The Best of M: Driving BMW’s Iconic M Cars in the Munich Countryside – Reviews

The Best of M: Driving BMW's Iconic M Cars in the Munich Countryside - Reviews

Founded in 1972, BMW’s M division is one of the most iconic names in the performance car world. As one of the first factory backed outfits to bring racing technology to road cars, it has brought some amazing vehicles to the world.

M’s very first racing project was the iconic 3.0 CSL, and while it had all the factors of a full-fledged M car, it never wore the badge. The honor of being the first car to wear the M badge went to the aptly named M1, which remains the only mass-produced supercar to ever come from BMW. Considering that this M1 was more of a race car than an everyday driver, BMW M realized they probably had to change the game plan if they were going to stay afloat.

Fast forward to 1979, and BMW Motorsport decides to change the name to BMW M and release the M535i, a high-performance version of the current 5-series model.

By modern standards, it wasn’t until 1985 for a ‘real’ M model to join BMW in the form of the E28 M5, which was powered by (essentially) the same 3.5-litre in-line six-cylinder engine as in the M1.

On a recent trip to Germany with BMW to celebrate 50 years of M, we were lucky enough to get behind the wheel of some iconic BMW M cars. To get the full historic M experience, the first vehicle we drove was none other than the E28 M5.

If I’m honest, the M5 has never really done it for me, as I’ve always seen the M3 as a better car in every way, and while the E28 didn’t change my mind, I can see why it was so loved by many. Despite its big looks, the E28 M5 felt less like the muscular sedan I’d assumed it would be, and more like a sharp sports car. The steering was sharp and the suspension didn’t float around corners like other cars of this era.

Along the same lines, it feels like a V8 with heaps of torque would be more suited to a performance car of this era, but the inline six-cylinder rewards drivers in a different way. Stretching the legs of the E28 and turning it all the way out is an experience unmatched by the muscle cars of this era, and it feels like a much more refined experience.

The next in the BMW Classic fleet was the E39 M5, another icon of the M-series. It was clear from the start that this E39 was built first as a luxury car and second as a performance car. The one we drove had only driven about 45,000 miles since new, and the peanut butter leather interior was spotless. Smooth was the only word that came to mind when I remembered how that M5 drove, from the incredibly comfortable seats to how it roared over the rural German roads, and even how the 4.9-litre V8 delivered linear power.

I would say I was very pleasantly surprised by the six-speed manual transmission in this E39. It offered a lot of mechanical feedback and every gear slipped into it like it was meant to be there. Unlike the more modern naturally aspirated BMW V8s, the E39’s engine seemed more comfortable in the lower rev range, where the 500Nm of torque propelled it nicely.

With the reputation the E39 has in mind, I have to say I was a little disappointed with it as a whole. This may be due to the impossible expectations BMW sets itself with modern performance vehicles like the M5 CS, but I was hoping for a more engaged experience from this M-badged icon.

Speaking of an exhilarating drive, the last car we got into today was the E46 M3, something I’ve had on my car bucket list for as long as I can remember. While the V8 in the E39 was fun, the raspy and unruly nature of the 3.0-litre six-cylinder is nothing short of addictive.

With just over 4.00 miles on the odometer, the E46 M3 we drove would probably be considered a unicorn among BMW collectors, but for BMW Classic it was just another car in the fleet. With such low mileage, it gave a glimpse of what a brand new M3 would have looked like in the early 2000s.

It was much less smooth than the larger E39 and offered a more direct drive. The manual transmission was fantastically notchy and the steering provided an impressive amount of road feedback. Sure, it wasn’t nearly as fast as the new M4 we’d driven in Munich, but the combination of analog feel and instant N/A torque is hard to beat.

Meeting my BMW badged heroes was an experience of epic proportions, and I don’t think it will happen again anytime soon. It would be hard to get a more pure M experience than racing through the back roads of Munich with three of the best naturally aspirated engines to ever come from the brand. All three cars offered such a different driving experience that it’s hard to pick a favorite – but if I had the chance to take one home, it would be the E46.

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