Thursday, 22 March 2007

Driven: Exhilarating E60 BMW M5

By Dr Long

Sitting there in a parking lot of Auto Bavaria (AB) Glenmarie, Malaysia, the Silverstone II metallic paint on this BMW shimmered in the morning sun. Looking unassuming like any other regular 5-series, its wide sculpted body was suspended on massive 19” ten-spoke M-alloys wrapped in 245/45 (front) and 285/40 (rear) Continentals. The definitive give away signs - but still subtle - are the enlarged front apron, prominent side skirts, the rear diffuser, flaps and twin dual exhaust tailpipes plus of course, the trademark M-badged gills on the front wings.

Somehow, the availability of the 525i M-Sport and those after-market M-kits et al (pseudo or otherwise) diluted the wow-factor of this real McCoy. In other words, this super performance E60 is even more understated when it comes to grabbing your visual attention. Yes, it was all looking calm and serene at AB’s car yard until now.

That is…until you fire up the fabulous sounding motor. Being a 2006 model that was indented via BMW Malaysia without the fanciful Comfort Access feature, the engine was roused alive at the twist of its regular ignition key. Not extremely menacing yet since the engine was running cold. Rumbling was somewhat harsh but it was still intoxicating to blip the throttle…repeatedly!

After all, this isn’t just another engine but an F1-inspired V10 displacing 4,999cc. The heart – air intake cover looks very much like two pulmonary vessels connected to both cardiac chambers - of this E60 M5 beats with a maximum torque of 520Nm @ 6,100rpm! It normally kicks out ‘only’ 400bhp but with the magic push of an M button, a massive surge of 507bhp is at your command!

The SMGIII gear lever looked much like a gaming joystick and flicking it into ‘D’ was not unlike my last experience in a smart roadster. Stepping on the accelerator and out of AB’s premise was quite a lunging experience, with a little initial judder at the wheels due to the robotised automatic clutch catching on the initial torque. Man! The power delivery was simply overwhelming as we pulled away onto the main road. The guttural roar of the engine is akin to any pedigree supercar, with that exhaust note just so heavenly sounding. Something not remotely replicated by any of those loud but rowdy-sounding Sunway shops mod mufflers. Even leaving the ‘box to its own devices the car is still urgent, raring to go at a moment’s notice or the slightest gas pedal pressure.

Going on to the highway, even in ‘normal’ power setting this super saloon exhibited sheer linear acceleration that can only be had with that high-revving V10 breathing air at atmospheric pressure. Not a moment sooner, our AB chaperone ushered the M5 into ‘monster’ mode (by having me pushed the M Dynamic Mode button on the steering wheel) and into a full bore manic 507bhp. You could really feel the speed demon transformation as it now feels like piloting a jet on wheels. Even more so like a fighter jet, when the Head-up Display projected essential performance information on to the windscreen, right into the driver’s field of vision. And beautifully, these are not visible to your girlfriend, wife or mother-in-law! The colour-coded engine rev band shows the current selected gear and the road speed at any given moment but it’s the Shift Light Function that impressed me which, as in Formula One, signals when the optimum shift point has been reached.

As anticipated, the M5 breached national highway speed limits in a wink and can easily zip to twice that velocity in the same time required for all other normal cars to reach the century. Yup, it was that rapid and awesome! Unbelievably, all this was done in reasonable comfort and composure for all occupants in the test car. With the SMG Drivelogic function offering up to 11 pre-programmed shift modes, we found the sharpest one able to give us 5.33sec to 100km/h. Even though still single-clutched, upshifts were incredibly crisp and quick, maybe even a tad faster than the magnificent DSG of Audi-VW group (Golf GTI). In fact, the powerband of the M5 is so wide and fat, I was able to hit 110km/h by just one upshift into second gear! And those adequately-sized metallic paddle shifters were just fabulous.

Changing the SMG Drivelogic also brings about a swap in Electronic Damper Control (EDC) of the M chassis. This is where it gets tricky because any inappropriate (comfort) setting could give you a wrong feel of its highly tuned but variable chassis dynamics. I was hitting very near the common teutonic-makes-self-governed-speed-limit once and I felt the whole four corners getting jittery. Everything else was good but I felt the suspension buckling under pressure and started to behave nervously. Naturally, softer damper settings also mean lesser cornering stability. It’s no exception here. In the right setting though, the M5 tracks those motorway sweeping corners more faithful than ever, at speeds you’ve never imagined able to do so confidently. In addition, those active bolsters (which kept slapping my flabby flanks!) of the driver’s seat makes sure you stay snugged and nicely planted - especially around bends - in your seat! Oh so lovely. Having said that, I must add that the M5 isn't as agile or nimble as say, a 525i M-Sport, seeing that it has over-bearing weight penalty of a massive V10 block plus its paraphernalia (despite BMW's famed 50:50 weight distribution) and those squatting wide tyres.

After toying with almost all of the 11 M drive programs, we have grown to love the meanest setting of the SMG Drivelogic (plus EDC) but then when you hit rough concrete ‘track’ on approaching toll plazas, be sure that you - or your passengers - don’t have any loose dental fillings or artificial dentures!

Surprisingly, being a full-fledged M division BMW, the absence of active steering wasn’t missed by any of us. Truth is, the steering was pleasantly light at parking speed, full of feel and yet weighty and confident at warp speed. That’s what BMW has found near-perfection, more so with the M engineers input. Brakes are of course no issue here, seeing that this is a super performance saloon capable of 330km/h if fully unleashed with the limiter thrown out and allowing the ECU full freedom to roam. I can’t say how high the M5 topped-out but let’s just say it’s wickedly quick and the fastest I have ever done in any car. Let’s just say now we need the likes of Porsche 911 Turbo or a Ferrari F430 to serve beyond that level of Vmax.

In conclusion, the E60 M5 is at the same time a discreet, super fast and unostentiously elegant executive saloon for driving from one business meeting to the next. It is also a high-tech driving machine with M racing genes. At near-RM900K a pop, this is one Ultimate Driving Machine exuding Sheer Driving Pleasure that you’d rather be in the driver’s seat than at the back.

A sincere word of thanks is due to Mr Thirumurugan and Suresh Dorai of Auto Bavaria Glenmarie for their extended courtesies.


BMW.Toyota said...

Wish i can drive one.... I am intrigued by the displays on the windscreen. I have read about this but have always thought these are fictions. So high tech ah. Sigh.

drlong said...

Yup! The head-up display works fine...even in mid-day sun! A great idea implemented to save the driver from distractions of reading the meters, esp at high speed, which can be dangerous.

Paul Tan said...

the HUD works really well with the GPS as well, with GPS directions projected on the screen.

drlong said...


Thanks for sharing that bit of info. In the demo M5, the Sat-Nav map was displayed on the centre screen of the dashboard. Didn't pay much attention to it...was too busy gripping the M-steering wheel real tight and listening to the V10 roar!