Some say the third-generation BMW M5 is the best ever

It may no longer be true that a TV commercial or, indeed, any sort of ad can actually coax a consumer to at least try if not purchase the product it showcases but, once in a while, there are ads that become instant classics and BMW can pride itself with some of the finest ads amongst all automakers. This classic commercial from the dawn of the 21st century may just be the cream of the crop and that’s in no small part due to its ingenuity, although its star is also important: the E39-generation M5.

The M5 from the early ’00s was really fast

Remember When The BMW M5 Stared In the Best Commercial Ever Made?
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Back in the ’80s when BMW introduced its first M5 based on the E28-generation 5 Series, making a fast sedan was uncommon. Sure, AMG had been tuning and racing Merc’s large sedans since the ’70s but the company was still acting somewhat on its own before it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. But BMW’s M division was the Bavarian marque’s competition department and applied the knowledge it gathered on the tracks to road-bound Bimmers.

If that first M5 featured the brand’s classic M88/3 3.5-liter inline-six good for 282 horsepower (although, in the U.S., customers had to make do with just 256 ponies from the de-tuned S38B35 with its catalytic converter), by the time the E39-generation was introduced in 1998, BMW had moved on to bigger and better things.

By bigger and better we mean the 4.9-liter S62 V-8 that created something close to a European muscle car.
Remember When The BMW M5 Stared In the Best Commercial Ever Made?
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BMW switched to a V-8 echoing Mercedes-Benz’s choice to equip the W210-generation E55 AMG with a 5.4-liter V-8 good for 349 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque.

It hit the redline at 6,000 rpm and made the E55 AMG one of if not the fastest mid-size sedan in the world. That is, of course, until the E39 M5 hit the scene because that S62 V-8 developed 394 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 369 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. The engine was high-tech at the time with electronically actuated individual throttle bodies and double VANOS, and it allowed the 4,000-pound M5 to go from naught to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds en route to a top speed of 186 mph with the limiter out of the way.

BMW M5 E39 specifications
Engine 4.9-liter, V-8
Horsepower 394 HP @ 6,600 RPM
Torque 369 LB-FT @ 3,800 RPM
Transmission six-speed manual
0 to 60 mph 4.8 seconds
Top speed 186 mph
Remember When The BMW M5 Stared In the Best Commercial Ever Made?
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While the M5's output of just under 400 horsepower may not be impressive nowadays when even Ferrari's cheapest mid-engine offering delivers over 700 horsepower, it was a lot in 1998 and, anyway, 186 mph was huge for a sedan.

Take into account the fact that the previous ’king’ of quick sedans, Opel’s Lotus-tuned Omega (Vauxhall Lotus Carlton in the U.K.) topped out at 176 mph in 1992 and was deemed too fast to exist with the British government trying to get Vauxhall to stop selling it because it was used by armed robbers as the getaway car.

BMW was probably aware of it and, as such, it will come as a surprise to no one that this legendary ad focuses around the M5’s raw speed - BMW even touted it as the ’World’s fastest sedan’, a title that the previous two M5s had also held at the time of their respective release dates. But the M5’s main selling point isn’t what makes us love the ad (although just to drive the point home, we’ll mention that the 2020 Mercedes E 63 S AMG is as fast as the E39 M5). The main reason is that the idea behind it all is pure genius. You’ve probably seen it many times before but let’s just all enjoy it one more time while murmuring under our breaths that they don’t make ’em like they used to.

P.S. The 2020 BMW M5 can reach 194 mph and that’s impressive but it also benefits from having twice the power of the M5 from two decades ago.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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