Doesn’t it make you feel good when a big company listens to your feedback and makes a major product change? Well that’s how I have to interpret the fact that with the 2008 model, BMW now offers a plain and simple six-speed manual transmission in its killer M5 sedan.
For those who like to play with technology, the Sequential Manual Gearbox is still offered.
When I drove the M5 a year or two ago, standard equipment was the ludicrously high-tech seven-speed SMG. As for control of mechanical components, the complexity of the transmission interface was a testament to the engineering mind. The sequential gearbox offers 11 computer shift maps that manage the engine speed and the quickness of the gear change. Five of these programs can be chosen in the automatic mode and six under manual operation.
In actual operation, I found the fastest settings to be somewhat harsh or abrupt under some conditions. On the other hand, the slowest setting seemed as if the transmission case was filled with molasses. While a good driver cannot shift as quickly as a sequential manual, I think he or she could make a gear change more smoothly.
So this time behind the wheel of the M5, I took the plain and simple route to automotive satisfaction. I thought of the M5 as a sports car with four doors. I completely, well almost, ignored BMW’s complex iDrive and all of the hundreds of settings that the driver can make to tune the car’s performance.
And what an experience.
The M5 is equipped with a special suspension, compound, cross-ventilated brakes, extra-wide, 19-inch wheels and high-performance tires, and an unprecedented number of electronic controls.
The body is tricked out with modified front and rear aerodynamic tweaks, special M “gills” behind the front wheel arches, a slightly lower stance and four tailpipes. If nothing else, the size of the tailpipes should tip off the viewer that the M5 is a serious piece of transport.
The M5 features a 500-horsepower, 5.0-liter, V-10 engine. This engine unveils incredible performance. Acceleration registers zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and attains a top speed of 155 mph. In full-launch mode, it will pin you to the seat back.
But just as exciting is the incredible acceleration that is available at any reasonable highway speed. The engine’s responsiveness is thrilling. The negative aspect to the M5 is deplorable gas mileage , 11 miles per gallon in the city and 17 on the highway.
And while the M5’s speed and power are impressive, its handling is as remarkable. No matter how fast I threw it around a corner, I felt I was just dipping into its road holding prowess.
On the road, the M5 is just one of the most satisfying automobiles on the planet, regardless of the number of doors or the layers of technology. Freed from having to consult my inner electrical engineer, I just headed down the road and enjoyed the car’s magnificent engine and flawless handling.
For an ultra-performance automobile, the M5 is extremely refined. The suspension deals with road imperfections the same way the motor deals with speed limits. It seems to ignore them.
The M5 is also very quiet, even at the speeds that one is apt to encounter. BMW has done a great job in making the M5 almost as smooth and quiet as a Lexus.
There is one other element that adds to the overall enjoyment in driving the M5. Our test car was equipped with the ultra-soft $3,500 perforated Merino Leather option. This is the most comfortable seating surface within memory.
Combine this option with the $1,900 multifunction seats and you have perhaps the most comfortable seats on the planet.
My wife was so impressed with the car, the performance and the seats, she actually asked me the price and didn’t flinch a bit when I gave her the answer.
I really believe that if our investment portfolio pans out, she may replace her Acura with an M5. Yet she’s a very cost conscious wife and mother who shops the sales for almost everything; that’s how seductive the M5 actually is.
Cordell Koland died on Oct. 1 after being in poor health for a number of years.
Price as tested: $97,095.
Type: 5.0-liter V-10.
Horsepower: 500 @ 7,750 rpm.
Torque: 383 foot-pounds @ 6,100 rpm.
Fuel economy, automatic transmission:
City: 11 mpg.
Highway: 17 mpg.
Curb weight: 4,012 pounds.