Lead image by Dean Grossmith

BMW fan and M-car obsessive Steve Carter on the E60 – controversial when new, but ageing more gracefully than expected… especially in M5 form

The one criticism that could never be levelled at the E60 5-Series is that it is bland looking. Indeed, it could easily be argued that it is the most distinctive looking generation in the near 50 production years of the model. However, when launched in 2003, its design was, it’s fair to say, universally controversial.

Davide Arcangeli led the final, bold design under BMW’s infamous design director Chris Bangle. Bangle himself had arrived at BMW in 1992, under product development chief Wolfgang Reitzle. It was a time when models had a safe family look, one model leveraged from the next. Worse still, the design department was someway down the pecking order and had little to no voice within the organisation. Bangle changed all of this, with humour and charisma; he was known to be highly motivating whilst recognising the huge benefits in co-operation between both designers and engineers.

– M5 generations (in chronological order: E28, E34, E39, E60)

The E60 5-Series was therefore a huge step change both design-wise and dynamically compared to the previous E39 model; the flame surfacing design strategy played out to its maximum effect with almost no smooth edges to be seen anywhere. The eyebrowed headlights at the front emanates the strong high shoulder crease along its length, leading around to the almost afterthought-looking tailgate placement, but with those original angular rear lights somehow softening everything through their long-lashed eyeballs, almost feline in their execution.

Despite this, the car was labelled “ugly” and “fat” from some sections of the motoring press. I had a Touring version at the time and tellingly, I never gave it that last “look back” as I stepped away.

So, you may rightly ask, why then have I chosen the BMW E60 M5 series as one of my Top 5? At some point, this car blossomed in my eyes to being one of the best proportioned and most handsome three-boxed saloon cars on the planet. That design language has provided a timeless flow of painted surfaces that just work and ooze muscularity. Park this next to a current generation 5-Series and there is a controlled boldness in its looks which makes a clear statement of its confidence. Plus of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention that F1-derived, five-litre V10 ‘S85’ engine – now hearing that 500bhp monster on full chat really is one of life’s great automotive experiences.

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