V10 Mayhem : BMW M5 (E60) [review]

Car Specifications
4999cc, naturally-aspirated
Cylinder Layout: 
V10, 40-valves Dual Vanos, DOHC
Top Speed: 
250 km/h (electronically limited)
7-speed SMG III
4.7 seconds
507 bhp at 7750 rpm
520 Nm at 6100 rpm

The BMW M5 treads upon the hallowed ground once the sole domain of cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. Few are the enthusiasts who have not heard of the legendary BMW M5.

While it may not be BMW’s best selling 5 Series, it is arguably BMW’s most iconic model as the M5 casts a halo effect over BMW’s entire range of cars. Although not new, the existence of the M5 implies that all BMWs share the same sporting DNA and those who own BMWs understand this.

BMW’s Motorsport department, known as M GmbH, is a semi autonomous department that develops and implements performance technology in their Motorsport program and more importantly in BMW’s “M” models like the M3, M Roadster, M5 and a soon-to-be released M6.

While they used to modify and shoehorn proper race engines into already finished standard models, today the process is far more sophisticated being involved at the earliest development stages, ensuring that the engines, transmissions and suspensions they develop will have sufficient space to fit into the body of the 5 series coming directly off the production line as complete M5s.

It is clear that the M5 or for that matter M3 is no longer a product handed over for modification to the M department after it comes off the production line. The engineers at M department would have already developed the basic power train packages for the cars long before their introduction.

Occasionally their independence is highlighted when they prefer to use their own systems in preference to what the BMW engineers have developed. Case in point is the variable ratio Active Steer system.

At first glance one would assume that it adopts the original system developed and heralded by most as a great achievement. But the Motorsport division did not want the active system and chose a passive, purely mechanical system with an increasing ratio that builds up as one turns the steering away from center. That it provides a more direct and natural feel is self evident though not immediately.

While the first generation M5 was fitted with a race derived 3.5L 286 bhp engine from the famous M1 coupe, the next two generations of M5s were more like high-powered versions of the 5 Series.

This fourth generation M5 offers a tenuous link with Formula 1 racing with the exclusive use of the 507 bhp 5L V10 engine, though we hear it will also soon appear in the all new M6. Noteworthy is that the V10 sounds like a muted, neutered version of the brand's Formula 1 racing engine.

Why didn't the M-division use a reworked 4.5L V8? Why go to the added expanse of a new engine? The M engineers like the idea of cylinder capacities being around the so-called ideal of 500cc each and with a V10 they can draw a tenuous link with their Formula One involvement.

Though a power output of 507 bhp would have been a mighty engine during the pre-turbo era it is somewhat short of the 8-900 bhp they are getting from 3L F-1 engines today. However it does have a similar metallic off-beat V10 scream that is more tenor than falsetto and a lot less painful on the ears. Even the redline is remarkable at 8000 rpm and offers a very efficient torque peak of 520 Nm with both figures beating the benchmark of 100 Nm or bhp per litre.

Coupled to the brand's latest 7-Speed SMG III (Sequential Motorsport Gearbox), the 507 bhp V10 can accelerate to 100 km/h in a scant 4.7 seconds, as fast as some supercars. Although top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h, BMW arranged for an airfield where we could safely drive right up to the cut-off point, which was an indicated 270 km/h.

It should be said that the M5 is certainly capable of a claimed 330 km/h if were it not electronically limited. The SMG is BMW’s version of the trend started by Ferrari where a manual transmission is turned into a semi-automated robotised transmission with shifting via activation of two paddle switches mounted just behind the steering wheel and not by the usual gear stick.

The new SMG III is a superb party piece that has incredibly short shift times of 65ms shading even Ferrari’s efforts. The corollary of this speedy shift is the fact that the pause between gears is very palatable indeed.

Even at 250ms which is fast, one notices a bothersome pause, at 150ms it is pretty good being almost acceptable but at 65ms it is excellent. Of course F-1 shifting at below 25ms would even be better, the M engineers reminded us that this car had to last more than just a 800 km race.

Certainly from the driver’s point of view it is the ideal shifting mechanism, leaving one to concentrate on the road ahead as this car is capable of warp speeds in mere seconds. To help keep one’s eyes on the road, BMW is borrowing from the aerospace industry what is known as a “heads-up” display. It is a projected image of vehicle information onto the windshield just below one’s direct field of view so there is no need to look down at the traditional instruments for vital information.

The engine, transmission and M-tuned chassis make the M5 one of the finest high speed autobahn assault vehicles there is today. Its suspension has three EDC (electronic damper control) settings that are perfectly suited for town use, mountain or country road use and autobahn use.

In town choose the lowest or softest setting, on the autobahn the middle setting works best and on the track or carving up meandering roads, the highest setting is perfect. Both the ride and handling characteristics make a quantum leap from its staidly 5 series sibling, offering confident, precision high-speed handling on huge 19-inch wheels.

photos by Max Kirchbauer

Body: Four-door steel monocoque design
Engine: 4999cc, V10, Dual VANOS
Max Power: 507 bhp @ 7750 rpm
Max Torque: 520 Nm @ 6100 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed SMG III
Steering: Rack and pinion with Servotronic, mechanical Vario-ratio rack
Brakes: Ventilated Floating disc design
Suspension: Double-joint McPherson Strut in front and McPherson Strut with integral axle, Electronic Damper control
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h electronically limited
Fuel Consumption: 14.8 L/100km in combined mode

While it is mainly a German phenomenon where they attempt to hide powerful cars under a cloak of anonymity, these M-cars are very much sought after for those in the know. They may have made the M5 out of an everyday saloon like the 5 Series but has also given it the ability to challenge cars like the 911. Some would say it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing but we think its more like Carl Lewis in a Hugo Boss suit. AL
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