Introduced in December of 1987 and launched in the U.S. in 1988 for the ’89 model year, the E34 5 Series was built at the automaker’s Dingolfing, Germany plant. The E34 was the first 5 Series offered as a wagon, the first offered with a V-8, and the first to offer all-wheel drive (albeit in Europe only).
Development of the third-generation 5 Series was largely parallel to that of the E32 7 Series and the E34 shares some engines, design cues (both were penned by Ercole Spada under the direction of design boss Claus Luthe), and new tech like Active Stability Control and Traction Control (ASC and ASC+T) with the larger sedan.
The E34 sedan enjoyed a seven-year run, making way for the E39 5 Series at the end of 1995. The E34 wagon soldiered on through the middle of 1996 and the over 1.3 million cars were built in all. While nine engines were offered for the E34 during its run, not all of them made their way to the U.S. Here’s a look at the ones that did:
1989-1995: BMW 525i
While the European E34 range began with the four-cylinder 518i and included a 520i with a 2.0-liter I-6, the U.S. range began with the 525i. Powered by,a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter M20B25 inline-six, the E34 525i offered around 168 hp and 164 lb-ft of torque. The engine was mated to either a four-speed ZF-sourced auto or a five-speed manual, allowing for a 0-60 time of around 9.5 seconds.
Despite the modest power, this 525i still came loaded with then-premium equipment like air conditioning, AM/FM cassette player with 10 speakers, 10-way electric power front seats, and power windows at all four corners. Cloth upholstery was standard at first, but most buyers opted for leather and the base trim was replaced with leatherette for 1993, making cloth-trimmed cars quite uncommon.
For the 1991 model year, the 525i received a mid-cycle refresh that included an engine update. The SOHC M20B25 was replaced the DOHC M50B25 I-6, which made 189 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque, improving the 0-60 mph time to 8.6 seconds. The engine was revised for 1993, when it received VANOS variable valve timing.
1991 also saw the introduction the 525i Touring, the first 5 Series wagon.
1989-1993: BMW 535i
The U.S. range also skipped over the six-cylinder 530i and went straight to the more-powerful 535i. The 3.4-liter M30B35 naturally aspirated inline-six was a carry-over powerplant from the outgoing E28 5 Series, though it received an increased compression ratio of 9.0:1 and made slightly more power, 208 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. Sixty mph arrived in around 7.7 seconds for five-speed manual versions and slightly later for models equipped with the four-speed automatic.
Aside from minor changes that applied to the entire range, like the addition of a telescoping steering column, the 535i went unchanged before it was discontinued for 1994.
1991-1993: BMW M5
While missing out on the 518i and the diesel engines was no big deal, when it came to the E34 M5, the U.S. got the proper short straw thanks in part to emissions regulations. Though it was launched in Europe in 1989, two years would pass before the E34 M5 arrived in the U.S., with 311 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque coming from its S38B36 3.5-liter I-6. A five-speed manual was the only transmission offered.
For 1992, European models received a 3.8-liter version of the S38 good for 335 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, but that engine never made it across the Atlantic. Instead, the E34 M5 was discontinued in the U.S. after the 1993 model year while Europe got to enjoy it for two more years.
While they are increasingly rare and increasingly collectible, values of E34 M5s remain relatively reasonable. A quick perusal of recent listings on Bring a Trailer shows plenty of cars sold for under $20,000 in the past year, so there’s still time to put one in your garage without risking financial insolvency. It is interesting to note that the E34 M5 was the last BMW to be hand-built, alongside the standard production line.
1994-1995: BMW 530i
For 1994, the 535i’s relatively large-displacement I-6 made way for a small-displacement V-8. With the 540i making its debut at the same time, the 530i would become the midrange model in the lineup. In Europe, it also replaced the existing 530i, which was powered by a 3.0-liter I-6.
The M60B30 V-8 that powered this 530i made 218 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. While that’s not much by today’s standards, for comparison, the contemporary Mustang GT received 215 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from its 5.0-liter V-8. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic.
1994-1995: BMW 540i
Introduced alongside the 1994 BMW 530i, the 1994 540i featured a 4.0-liter version of the M60 V-8, which served up 282 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, figures comparable to those of the M5. Shifting duties were handled by a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
Along with the 540i came the 540i M-Sport, a limited edition variant available exclusively for North America in place of the no-longer-available M5. For this model, BMW added M-Sport suspension, upgraded brakes, 18-inch “M Parallel” style five-spoke wheels, and other M trim bits. Only a total of 205 540i M-Sports were built, 139 of which were made with six-speed manuals, making this a hard-to-find model.