BMW’s all-new M5 that was revealed on Monday night continues a long and proud performance sedan heritage that stretches back to the M535i of 1979.

Yet while that got the ball rolling in the first 5 Series generation, it wasn’t until the second iteration of BMW’s mid-sized sedan that the first proper M5 saw light of day, and when it did, it certainly hit the ground running.

E28 M5 (1985)

When it hit the scene in 1985, the first M5 immediately pounced to the top of the four-door performance hierarchy.

Like its M635CSi Coupé cousin, the hand-built E28 M5 had a very special engine under the bonnet, this being a version of the fast-revving 3.5-litre straight-six that powered the mid-engined M1 sportscar.

In this application it was tuned to 210kW, which might be less than half of the power produced by today’s M5 (441kW), and yet that was still enough to make it the fastest sedan on the market at the time.

With a kerb weight of around 1465kg, the M5 managed to sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds and reached a top speed of 245km/h. And given that it hardly looked any different to regular 5 Series sedans, this M5 was a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

With only 2200 of these original M5s produced, this remains one of the rarest M cars.

E34 M5 (1988)

A bigger, heavier and more luxurious 5 Series hit the scene in the late eighties, but the M5 version compensated for its bulk with a more powerful 3.6-litre straight-six, which produced 232kW and got the sedan to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and to an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h.

BMW upped the ante in 1991 with a 3.8-litre version that produced 250km/h and got to 100 in 5.9s. This update also introduced BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension system to the fold, with Electronic Damper Control.

As with its predecessor, this M5 remained a true sleeper with little, apart from M badging, tailpipes and 17-inch rims, to tell it apart from humbler Fives.

E39S M5 (1998)

Things got really serious in 1998 as the faithful old straight-six made way for a 5-litre V8 with 294kW and 500Nm in the fourth-generation 5 Series, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. 

This one could catapult from 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and remained limited to 250km/h but it also improved the traction side of the deal with a mechanical differential lock with 25 percent locking action.

This M5 was also more of an attention seeker than its subtle forebears, with a proper body kit and M-Coupe-like mirrors to assert its position at the top of the 5 Series hierarchy.

E60 M5 (2005)

Arguably the most interesting M5 to date, although not without its well recorded foibles, the E60 M5 was powered by a 5-litre V10 that produced a wild-for-the-time 373kW at 7750rpm.

The zero to 100km/h time improved to 4.7 seconds, and for the first time buyers could have the 250km/h nanny silenced if they opted for the M Driver’s Package, which raised the limiter to 305km/h.

Also new was the finicky seven-speed SMG automated sequential gearbox, which also brought launch control the equation for the first time.

But you didn’t get to experience all 373kW unless you pushed the Power button on the centre console, which woke the car’s electronics up from their default ‘slumber’, in which just 294 ponies were on hand.

F10M M5 (2011)

The latest M5 until now, this generation backtracked on the engine displacement in line with downsizing trends, but thanks to a pair of turbochargers, its 4.4-litre V8 was still somewhat more powerful than the V10 that came before it.

Credited with 412kW and 680Nm in standard form, the 2011 M5 could bolt to 100 in 4.3 seconds, but it was soon followed by a string of more powerful editions that culminated in the “30 Jahre M5” birthday edition that produced 441kW.

This M5 also got a better gearbox in the form of BMW’s new seven-speed M DCT double-clutch unit.

As before buyers could specify an M Driver’s Package, and carbon ceramic brakes were added to the options list.

F90 M5 (2017)

The newly-revealed F90 keeps things familiar on the engine front, with a 441kW output matching the most powerful editions of the previous range, but remember that this is the standard model, and faster versions are sure to follow in good time.

The big news of this generation is the move to all-wheel-drive, although the system still has a rear-wheel-mode that can be activated for some serious drifting antics. 

Read more about the new M5 here

IOL Motoring