Answering a questionÂ with a question isn’t my way of beingÂ rude. It’s my way of finding out what the questioner truly wants to know.
Their question comes in a variety of forms. What’s the best car? What’s the best car on sale right now? What’s the best car ever?
I want to know how much money they’re allowing me to spend, to which eraÂ I’m limited, whether I’m buying for my current life situation as a married work-at-home father or for some other situation, such as life on my neighbor’s farm.
With a recent move to a new province, I’m getting the question with far greater frequency â€” the result of meeting new people who are confused or delighted or dismayed at what I do for a living. I’m not sure I’ve ever had the answer pinned down before, but being asked so often has forced me to develop a thoughtful response.
What’s my favorite car? I now know.
I know what my favorite vehicle for myÂ current life situation is: a Chevrolet Suburban. We need six-plus seats multiple times per week, space for bike trailers and a Baby Jogger Summit X3. We live in a very wintery part of Canada, so four-wheel-drive and some ground clearance wouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a Suburban, so our Honda Odyssey â€” bow down in awe â€” is a suitable replacement.
I know what vehicle I most enjoy driving. There’s a 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata in my garage, and whether it’sÂ that Miata or the numerous other examples of the breed I’ve driven, the joy I derive from top-down driving with a six-speed manual, limited power, and a lively chassis can’t easily be replicated.
I know the vehicle with which I’d most like to spend a day, as well. Just give me the latest mid-engine V8 Ferrari, currently the 488 GTB, but also the 458 Italia before it, the F430 before that, its 360 Modena predecessor, and the F355 that originally ignited my Ferrari affection. Sure, there are faster cars, better-looking cars, and cars with fewerÂ steering wheel buttons. But desire to drive a mid-engine V8 FerrariÂ is deeply ingrained within me.
A Chevrolet Suburban is not, however, my favorite car. By its very nature, it inherently lacks proper driver’s appeal.Â A Mazda MX-5 Miata is terrific to own, but for my status in life, only as a second or third car. And as much as I’d like to spend some time driving a Ferrari 488 GTB, I don’t have an appetite for supercar ownership of any kind.For me, right now, nothing holds more appeal than an E39 BMW M5, circa 1999-2003.
Give me a choice between a new M5 and the 15-year-old M5, and I’ll take the oldie.
Offer me a Mustang Shelby GT350 or theÂ E39 M5, and I’ll take the BMW.
Ask me whether a 707-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat would be preferable and I’d have to think about it for a minute. Then, I’d take the BMW M5.Ferrari GTC4Lusso? The all-wheel-drive four-seater is enticing, but no. M5, please. Volkswagen Golf R, essentially an E39 M5 turned into a modern, semi-affordable, all-wheel-drive hatchback? Cool car, but no. M5 please. The Porsche Macan is an exceptional all rounder, a suitable family car with verifiable performance credentials and all-weather capability. But no. M5 please.
By modern standards, the E39 M5’s 400-horsepower 4.9-liter V8 will struggle in today’s stoplight drag races. The car lost some of the earlier M5s’ intangible charm by sharing an assembly line with regular editions of the 5 Series. Recirculating ball steering, rather than rack and pinion, doesn’t seem like the most direct route to feel and directness. The E39 M5Â lacks stature, with a NÃ¼rburgring laptime well in excess of 8 minutes.
I don’t care.
Just look at it. Just listen to it.
The E39 BMW M5 is menacing, but not remotely over the top. Today, automakers are attempting to style their cars with this kind of aggression and can’t seem to figure it out. So they just enlarge the grille.
The wheel arches are perfect, as the M5 appears wonderfully low, but not so low that you think a Honda Prelude tuner took possession of a 528i. The headlights and twin-kidney grille are sized to scale. The length of the hood conveys all manner of rear-wheel-driveiness.
There’s even a six-speed manual transmission.
“What’s your favorite car?”, they ask.
“A BMW M5,” I say now, “but not the newer ones. BMW called it the E39. It was new in ’99.”
“Oh,” they respond, befuddled and suddenly uninterested, assuming the guy who drives a different new car every week is aware of the technological leap forward cars have made in the last 18 years. “We see a lot of BMWs around these days.”
“Yeah. Those are X1s,” I say, attemptingÂ to clarify. “This is different. 400 horsepower, rear-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual in 1999 was pretty special.”
“But the newer ones are faster?”
Sure. Yeah. The newer ones are faster.
That doesn’t mean they’re better. And it certainly doesn’t mean I want a new BMW M5 more than I want an old BMW M5.
[Images: BMW AG]
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.