn’t the M3”

  1. It’s never about the numbers. My Alfa Berlina doesn’t win any contests based on raw figures, but wins all of them based on GPM (grins per mile.)

  2. Do you think comparing vehicles two decades apart is really a fair comparison?

  3. I said it before… E28 second and third gears are so amazingly fun. Torque is my friend.

  4. I think comparing such cars is fine, and interesting. It shows how M cars have changed as well over the years. I have an e46 and have driven a fair few other M’s to include the newer ones, and I feel they each have their merits, as you’ve pointed out, though somewhat sadly they seem to be just getting bigger, heavier, grippier, and faster, as all cars are these days, and not necessarily funner I might add. Long live old M cars.

  5. Interesting comparison. Even for the age. Never forget the classics. What’s your take on the new M5? Not just a highway car anymore I’m afraid.

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