by: Mike Ginsca
While this is a car that has already been replaced with a newer generation (you can read the review of the 2013 BMW M5 here), this particular BMW M5 had one option fitted to it that few other M5’s have. That option is a 6-speed manual transmission.
Performance – While the option of having a 6-speed manual transmission may not seem like a big deal to most, to those that are passionate about cars will view this car as a “unicorn car” due to its rarity. A vast majority of V10 powered BMW M5s have always been sold with the awful 7-speed automated manual transmission. That automated manual transmission was always slow and jerky regardless of the driving environment. You always got the feeling that a 16 year old was in charge of shifting but it was their first time ever learning to do so. That transmission ruined the driving experience of what is an overall great car. Thankfully the 6-speed manual is not controlled by a computer but rather your right hand and left foot. The clutch pedal is surprisingly light when you consider that the clutch has to hold back 507hp and 383 lb-ft of torque from the V10 engine. You can also clearly feel the bite point of the clutch pedal when the clutch disc begins to make contact with the flywheel and start moving the car. Setting off from a stop on a hill is a breeze in the BMW M5 because it is fitted with hill start assist which holds the brakes preventing the car from rolling backwards even when your foot is off the brake pedal. Shifting through the gears on the move can be silky smooth if you have a lot of experience driving manual vehicles but the gear shifter can sometimes feel a bit notchy between certain gears if you don’t get it just right. In the hands of someone with experience of driving a manual transmission, the 6-speed manual is far better than the 7-speed automated manual and it is a shame that not more of these 6-speed equipped BMW M5s exist in the world.
As for the rest of the car, it is just about a perfect all-round vehicle for any occasion. The 507hp V10 engine is smooth and makes a noise at its 8,250rpm redline that is intoxicating to anyone’s ears. The only downfall of the engine is that it is very thirsty. At 21.0 L/100km in a city and 13.8 L/100km on a highway, it’s not exactly what one would call an economical vehicle. But at least on those long highway drives you’ll be in complete comfort because the M5’s suspension can be adjusted at the touch of a button for comfort or sportiness. The Electronic Damper Control (EDC) system has a choice of three settings from which the driver can choose and in its firmest setting, the dampers do a good job of limiting the 4000lb body from excessively rolling through corners. The steering feel however is not quite on par with other BMW M cars. It is better than most other “super sedans” from the same era but it doesn’t feel as communicative as that of its little brother, the BMW M3. There is just a bit too much steering assist which makes it feel numb but the reason for that is because it makes the car easier to drive around city streets which is where a car like this will spend most of its time.
Comfort – Being based on a 5-series, the M5 is already fitted with the best quality materials that money can buy. Leather upholstery comes standard across all seating surfaces and the steering wheel features stitching that is colour coordinated with the colours of the “M-badge”. The front seats are infinitely adjustable for the driver’s and passenger’s own level of comfort but the active side bolstering can become a distraction in certain crucial situations. In certain corners, the bolsters only move in when you’re mid-way through the corner which may cause you to momentarily lose your focus from the task of driving. Best thing to do is to set the active bolsters to your own preferred setting and leave them there so that they don’t move. In the back, passengers don’t have heavily bolstered seats but adults can comfortably sit there for longer journeys.
One significant improvement of the BMW M5 is the updated BMW iDrive system. Older versions of BMW’s infotainment system had cluttered menus and only one rotary knob to navigate through the system. The new system is more organized and while it still utilizes a rotary knob to scroll through the menus, there are also physical buttons situated around the knob on the center console for quick select items such as satellite navigation or audio controls. The system may take some time for some to get used to but it is a much needed and welcomed improvement over the older iDrive system.
Odds and Ends – It is amazing how something as simple as a transmission can make a good car into a great car. The jerkiness of the 7-speed automated manual is something that you can get used to over time but in the back of your mind you just can’t shake the feeling that it could be better. That’s where the 6-speed manual shines. It lets you be in control of how the car feels and drives. Unfortunately these days, more and more manufacturers are moving away from manual transmissions in favor of automatic or dual clutch transmissions for their speed and smoothness of shifting. It also means that more people would be able to drive them which in turn means more money for the manufacturers. These new transmissions don’t involve the driver as much as manual transmission vehicles do and the skill of shifting is becoming a lost art. Only gear heads will know how unique and rare this manual V10 BMW M5 really is.
Thank you to Autoform Performance Inc. for providing the car.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.