A few weeks ago, something happened that I never saw coming: I sold my beloved GTO. I should have seen this coming, being that the silver UFO was car number 36 or 37 – I can’t remember which – but I thought I would have it forever. However, I owned that car for nearly 3 years and it was just time. There was only one car that I wanted more than the car I had and this summer was the right time to buy the very thing I had my eye on – a brand new 2015 Chevrolet SS.
The only problem is they are far too expensive for someone with my income. I have to constantly remind people that I work IN TV and not ON TV. So, after much planning, scheming and justifying spending more money on a car than I ever have in my life, I found THE car for me. It’s finished in Perfect Blue Metallic paint and it has a snarly 415hp LS3 engine that came in the last generation of the Corvette. Did I mention that this is the first automatic transmission I have had in a fast car in the last 20 years? I know, buying an automatic in a speedy car is like going to Universal Studios Orlando and not riding any of the rollercoasters.
I bought the SS because on paper, it’s the closest thing to an old BMW E39 M5 that has ever been made, and the other day I got a chance to directly compare the two cars to see how right or wrong I am. Both cars have 4-doors, weigh about the same, have a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance, big brakes and a V8 with plenty of power. Maybe it seems like a strange comparison because the BMW is 12 years old and the SS is brand new, but the two cars really are like two sisters separated at birth… by 12 years. Let’s talk about the German first.
I have long maintained that the E39 M5 is the finest sedan that humans will ever build. This fine example is shown in Carbon Black with extended leather and belongs to a very close friend who trusts me to drift it around a corner and not in to a tree. There are a mere 22,000 miles on the clock and it’s probably worth as much as my brand new SS. I’ve driven flashier cars, faster cars and more expensive cars, but never one as good. First of all, you don’t drive this M5, you wear it. It becomes an extension of you. It’s like the car is psychic and it just does whatever you command it to do with your mind – as long as your mind knows how to drive stick because these cars do not come with an automatic. When you sit in the driver’s seat, you feel like you’re all dressed up with somewhere to go. The smell of the leather and the quality of the interior materials are reminiscent of a quaint German library on a crisp fall day after a couple of beers. It’s intoxicating and it makes you feel good about yourself. Those wily German engineers have created a car with a split personality. Drive around in “normal” mode and the suspension sucks up the bumps in the road like they aren’t even there. It’s relatively quiet, the shifting is smooth and lazy. The car is sublime. Push the “Sport” button on the dash and suddenly, the car actually feels like it has the advertised 400 horsepower. The accelerator is now more touchy, the exhaust is louder and the clutch seems grabbier. I didn’t dare turn the traction control off because when it’s off, it’s OFF and those Michelin Pilot Sports on the back are about $400 each. The only complaint I have is the 4.9 liter engine is typical of most BMW’s. There just isn’t enough torque. You have to be above 3,000 RPM to get anything done. The E39 was in production from 1999 through 2003 and even now, it doesn’t seem dated at all. It’s a true modern-day classic that is an absolute blast to drive every time you put it on. It can go screaming sideways around a racetrack or take you to the opera and look good doing it. It’s the best used car in any price range that money can buy. But is it as good as my shiny new Australian car?
Like my old GTO’s, the SS is built by a company that GM owns down-under called Holden. The Aussies could not be more different from the Germans. They are crazy and not in the, “oh, you so crazy” way. There are spiders as big as horses, snakes in toilet bowls and pretty much everything outside is trying to kill you. My bow-tie wearing Chevy SS is called Holden Commodore SSV down there and it’s so good, it doesn’t seem like it wants to kill me. Like the M5, this car has rear-wheel drive. It also has BIG brakes, loud dual exhaust, adjustable suspension from the new Corvette and all kinds of toys. It’s got navigation with USB plugs for your phone, bluetooth, voice command, a heads-up display on the windshield, heated/cooled seats, a built-in 4G wifi hotspot, sensors that warn you if you are drifting out of your lane, and paddle shifters if you bought the automatic – because that’s the only way to deal with Tampa traffic. The freaking thing even parks itself, but I’m too scared to try that feature out because witchcraft is wrong and I have trust issues. The SS also has buttons to turn off all of the nanny stuff. Put it in “track mode” and it will allow you to drift through turns and still keep you out of trouble and it feels solid as a rock at 150mph. It’s the ultimate sleeper since it looks like a big Impala or Malibu or as I call it, Impalabu. Recently, I had it loaded down with me, my daughter, brother, mother, step-dad, all of our luggage and there was room to spare. It’s the most amazing car I have ever owned and it’s probably the best kept secret in the automotive world because it has had zero marketing. Only people who watch the old Top Gear have heard of Holden and only some of them know about this gem of a car. Even people at car shows have no idea what it is. I had to make a sign for under the hood because I’d lose my voice explaining to everyone what it is.
So which car is better? Both. If you want a modern car with all of the toys and a warranty, get the SS. If you want a timeless classic and can live without some of the frills of modern-day society, go get a paper copy of Hemmings Motor News and find yourself a low mileage M5. Just be prepared to pay through the nose for a nice one. You should also be prepared to fix dumb things like “low blinker fluid” because it’s German and over 10 years old.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness was wrong because less than $50K can buy either one of these cars and they BOTH will make you happy 🙂
Erica Habedank | CW44 Tampa Bay