BMW M5 (E34) Driven Review
We’ve all heard the addage “Never drive your hero” and while for some it may prove to be a bit difficult to drive Angelina Jolie or Richie McCaw, tracking down a 930 Turbo or F430 isn’t as much of a task for us motoring folk as one might think. For me, it’s not a specific vehicle but rather a specific model-range from the brand everybody loves to hate, BMW.
The BMW M5 has always appealed to me more than any other vehicle, and I can’t quite explain why…
Perhaps it’s because each model has been either on par with, or faster than its contemporary Porsche 911, or the fact that you can scare/entertain a whole family, in complete comfort.
Each model has offered something different to its predecessor but one thing has remained constant – it has always been the benchmark in its class. Unsurprising, though, considering that it is the original super saloon. Having driven the E28, E39 and E60 generation M5’s, I like to think that I’m well versed in the realm of the M5, however, nothing could have quite prepared me for the E34 M5…
Undoubtedly the most understated M5 ever, the E34 showed the world that you need neither a Bentley to be cool nor a Ferrari to win traffic light drag races. Not that I’d ever do anything as irresponsible as that… Looking very much like a standard 5 Series, the only clues that allude to what lurks beneath the bonnet were a few M badges here and there and the ‘M Turbine-II’ wheels which channelled cool air towards the brakes to cool them, and that was about it…
Introduced in 1989, the E34 M5 made use of the S38 3.6-litre straight 6 which was loosely related to the famous M88 from the BMW M1. Featuring six individual throttle bodies, intake trumpets fed by a cast aluminium intake plenum and a variable-length inlet manifold, it churned out 232 kW and 360 N.m. While 0-100 km/h in 6.3 seconds doesn’t feel as brisk as those numbers might suggest, 3rd and 4th gear acceleration is still hugely impressive, especially for a vehicle of its vintage.
It was clever too – at lower rpm’s, a valve in the intake plenum opened to create maximum torque and avoid air intake restriction. Once the flow reached a certain velocity, the need would then shift towards more power and so the butterfly would close, causing air to flow straight into the engine, thus minimising turbulence. Above 4 000 rpm, it would then open again, creating maximum torque. You can actually hear a change in the tone of the induction noise as the valve opens and closes and in my opinion, the only BMW with a better induction noise is the E46 M3 CSL.
The E34, however, isn’t all about speed, it’s so much more than that. Compared to newer BMW’s, it’s a bit of a dog to drive with its heavy steering and stiff pedals, but it feels so direct and nimble, especially for a car which weighs nearly 2 tonnes. Turn-in is direct and the MacPherson struts up front and semi-trailing arms with self-levelling springs in the rear provide a firm yet forgiving ride. Interestingly, the E34 M5 also featured adjustable rear toe-in for those who fancied a bit of track fun in their M5’s.
Having yearned after the E34 M5 for as long as I can remember, sitting behind the wheel of one proved to be a surreal experience. I kept having to remind myself of what I was driving with passers-by completely oblivious – only those in the know are privy to what is in front of them.
History lesson over, here’s the bottom line. If someone tells you to never drive your hero, slap them, kick them, poke them in the eye. Having driven one of mine, I have ticked another car off my vehicular bucket list. To think that if I’d listened to everyone, I would not have shed a tear while experiencing one of BMW’s best.
As a final word of advice, I would only suggest not driving your hero if it’s something naf like a Chevrolet Senator or a Mercedes-Benz A-Class.