Wow! Is it the perfect sedan? Amazing, albeit expensive.
The Ultimate Machine: BMW redefines the driving experienceâagainâwith the new M5
But have we evolved too far?
Published Date: 10/11/04
2005 BMW M5
ON SALE: Fall 2005
BASE PRICE: $90,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 5.0-liter, 507-hp, 384-lb-ft V10; rwd, seven-speed SMG
CURB WEIGHT: 4050 pounds (est.)
0 to 60 MPH: 4.5 seconds (est.)
PHOTOS: BMW M5 PARIS SHOW GALLERY
FORUMS: TALK ABOUT, READ COMMENTS ABOUT THE NEW M5
>> Knuckles white in anticipation, he clenches the shifter and pushes it forward, the picture of a would-be drag racer engaging a trans brake before the Christmas tree flashes. His left hand grips the steering wheel as he mashes his right foot to the floor, and our ears fill with 4500 screaming revolutions of V10 song. We glance at each other, then in one quick motion he releases the shifter, grabs the wheel with both hands, keeps his foot resolutely planted and... nothing.
The wheels never turn. Launch control, apparently, only works when it feels like it, and this time it doesnât. Ach!
We had made our way across the Bavarian countryside to an abandoned military airfield, some 15 miles west of Munich. Its long expanses of concrete prove an apt setting to stretch the legs of BMWâs fourth-generation M5. Earth-covered Quonset huts dot the base, man-made hillocks sitting at oblique angles to the tarmac with apparent randomness, stenciled numbers evident only if you look closely at the green hangar doors.
The numbers, the hangars themselves, become a blur in the throes of a successful launch-control run, flashing by our windows as we barrel down the runway toward an indicated 270 km/h and the braking zone a mile and a half away. The shifts bang out in quick successionâbam!âeach jarring the car and our bodiesâbam! bam!âand we feel the wheels scrabbling for traction with each jolt. Itâs an amazing experience; we want to do it again and again... Ach, indeed.
BMW loaded the new M5âbased on the E60 5 Seriesâwith trick electronic features, of which launch control is our favorite. We even find initiating it a hoot, but weâll get to that. Mostly itâs the hardwareâthe magical mechanical bits underhoodâthat thrill us.
After five years of torquey V8 power, BMW is using a V10 for the first time to propel itsÃ¼ber sedan. With 507 hp in European dress, the M5 is beastlier than ever.
It shares its 5.0-liter displacement with its predecessor, but cranks out 107 more horses. (With the power button activated; every time you restart the M5, it returns to a more modest P400 performance program with an output of"only" 400 hp.) Interest-ingly, the V10 turns out less peak torque than the old V8âat a higher rpmâwith a maximum 384 lb-ft at 6100 rpm. The E39 M5 produced 395 lb-ft at 3800 rpm, with most of that available between 2000 and 6000 revs, well shy of its 7000-rpm redline. That meaty torque band made for a rush of acceleration off the line, running 0 to 60 mph in 4.96 seconds and sailing past the quarter-mile stick in 13.5âthe stuff of which 911s are made, but with four doors.
It's underhood where the real M magic begins, with BMW's first application of a V10 engine for the super sedan.
The V10 takes a different tack, preferring to spin the bajeebers out of itselfâcheck out its 8250-rpm redlineâpistons short-stroking their way to that autobahn-blazing top end. Low-end grunt, however, suffers.
Of course, 384 lb-ft ainât a thing to sneeze at. With stability control off, the tires go up in a torque-induced cloud if youâre not judicious with the throttle. Too much gas too quickly, and the car wonât hook up; fed the right amount at the right spots through the autocross set up at the end of the runway, and weâre sliding through the turnsâin full opposite lockâlike mad Deutsche doriftos.
One has to go back to the original M car to find a similarly high-revving motor: the M1 that bowed at the Paris motor show 26 years ago almost to the day. That BMW designed the M1 foremost as a race car explains its need for such a motor. The exclusive few who find their way into the E60 M5âdoubtless aware that the BMW F1 engine has 10 cylinders, tooâshould certainly feel like race car drivers once they unleash that 101.4 hp per liter specific output on the world.
Thatâs some number, made more impressive for coming from natural aspiration. BMW says it wonât use supercharging because its "spontaneity... fails to meet the high demands made of an M overall concept."
Thatâs a shot across the bow of Mercedes-Benzâs monster E55 AMG, the M5âs most obvious competitor. For more than a year the Mercâs blown ponies have been the only real player in town, and what a player: Its 5.5-liter V8 turns out 469 hp at 6100 rpm and a whopping 516 lb-ft between 2650 and 4500 rpm. Supercharged or no, thatâs enough torque to claim a 4.5-second 0-to-60.
Of course, Mercedes has always leaned toward the luxury end of the category, and the $81,920 E55 is no different. One indication: Itâs only available with a five-speed automatic, not a clutch pedal in sight. The sportier M5, on the other hand, offers just one gearbox as well, a manual six... Er, hold on. Thatâs the old M5, gone for nigh on two years. The E60 makes do with a single box, but itâs BMWâs sequential manual gearbox.
The SMG is actuated via F1-style paddles located behind the steering wheel, or by tapping the shifter. Its seven closely spaced gears do help make up for the relative dearth of low-end (as does the M5âs shorter final-drive ratio over the E39âs, at 3.62 vs. 2.81), for improved off-the-line performance. It whaps through the gear changes in such quick succession that the engine spends most of its time in the fat of its powerband.
In our first test of the SMG in the M3, it proved a novel but crude beast, the blipping-throttle downshifts its niftiest feature. The M5âs version does make a less jerky go of itâyour head is no longer thrown back and forth like a bobo dollâ but itâs hardly polished.
In manual mode, lifting during upshifts helps smooth things out, as it did in previous versions. Now you can also dial in the SMGâs level of attack using what BMW calls Drivelogic, whereby you select a shift program from a least aggressive Level One up to Five (automatic mode also has five levels).
As you can guess, weâd prefer a traditional manual; BMW responds that the SMG is the manual "evolved." Think about the logic that allows for Schumacher-like launches (okay, Ralf, but still a Schuey) and a 155-mph top speed in the name of "sporty" driving, but wonât let you shift yourself. Yeah, weird.
BMW derived the rest of the mechanicals from the E60, replacing rubber suspension bushings for solid and giving the rear end a variable diff with up to full locking power.
Then there are those electronics we mentioned, which can be tailored to your tastes:
>> DSC: Dynamic stability control has three modes: Off, on or partial, which kicks on at the limits of the carâs performance envelope.
>> EDC: Electronic damper control adjusts ride quality, with comfort, normal or sport.
>> HUD: The E60âs head-up display with M-specific data; you decide what to project.
The MDrive button on the steering wheel allows you to activate all your preferences for Power, SMG, DSC, EDC and HUD at once. Separate buttons for individual settings sit next to the shifter.
To operate launch control: Put SMG in manual, deactivate DSC, increase Drive-logic to previously invisible Level Six, hold shifter forward, floor gas and release shifter. The SMG will shift on its own, but the moment the system detects the slightest lift, it shuts down launch mode and youâll have to resume shifting yourself. If the trans- mission oil is too hot, it wonât work at all.
On the track the M5 feels good in our hands and makes for a quick studyâeven with its race car-worthy specsâbecause of the gobs of visceral information it transmits. The steering is about the best weâve felt in a BMW, but itâs not of the active variety found in lesser 5s. BMW decided the extra gear required of the active system would diminish road feel. Weâre not sure what that says about all the 5 and 6 Series cars on the road, or BMWâs respect for their drivers.
BMW says the M5 needs 118 feet to stop from 62 mph, or roughly the same as the Lamborghini Gallardo. Top speed is electron-ically limited to 155 mph, but we consistently get a reading of 168 mph. Looking at past BMW tests, we repeatedly find significant gaps between the observed and actual speeds; our M5 is obviously generous, too.
BMW also claims the M5 will run 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds. We measure about 4.8 with a stopwatch, so weâll be looking for mid-fours when we get it to the track.
To distinguish them from regular 5s, M5s get modified front and rear fascias, more aggressive side sills and wheel flares, functional gills and four chrome tips peeking out behind. Itâs an impressive look, if more detached and serious than the last M5. But its sharply angled trunk makes the rear look more tall and skinny than low and wide.
We wonât know what standard equipment U.S.-bound M5s will get (more than Euro models) until closer to its arrival late next year, but one clever feature we like is the actively adjustable seatback. You pump the side bolsters up to their max, and they relax for a less-obstructed exit when you open the door. Shut the door and they cinch up again. We also like that BMW is offering a 60/40 split rear seat and adaptive cornering lights.
We still donât like iDrive. By now our distaste for the system has little to do with unfamiliarity; weâve driven many iDrive-equipped cars these last couple years. It simply provides an over-complicated answer to easy questions. Sure, it cleans up a mess of buttons that otherwise clutter the dash. But consider that the M5 has 10 buttons, including the paddles, on the steering wheel alone: Thatâs clutter. Along with the we-can-shift-better-than-you philosophy that made SMG the sole transmission, the continued use of iDrive is another worrying sign that the purveyor of the ultimate "driving"machine is now emphasizing machine over driver.
Weâre still at least a year away from seeing the M5 on these shores, but it goes on sale in Europe next spring with a base price of roughly e86,000 (including 16 percent VAT). Extrapolating from that and accounting for our higher level of content, youâre looking at close to $90,000. BMW can always adjust that to be more on par with the E55.
But wait: BMW North America says it has been barraged with complaints about the M5âs lack of a traditional manual. While reps from the mother company steadfastly deny one will become available, a spokes-man admitted BMW NA may yet convince the powers that be to design one.