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BMW M5 (2008) review

Published:29 July 2008

BMW M5 (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

The E60 BMW M5 is the fourth-generation M5 and, at £65,890, the third-most expensive car in the M-Division range – sitting below  the M6 Coupe/Convertible but above the M3 Coupe/Saloon/Convertible and M Coupe/Roadster.

We test the new BMW M5 Competition

How does it drive?

Brilliantly. It’s comfortable, extremely fast and sure-footed but playful. If anything lets it down, it’s the unnecessary gadgetry – but we’ll get to that later.

Climb into the M5 and you’re greeted by comfy, reasonably supportive leather seats (we’d recommend the optional active seat bolsters if you plan on using an M5 as intended). The dash materials are of high quality and the layout is simple and intuitive. iDrive gets a lot of flak, but its key to this simplicity and, in this writer’s opinion, highly effective. The head-up display also works incredibly well, giving clear information relating to gear selection, speed and revs (and how many revs can be used at the current engine temperature) that allows the driver to never take his eyes off the road.

Tell me about that V10...

At five litres from ten cylinders it strikes the ideal capacity of 500cc per cylinder – good for power, great for refinement. But prod the start button (fumble around for the key slot, grope about for the start/stop button behind the steering wheel) and it erupts into a deep, busy, rattly idle. At cruising speed it’s incredibly refined and flexible, while delivering a progressively intense adrenaline hit towards the 7750rpm power peak. It’s business as usual for the M-Division: you think you’re going fast at 6000rpm – then the fireworks start!

On start up the M5 defaults to a setting with less power and a mushier throttle response – and the Power button is something you’ll constantly forget to press. Why not have the full power setting as the de-fault mode while mushy throttle pedal mode could be selected – and remains selected even after you’ve knocked the engine off – for those moments when a less experienced relative/mechanic/valet gets the keys?

Click 'Next' below to read more of our BMW M5 first drive

Let me guess, the ride’s a disappointment?

It isn’t. The M5 is Jaguar-like in its compliance, absorbing secondary imperfections and having enough damper travel to scoot over crests without feeling choppy. The M-Division’s reluctance to use run-flat tyres no doubt helps here.

BMW supplies every M5 with three-stage electronic damping. It’s controllable via a button next to the gear stick. The hardest setting is suitable only for smooth race tracks as it leaves the ride choppier and more reactive to imperfect road surfaces – driving fast feels more chaotic. The middle setting, naturally, strikes a middle ground and one that’s probably well-suited to the harsher surfacing of a track like the Nurburgring. But you know what? You’ll get on just fine if you never press it.

Grip is also incredibly high in the wet or dry – particularly from the reassuring front end – while the tail will wag playfully and benignly if you knock off the surprisingly simple one-stage traction control. The brakes are perfectly fine for road use, but they are a bit of a weak link: a little soft in their initial feel and never really offering the kind of robust feedback that inspires true confidence.

The steering is meaty the second you turn it off centre with a hefty feedback building progressively from then on. The helm feels much more communicative than the E90 M3.

I’ll take the manual, please.

No can do. Only North America gets a manual. The rest of the world makes do with the SMG instead – a single clutch, semi-auto sequential gearbox.

We’ve driving the M5 after experiencing the brilliant automated manual in the Ferrari Scuderia and the Nissan GT-R’s super-quick double-clutch system. So it’s understandable that the M5 – first revealed back in 2004 – feels a little ponderous, particularly at lesser throttle openings. In fact, this gearbox is overly complex. It offers either auto or manual modes, both being independently tailored by a five-stage shift-speed gadget positioned behind the gear lever – ie you can set auto to stage three and manual to five and switch between the two without cancelling either mode’s shift speed.

In auto, detecting differences between neighbouring settings is incredibly difficult but, ultimately, one is ridiculously slow and five is a bit frenetic, holding onto low gears when all you want to do is cruise through town. I found the best compromise between modes three and four, but even then would end up overriding it with a pull on the manual paddle – at which point the M5 defaults to manual mode. What’s wrong with one decent drive mode with a sport option like every other normal auto?

Click 'Next' below to read more our verdict on the BMW M5

And manual mode?

The manual mode is great, the gears selectable on either the gear stick (push forwards to drop down a gear, pull back to go up) or the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Setting five isn’t as explosively aggressive as the BMW M6 meaning it feels perfectly acceptable to leave in this top setting. No, it’s not as quick as the Ferrari or the GT-R, but it never feels lacking when you’re charging hard.

There are a couple more niggles, however: firstly, you can turn the car off while in drive, but you can’t start it again – you have to select neutral. Secondly, it’s a bit shunty at low speed, lurching during delicate parking manoeuvres.

Is it really a practical everyday car?

Absolutely. We’ve mentioned how compliant the ride is and how cosseting the seats are and there’s also plenty of head- and leg-room in the back (the latter helped by sculpted backs on the front seats). It’s not quite as have-a-wander-around huge as the Vauxhall VXR8, but you’ll easily transport four 6’4” bouncers in total comfort.

The boot is huge with 500 litres of space, though the Touring model naturally offers more should you need it.

Verdict

The M5 is one of the very best all-round cars money can buy. It’s entertaining, comfortable, practical and imposingly prestigious with an engine that could have been ripped from the heart of a supercar. Despite being incredibly similar, it’s also a better buy than the BMW M6 – it’s cheaper, more practical, rides better and has meatier steering.

After a week with the M5 we didn’t want to hand back the keys. Only the excessive gadgetry prevents it from scoring five stars. What, we wonder, would the manual be like?

If you’ve driven a manula BMW M5, let us know by posting a comment. Just click the 'Add your comment' button below.

Specs

Price when new: £65,890
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 4999cc 40v V10, 500bhp @ 7750rpm, 384lb ft @ 6100rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed semi-auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 19.6mpg, 344g/km C02
Weight / material: 1830kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4855/1846/1469

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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