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Car reviews - BMW - 5 Series - M5 sedan

Launch Story

BMW logo20 Oct 2006

By CHRIS HARRIS

BMW's redesigned M5 super-sedan has arrived on sale in Australia, complete with 373kW of 5.0-litre V10 muscle. Revving to 8250rpm and weighing just 1kg more than the similar-capacity V8 that propelled its predecessor, the new V10 is a masterpiece of modern automotive engineering. Combined with BMW's new-generation seven-speed sequential manual transmission, it allows the E60 M5 to achieve blistering new yardsticks in terms of both acceleration and speed. Of course, an electronic speed-limiter restricts top-speed to 250km/h, but the 330km/h speedo is evidence of the new M5's potential velocity if it were unleashed. Combine this performance with the luxury and practicality of a large four-door sedan costing $226,000, and the latest M5 is guaranteed to be as popular as the venerable (and $30,000 cheaper!) E39 it replaces. But does it have the character and user-friendliness of its V8 forebear, or the poise, precision and animalistic attitude of its M3 coupe stablemate?

We like:
Prodigious power and torque, astounding performance envelope, engine flexibility, supreme driveability, braking performance, chassis balance, handling, grip, five-adult accommodation, equipment levels, safety features, subtle styling

We don't like:
Requires smooth throttle inputs in the wet, no conventional manual transmission option, lacks forebear's V8 exhaust note, doesn't feel as strong as the E39 right from idle, $88,000 more expensive than M3

Our opinion:
THERE are just three E60 BMW M5s in Australia and all three were on duty at Sandown racetrack on Monday, June 20.

If ever a sedan was at home on a track it is this one. And as if to put the whole exercise into some kind of perspective, BMW Australia also had on hand a pair of M3s with the $11K racing options pack.

Two advanced driving instructors, one of them being Allan George Moffat, were charged with keeping things under control.

Most standard production cars feel slow when exposed to a racetrack, especially one like Sandown with two long straights. The M5 exception proves the rule.

Given its V10 head up the back straight, this luxurious hotrod was showing 210km/h by the time we closed on the tail of Moffat's M3 some 250 metres short of the downhill left corner.

A clearer run saw a readout of 210 but again the driver braked earlier than necessary, wary of life, limb and the scarcity of E60 M5s in Australia. Down the front straight, an indicated 240km/h would be a probability.

Moffat was keen to remind us that V8 Supercars reach 280 on the same stretch, which gives an interesting insight into the M5's performance status. The overworked adjective 'awesome' is appropriate.

How much quicker is this car than its smaller M3 sibling? Put it this way. You come out of the second gear corner onto the back straight maybe 100 metres behind a sprinting M3 and you've grabbed it all back before the top of the hill.

At an indicated 200km/h you're still accelerating strongly, and you can get there in 15 seconds from rest. Drive the car on its tamest engine map setting (400 horsepower instead of 500-plus), and performance feels about the same as the M3, at least up to about 160km/h, where the bigger car would probably edge ahead.

Predictably the brakes are up to the job, although not as good as those fitted to the special M3. The M5 feels just a little soft but is well balanced front to rear. Only an overdose of throttle or too-high corner entry speed will make it push wide.

Forget oil surge as you bounce this supercar over the ripple strips, and heft its 1755kg mass this way, then sharply the opposite way, because there are no fewer than four oil pumps to keep things lubricated.

Simultaneously active seat bolsters work to keep the driver supported - it's a weird feeling at first, but you soon become accustomed to it.

As the afternoon powered on, rain drifted in and oversteer was always on the cards, especially with the sports settings for engine, transmission and suspension deployed.

One colleague had occasion to remember that even an M5 cannot overwhelm the laws of physics. Smooth throttle inputs in low gears are essential, especially when the track (or road) is damp.

The V10 engine sounds almost like a frantic motorcycle at high rpm, has great torque right through the range, although it perhaps gives a little away to a similarly powerful V8 down low, and is a complete joy.

You quickly get used to working through the seven speed SMG gearbox via the steering wheel paddles (or the central selector) but some of us still yearn for a clutch pedal, a conventional gearshift and some judicious heel-toeing.

Where would you locate the seven speeds, the BMW people ask, and of course they're right, but old habits die hard.

And if you can't rustle up $226K, how about $150K for the optioned M3?

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