BMW M5 E34 road test

2014 Drive-My

BMW M5 E34 road test. The more you explore, the more special it seems. Phil Bell, editor. As I look forward to the chance to drive Brian Hall’s Calypso Red BMW M5 I remember designer Ercole Spada’s comments, ‘I’m very proud of the BMW 5 Series E34.’ That’s coming from the man who gave us the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato and Alfa Romeo TZ1.

He has every right to be proud. It’s a masterclass of purposeful stance, taut surfacing and deft detailing. Just look at how the rear wings are drawn tight into the merest hint of a tail spoiler. In a decade of clumsy, attention-needy body kits this car stood out for its subtle aggression. His E34 is the best-looking BMW saloon to date. No, I’ll go one louder – it’s the best resolved saloon design of all time, and its transformation to M5 specification has merely layered serious intent on existing elegance.

Bodywork tweaks, including the front splitter and aerodynamic rear bumper (picked out in black along with the sills), 17-inch ‘throwing star’ alloy wheels on this post-1991 3.8-litre version and discreet tricolour M Sport badges are your clues.

The weighty clunk of the driver’s door shuts out the world and I find myself supported in a firm but forgiving seat and surrounded by Silver Grey Amaretta cloth trim flecked with M Sport colours. They reappear in small badges on the instrument panel and steering wheel. And that’s it – no performance car cliches to massage the boy racer ego, just the tools you need to handle what was at launch the world’s fastest production saloon car. And they’re precision tools. 

Pull away and my natural throttle action serves up swift, efficient progress. A fleeting ‘Is that it?’ moment is swept aside as I dig deeper, the engine note a tight, hard, grainy howl and this 1718kg exec lunges for action like it’s just taken a noseful of cocaine. In a flash it seems to have shed at least 500 of those kilograms, diving into corners with a nudge of the steering, which rewards with an uncanny combination of reassuring weight and granular feedback about what those 235mm-wide Falkens are up to at the front.

There’s little body roll to trouble those in the four passenger seats, but ample to give confidence around the limit of grip. When those passengers notice how quickly this car goes – 62mph in 5.8 seconds and a wickedly illicit 170mph when derestricted – you can bring them back to earth thanks to 315mm front discs and 320mm rears.

Where other performance cars can be as much bluster as delivery, the E34 M5 is like the quietly spoken dinner party guest who turns out to have designed a particle super collider: the more you explore, the more special it seems. The total production of 12,254 from 1990-95 doesn’t seem that exclusive, but remember that each was hand-built over two weeks at BMW’s Motorsport unit in Garching.

We Brits only saw 867 of those – 524 of the 3.6-litre, 315bhp cars built from 1990-1992 and 343 of the bored-and-stroked 3.8-litre, 340bhp cars built from 1994-95. Yet there are always plenty for sale, ranging from the 187,000-miler I saw for £4.5k to a 77,000-miler at £17k. Condition is more important than which model it is. Good cars start below £9k but expect to pay £12-15k for a mint, sub-100k-miles, fully historied example.

These cars cost a weighty £44k-£53k new and putting right problems with any of the M-specific parts can hurt. Brian bought his full-history 1994 example from its first owner in 2000 and his philosophy of regular but not-heavy use and fastidious maintenance

means this car has needed an average of just £900 per year for maintenance and repairs over its 96,000 miles. ‘Some years it’s no more than a service and a set of wiper blades, the next it’s a £1000 suspension overhaul.’ The crack-prone exhaust manifolds cost £1300 each plus fitting and last time he checked on the dwindling stock of Boge self-levelling rear dampers he was quoted £1353 each.

Richard Baxter of the BMW Car Club M Power Register suggests budgeting £2-3k per year and holding out for a car with full BMW or specialist service history so you can check that it’s always had crucial valve clearance adjustment at Inspection II intervals, along with correct oil changes, plugs and filters. Looked-after cars are robust and reliable, but any neglect could spell a £13k engine rebuild. The 45 per cent galvanised bodywork lasts well, but pay attention to the less obvious rust traps, including jacking points, the chassis near the fuel tank and the area around the sunroof.

Bought well, the E34 M5’s chiselled looks, superb dynamics, exclusivity and family-friendly scale make it an irresistible choice. Just don’t tell anyone else until you’ve secured one for yourself.

Quentin on the BMW M5 E34

The second generation M5 is the king of super saloons, but it takes time to bewitch you. At first it feels just like a 530i E34 – strong, luxurious and smooth – but once you discover the throttle travel is unbelievably long, the power from the 340bhp 3.8 six just builds and builds and suddenly you’re pulling 100mph in third.

But the way the BMW M5 E34 charges forward with such fluid suppleness is what astonishes. This is a very nimble, long-legged warhorse that’s at its best at 6000rpm where the sheer wall of torque seems endless. Sixty comes up in six seconds and the governed 155mph limit never feels far away. Get brave and you can adjust the sliding tail by the throttle with playful accuracy.

E34 M5s are still cheap, with nice ones available for less than ten grand and if you can find a sub-50,000-mile car its worth an easy £15k and rising. The Nurburgring special editions are worth seeking out, as are the rare estate versions.

The combination of understated lines, Q-car performance and compact dimensions will soon give the M5 the same powerful desirability of the mighty 6.3 and 6.9 Mercedes saloons. This is a forgotten performance icon that’s much cheaper than it should be.

A puff of oil smoke on start-up is fixable; anything more spells expense.

If you don’t track down, a Club Sport quickly, you may find that Quentin has beaten you t It.

Tech information

BMW M5 E34 1990-1995


Power (DIN/rpm)

Torque (DIN/rpm)

Power-to-weight ratio

315/340bhp @ 6900rpm

266/295 lb ft @ 4750rpm

193bhp per ton


3535-3795cc, inline six-cylinder, dohc, 24-valve, Bosch 3.3 DME fuel injection


0-62mph 6.3/5.8sec
Top speed 155/170mph



Five-speed manual (6-speed from 1994), rear- wheel drive, limited-slip differential

Ratios (mph/1000rpm)




2.49 (9.6)




1.24 (19.4)



Final-drive ratio (to one)




Steel monocoque

Drag factor

Cd 0.35

Front suspension

independent, MacPherson struts, track control arms, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension

independent, self-levelling coil-over-damper units, semi-trailing arms, anti-roll bar

Steering, type

Steering ZF Servotronic speed-variable recirculating ball

Turns, lock to lock


Turning circle (ft)





235/55 ZR16

Brakes, type

Vented discs, servo-assisted, 315/345mm front, 320/328mm rear, ABS




Front track


Rear track


Overall length


Overall width

68.9 (excl mirrors)

Fuel tank capacity (gal)


Kerb weight (kg)



Front headroom (max/min)


Front legroom (max/min)


Rear legroom (max/min)


Rear headroom


Front shoulder room


Rear shoulder room


Luggage capacity (cu ft)



Automatic transmission


Anti-lock brakes




Leather upholstery


Cruise control


Electric front seats


Heated front seats


Alloy wheels





Cost (frequency)

£53 (oil service)

£108 (Inspection 1)

Number of UK dealers

£204 (Inspection 2) 157

COST (including VAT)   

Price without extras


Value now (2014)



12 months/ unlimited mileage 8yr anti-perforation

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Additional Info
  • Drive: RWD