On Monday, my wife and I picked up our new "Beast" - a Silver-Gray / Black Perforated / Walnut M5. We live in Pennsylvania, but our local dealer couldn't get an M5 for us until MAYBE September '06, so we bought one from BMW Gallery in Norwell MA. We drove our trade-in (a 2000 MB E320 4Matic) up, stayed a couple of days with my son in Buzzards Bay, and drove the Beast back on Wednesday.
Forgive the long-winded post but I know how much I enjoyed reading initial impressions when I was “on the fence” about buying one – hope this pushes others “over the edge” too. I don’t want to be the only one this broke but having this much fun!
At the Dealer
My wife still can't believe I bought this car without having ever driven it until we owned it. Had to explain a bit about the current climate of M5 availability and scarcity of demo cars and I think she now understands. Couldn't have been more pleased with the delivery process. CA took plenty of time going over the car and the important points, setting up some basics in I-Drive and showing me what's there; felt a lot more comfortable with I-Drive though it's still a little bit daunting to me. I note that the I-Drive knob on my car is different than any other I’ve seen in pics – not a ribbed plastic piece but actually a turned solid aluminum knob (see pics of it in my gallery) – not sure how it found its way onto my car but if this is the new style from BMW it’s a BIG improvement over the other knob. Dealer assures me that this car has the new VANOS hose - hope they're right and I think they are – the VIN is higher than the posted “list”.
The first leg of the trip
Started out with a full tank of gas and 1.0L of oil - drove 40 miles to my son's place where we all had to ogle the car, and of course my son HAD to test drive it. Car performed flawlessly.
The next day the weather was horrible - about 4" of wet heavy snow, high winds, and rain; my son got out of work early because the roads were so bad. I ventured out briefly to the BX (my son lives on the military base) and I figured there would be no safer place to see just how bad summer tires are in snow; I was astonished to find that it was really very good. DSC kicked on briefly backing out of the drive, but other than that the car just dug through the slush with solid braking and no traction issues at all. Of course I was gentle with the throttle, but this exceeded all expectations. Never the less, Blizzaks on 18" rims wait back in PA - but I've got to make drive back on the summer tires so we watch weather reports very closely.
The second leg of the trip
The weather looked pretty good for Wednesday so we left Buzzards Bay about 8:00AM. Got 4 blocks and realized I'd left my camera back at my son's, so back we went. I left the car running while I went to get the camera, and as I walked around the car got a good sense of the M5 at idle - I have to admit that I now understand Jeremy Clarkson's tongue-in-cheek characterization that the M5 at idle sounds like a diesel. Unless you’re near the exhausts, the engine itself sounds a bit like a diesel - lots of mechanical noises - but it sounds purposeful - in a perverted sort of way I really like it. There's no mistaking that there's a lot of engine under the hood, and that it's unique. If your yardstick is that the engine of a luxury sedan should make only a subdued whisper at idle this will disappoint – if your yardstick is that a Formula 1 derived V10 should sound exotic you’ll be pleased with the sounds. If your friends wrinkle up their noses when they hear the car at idle, tell them it’s a racing engine – what do they know? It’s pretty much the truth anyway . . .
Set up some self-discipline for the trip - NO cruise-control, vary speeds as much as reasonable considering I was in highway traffic all the way, but make up for this by changing gears every couple of minutes - some 7th, some 6th, some 5th, even a few bursts of 4th. Nothing over about 5200RPM and only moderate throttle.
By the time we reach the Mass Pike we were down to under 1/2 tank of gas and showing .8L of oil; we stopped for fuel and coffee. Left the rest area with a full tank and a full cup of coffee sitting snugly in the cup holders (they really work). A couple of miles down the road cruising at about 75 in 7th gear I heard a growl from a car passing me - I have to admit it sounded pretty good - and saw a white CL55 doing about 100 - he down-shifted right along aside me as he went by and he obviously wanted to play. My first thoughts were of the M button and mashing the throttle; my second thoughts were of less than 150 miles on the odometer, broken valve springs, warrantee problems, and how much the ticket would be if we got caught. Second thoughts prevailed and we watched him disappear - quickly. My wife still can't get over the experience - I think she would have liked to see what might have happened if the Beast wasn't brand new and I wasn’t a wimp.
The rest of the drive was enjoyable but uneventful (saw a riced up WRX at the interchange in Albany but he went the other way) - I'll separate the impressions I developed about the car by grouping them according to arbitrary categories.
Steering & Handling
The handling at any speed is razor sharp and precise. This does NOT feel like a 4,000LB car - it feels more like a go-kart - light and nimble with extremely precise steering - this thing goes exactly where you point it - in this regard like Porsches I've had. No matter how hard you corner (given tires not broken in so common sense prevails) the car thumbs its nose at you and says “Is that all you’ve got?” Tramlining on the rain grooves on 88 South from Albany was almost non-existent – much less that our E90 325xi on run-flat Turanzas on the same road a week before. Unlike the E320 which always required a lot of concentration and gentle pressure on the wheel to keep it from zigzagging down the Interstate, the M5 just goes where you put the wheel and tracks straight and true.
Played with the different EDC settings - really makes a difference. The Comfort setting gives a plush ride quality - perhaps best suited to smooth roads as it feels a little under-damped if there's much in the way of real bumps - it's comfortable and a bit softer than our 325Xi, a bit firmer than the E320. Normal setting is firmer but seems ideally damped for the sort of bumps you're going to encounter on a Northeastern Interstate this time of year. Actually a more comfortable ride because in Normal mode the car just takes the bump and settles; I found I always ended up back in Normal mode whenever I experimented with any other setting. Sport mode is really firm - just what you'd want for track or spirited driving but perhaps a bit much for a daily diet. But that's really what the M5 is all about - the settings may seem complicated, but they allow the car to "morph" with your mood so you can dial in just how you want it to perform. My final take on ride is that the M5 wins on all counts – and EDC is what makes it a winner.
Seating and comfort
After adjusting the seats the first day, I never touched them afterwards. They (full perforated M seats) are easily the most comfortable car seats I've ever sat in - I never got stiff or had to move around to get comfortable. The heater and air distribution kept us warm and comfortable with just the right balance of temperatures floor to roof - the CA had tweaked this for me before we left and it was spot on. The M5 is easily the most comfortable car on a trip that I’ve ever driven.
Fit & Finish
I’m pretty hard to satisfy in this regard – I tend to think that everything should be absolutely perfect to the naked eye and even under magnification. I could pick nits and point out a stitch or two in the all leather interior that is slightly out of position, but this car is beautifully built – much more like the interior of a fine yacht than what you’re likely familiar with in the automotive world. Materials are first rate and so is the workmanship – the full leather interior sets this car worlds apart from most anything I’ve ever seen in an automobile. The body is tight – no rattles or squeaks even in EDC sport mode – other than your teeth of course. I think the leather is a little loose on the seat bottoms but I really haven’t seen the often talked about wrinkle - for now I’m not concerned but I’ll watch this and raise the issue if I think it needs to be raised.
Audio & Communications
Out on the road you don't hear the mechanical sounds from under the hood, you hear the exhaust of the V10 - and it's a symphony of its own. The engine blips when you downshift are intoxicating – RPMs seem to jump immediately when the ECU blips the throttle, and the note you hear from the cockpit under even moderate throttle is special – none of the videos or sound bites I’ve heard do it justice. Really made me want to downshift alongside a CL55 the next time I see one – turnabout IS fair play. In this car I might just turn off the audio system and listen to the engine – it’s that sweet.
The Logic7 sound system is equally impressive. I like my music quite loud and will probably have to reserve final judgment until I drive alone without my wife, but I was really impressed with it. Listened to CDs and SAT on the way home – didn’t realize what a treat the satellite radio is (the last trip to MA was in the 325xi and it has SAT) until we drove the E320 up and it DOESN’T have SAT. Also, the integration with my phone (I've had a Motorola V3 for about a year) is perfect. Incoming calls ring through the car, outgoing can be dialed from I-Drive and it shows my entire phone book - just brilliant.
Wow. If all there was to an M5 was this V10, it could be enough - but of course there's a LOT more than just the engine. A bit rough at idle on a cold start, it quickly settles down to a smooth gentle purr as oil temperature comes up - until you step on the accelerator and the purr becomes a growl. It's very responsive and willing - REALLY hard to keep under the 5500RPM break-in limit. I can't wait until after the first service and the opportunity to experience P500S in the power band. Though I HATE to “lug” an engine, this one is more than willing and for an engine that really wants high RPMs this is remarkably docile at low speeds – I guess we can thank VANOS for more than just oil puddles on our garage floors.
If what you are after is a luxury sedan which you can use to impress your friends with how smooth the transmission is when it shifts, then don't buy this car - get a 550i or a 750i with a Selectronic gearbox and you'll be happier. The biggest issue with the SMG in D mode is that instead of having a torque converter that can “cover up” when the transmission up shifts at too slow a speed, or is downshifting just when you step on it; the SMG has a mechanical clutch with very solid lockup so it will never be consistently smooth like a Selectronic. I didn’t try D5, but other D modes do take some time to shift – more like the E320 which always seemed to take forever to match engine / transmission speeds on an upshift. At the end of the trip, I put it in D3 and drove it like I would a normal automatic (which is how my wife will drive it) just to see how good / bad it was - and overall I was pretty impressed. It’s very usable even if you make no attempt to help it out. I will probably spend more time in D modes than I would have thought.
In manual mode you begin to understand what SMG is all about, and it’s really cool. I didn’t try S5 or S6 (breaking in) but had a lot of fun in S3 and S4, settling mostly in the S4 default. I felt that it was smoother downshifting if you were doing so to get higher revs for acceleration purposes as opposed to downshifting for engine braking – it seemed to do a better match of RPMs. While the gearbox is clearly sequential and can’t actually shift from 6th to 4th without going through 5th, if you “double tap” the paddle it actually never engages the clutch in 5th – effectively skipping 5th and going right to 4th – useful because at 75MPH or so in 7th you’re under 2500RPM and a LONG way from the powerband so you can skip gears and call up something that’s going to put you in the sweet spot of the engine. Have to keep this in mind for the next CL55 encounter. This “double tap” on the paddle is a LOT of fun too and the sounds are great.
I think one of the reasons I found the trip so enjoyable was the “involvement” in the driving experience because of the SMG. I’m glad I never seriously considered waiting for the 6 speed manual. This is, after all, the transmission the power train was designed to use, and unless the ratios and clutch are right on the 6 speed (which they probably will be) this might not be an easy car to drive smoothly with a full manual gearbox. Also, you’d give up one speed with the manual, and it remains to be seen how BMW will deal with gearbox strength. Reports say that they moved 1st and 2nd gears to the front (strongest) part of the housing which would have dictated a very strange shift pattern if the gearbox was manual but is a non issue with the SMG. In any event, I’m glad I have the car as the original BMW designers envisioned it. I will admit that I still need some time with SMG to get totally used to it.
Initial fuel consumption from the dealer to my son’s place was 12 MPG – about what I expected it to be. We started out at the dealer with 1.0L of oil and after the first 40 miles to my son’s this dropped to .9L. It used another .1L of oil getting from Buzzards Bay to the Mass pike – but after that it stayed at .8L the entire way home – another 500 miles – so it’s obvious that the rings are starting to seat. It still shows .8L after a little local driving. My garage floor is only muddy not oily.
The way I drove on the trip was definitely NOT expected to sip fuel – I spent as much time in 5th or 6th gear on the highway as I did in 7th and expected things to be pretty bad – but each time I checked the mileage it was a little bit better, and at the end of the trip was showing 16.2MPG since the last reset which really is a pretty pleasant surprise. Fuel stops were rather more frequent than I’m used to on this trip, but fill-ups a bit cheaper - the inevitable result of a thirsty engine and a smallish fuel tank. Of course I knew this up front and I’m not complaining about it – just noting it.
Coffee consumption on the trip was above average; more stops for fuel meant more opportunity to get coffee refills but I discovered that my bladder capacity and the M5’s fuel tank capacity were harmonious.
Something I wanted for the shear sex appeal but turns out to be a really useful & convenient option. Touch just forward of the key hole on the driver’s door when you get out and everything locks; grab any door handle and it unlocks. The trunk takes about 3 seconds to open if the car is locked. I took the car to a car wash to get the salt off, and noticed that as I sprayed the car down it had locked itself even though I hadn’t locked it – MUST remember to keep that key fob with me instead of in the car. I did do a test in the garage (after confirming that my wife’s key unlocks the car) by trying to lock the car with the key inside – and it wouldn’t lock – but why take chances. When I got to PA I took the car to a local shop for state inspection and when I handed the keys to the mechanic (carefully supervising all this) he grabs my house key like he was going to try to use that to start the car. I just told him “Forget about which key to use – just put the keys in your pocket and start the car”. Got a perplexed look from him, but of course it worked fine. This is fun.
I really didn’t know what to expect – but sort of felt that real M5s don’t eat quiche and they come with HUD so I was glad it was on mine. I was a bit apprehensive because I’m nearsighted and was concerned that the display reflecting of the windshield would appear too close and hard to focus on. That is NOT the case. It’s lower on the windshield than I had guessed – more in line with something about 15 feet in front of the car so you still have to glance down slightly to see the HUD – but it’s a LOT better than trying to look down at the instruments. For normal driving I reprogrammed it to show speed, nav, cruise and check control messages – and the M button will bring up M mode. After I got home, I read the post about adjusting the HUD and it’s really simple to do - I adjusted it a bit higher to keep the bottom from masking when I slouch in the seat.
An option that I would probably not have ordered if I had the choice, but I find it quite useful – especially pulling into my garage for the first time and realizing I didn’t have a good sense of where the front of the car was and didn’t want to pull in too far and hit my workbench – the PDC showed me just how close I was / wasn’t and turned this into a non-event; I expect I will use this more than I had thought.
Yes – like others report. I’ve experienced one or two differential “clunks” – mostly on a sharp turn after driving over some slushy “stuff”.
A pretty severe grinding noise from the brakes – but this was the first stop after a trip through a car wash and I pretty well drenched the brakes to get the wheels clean so I know they were wet and I had to press pretty hard on the stop. After the first stop, the noise was gone – drilled rotors behind this one.
Only one so far; the driver’s window hits the anti-trapping force limit if you use the express close feature so instead of closing all the way and stopping, it reverses and opens back up. Seems I recall that a 530i I demoed did the same thing; I’ll worry more about this when warmer weather comes – probably have the dealer fix this at the 1200 mile service.
I bought this not as a weekend car but as a daily driver, and though there haven’t been many days at home and I haven’t had to do too much driving I can tell that it will not disappoint in this regard. EDC Comfort and D3 work fine around town and I’m only a button / paddle tap away from unleashing the massive potential of the Beast. Put the Blizzaks on 18” rims on when I got back and they fit perfectly and drive great – my finger is healing nicely from where I pinched it putting the socket on the extension thank you for asking. Got a good look at the underneath of the car when I had state inspection done – pretty impressive. I like the way BMW has cleaned up the aerodynamics underneath, and the NACA scoops and massive heat sink on the differential are cool. The next milestone is reaching 1200 miles to get the first service done – like others have reported, the Oil Change warning came on at 700 miles but I know this is premature.
I would not go so far as to say that this is a car for everybody – a couple of things probably keep it from being that. Some might see the limited range / low gas mileage as an issue, others might want the smoothness of Selectronic in a luxury car. Some might even complain that the exhaust is too noisy. Of course the same people who would view these issues as negatives would also fail to appreciate the tremendous performance and handling of this car. This is a car that offers luxury for the Walter Mitty in us and performance for the Mario Andretti in us. Every engineering feat involves compromise somewhere – BMW has done a stunning job of not only keeping those compromises from intruding on the driving experience, but enhancing it.
Very nice review. You're smart to put the Blizzaks on. I suspect your experience in the 'slushy stuff' with summer tires wasn't really representative because of the temperature. The main problem with the summer tires is the rubber compound is hard as a rock at below freezing temperatures. You'll be glad you have the Blizzaks.
You won't believe this but i bought my silverstone M5 from the same dealer (Peter Fard was my salesman, excellent guy, this is my 2nd M from him) 2 weeks before you, and had just stopped by at the dealer for the 1200 mi service. I remember seeing your car when they got it and thought how beatuful Silver Grey was (i miss it because i had on the M3 i traded in). Thanks for the pics and enjoy!