After 600 miles in the 2013 M5, your concept of automotive reality gets bent a little. And it’s not just the enthusiast that’s affected. My three year old daughter (unassisted) proclaimed it “the Machine” after the M5′s third day in the driveway. Then there were the neighbors I hadn’t spoken to in years who made their way over to check out the orange beast. And that’s just due to the car’s presence. Once behind the wheel of the 562 hp “Machine” one starts to lose grip on what is and isn’t possible when exploring the appropriate limits on deserted roads. Something modern fast cars tend to do as they make speed more and more unremarkable. But this particular M5 is different. It wears its soul proudly on its sleeve in the form of the (North American exclusive) six speed manual sitting in the middle of the console. A bit of old school in a sea of technology acronyms. A purposeful flaw in a car designed and engineered to be perfect— and is made all the more loveable for the addition. We’ve done track time in both the DCT and manual previously so with this week-long test we wanted to throw the real world at the M5. Commuting, child-seats (Recaros of course) and even a road trip thrown in for good measure. But our first experience was what this car was made for. I first locked eyes on our Sakhir Orange M5 at the O’Hare valet after stepping off a flight. Its first task? Making use of those 562hp and four doors to transport business colleagues to the office and then out to dinner. Heated seats and supreme comfort all around, the M5 tackled the thick Chicago traffic and driving rainstorm as well as any luxury car could. And when asked, it of course entertained the crowd with a few opposite-lock theatrics. This is the polarity that has defined the M5 since the 80′s E28. Equally effective as executive transport or as track weapon, the M5 has been refined over the past three decades to the point of near perfect. With the 2013 F10M M5, BMW has further refined the concept of a four door sports car into something that feels almost impossible to fault. Until of course you step back and realize that any fault may lie in the perfection itself.
Enter the Manual: Putting the M Back in M5
Let’s get one thing clear. We like the M-DCT transmission in the current M3, M5 and M6. It does everything a modern flappy-paddle gearbox should with quick shifts, matching revs and seven ratios to play with. It’s faster and more efficient than a manual could ever me. Yet we were ecstatic when we managed to snag one of the rare manual M5s BMW had for the press. For one, it’s a dying breed and likely the last time we’ll see a manual offered in an M5. That’s us and not BMW talking. But it’s pretty easy to read between the lines when you realize that this transmission is only being offered in one market and they expect take rates to be decidedly lower than the previous M5. And it makes sense. It’s a flawed piece of technology compared to the M-DCT. It’s flawed because of its connection to the driver. Exactly why I loved it drive after drive. Yet it wasn’t love at first shift. It took a couple of days to gel with the light clutch which, after seven days, still felt at odds with the character of the car. But eventually I did come to terms with it and the sweet shifting six speed (a transmission that’s much less notchy than the one found in the current M3). The engagement point of the clutch was easy to find and power easy to modulate. And the ability to heel to toe, blip the throttle and quickly go from 4th to 3rd, 3rd to 2nd was all there.
With the new M5′s manual, BMW also introduced rev matching on downshift. For example, if you go from 4th to 3rd the engine will blip the throttle to match the revs ensuring a perfect transition from one gear to the next. It’s a cool feature but one that you have to get used to if you’re someone who enjoys doing the dance yourself. The rev-match occurs for all downshifts (and double de-clutch downshifts) from gears 5 to 1, except when SPORT+ engine mode is selected. As M fans know, SPORT+ is where the fun lies but it is now also the “blip it yourself” mode. And yes it’s defeat-able by turing all electronic aids off as well. For more on the manual M5 and its on-track habits, be sure to check out Michael’s review of the car at Laguna Seca.
562 hp of Engine.
We’ve reviewed this engine before in the M5, M6 and the engine it’s based on (the S63) in the X5 and X6 M twins. It’s big, heavy, laden with turbos (inside the “V” no less) and has a massive cooling system to keep it all in check.
But let’s look at some figures to better understand how the complexity of this powerplant creates simplicity on the road.
The all aluminum 4.4L twin scroll twin turbo engine has a 10.0:1 compression ratio to start with. But BMW M wanted a faster revving and more responsive engine while maintaining the incredible drivability of the S63. So they doubled the size of the intercoolers and added Valvetronic. This effectively gives the S63Tü 16 intake throttles.
M went the route of increasing efficiency by 30% rather than upping the power over the S63 in the X5M/X6M. That, coupled with the increased capacity of the now metal fuel tank, has increased range dramatically over the E60 M5.
The Secret Sauce of M
In the previous M5, the variable differential lock was controlled by the speed differential between the drive wheels. Basically a passive system activated by different wheel speeds. With the new M differential the M5 engages the diff proactively by means of an electric motor with downstream transmission and ball ramp. It’s a faster, more efficient system that almost felt like it could see the future in its reflexes. The diff combined with the suspension and general reflexes managed to make the M5 feels smaller than it is. And it seemed to shrink the more and more I pushed it. But crucially it also felt completely toss-able even at low-speeds – not something many a 4,354 lbs car can achieve. Oh and you can lay down some serious black marks as well. But all the smokey burn-outs in the world can only get you so far. Eventually you will find yourself in the twisties. Here the M5 delivers in spite of its 200 lbs weight gain over the previous car. Unlike the E60, the F10M isn’t dominated by an engine. It’s much more like the E39 in that it feels like the sum of fantastic ingredients.
First we start with a steering that is communicative, thanks to being hydraulic rather than electronic like the series production car. Naturally we’re not talking E28 or even E39 levels of communication. But when pushed, the F10M will subtly shrink around you. Whether it’s hustling through traffic or around a corner at a track the M5 will allow you to place it in a precise fashion with confidence. Compared with other 4,000 lbs super saloons that’s saying something. The suspension is of course variable with three settings. In general I found comfort allowed too much body motion and allowed less information back to the driver. Sport was spot-on for normal roads and Sport + gave up some comfort for a rigid, more controlled experience.
I found the steering (also with three settings) was a bit different. While Sport + gave you a heavier more purposeful resistance, it was the middle setting of Sport that seemed to deliver the right balance between more feel and the right amount of weight. On-center all felt great and neither seemed out of character like the suspension’s comfort mode.
Finally there’s throttle response. Let’s throw comfort out immediately because once you get used to either Sport or Sport + you can modulate your right foot to allow for plenty of comfort as required. The main difference between Sport and Sport + in the real world was that the surprisingly effective “auto blip” of the throttle on downshift isn’t operational on the latter. Call it a gimmick but I grew to love the consistency and predictability of the auto blip and therefore stuck it in Sport during normal driving.
All of this technology of course affects the three primary connection points with the driver; throttle, steering and shifting gears. With the DCT I’m left feeling like I’m a cog in the wheel of the “Machine.” In our manual equipped test car, I felt I was the brains and the muscle behind it all. It’s easy to dismiss the DCT as less than involving but I’m not so sure that’s 100% true. It’s a different kind of involving. The manual brings your focus to a difference level of engagement. There’s more to master. There’s more to solve. And yes, there’s more to worry about. But the satisfaction of getting it wrong, and then right, allowed for a connection with the driving experience and the car that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Perfection That Isn’t Perfect
The M5 (gasp) isn’t perfect. In the US the M5 isn’t available with adjustable side bolsters (the kind I have on my 535ix wagon for God’s sake) and the manual is derived from the 550i’s and thus has a clutch feel that’s put to shame by a $20K MINI. And the elephant in the room (pun intended) is the fact that this is a big car. 4,354 lbs Big. As the 5 Series has grown, the intimacy with road has decreased in the M5. Yet the M5 delivers in all the ways it has since the E28. It provides the ultimate fast sedan experience by bridging the gap of racetrack to office better than any car I’ve ever driven. It can do opulent almost as well as it can hoon. In the real world this is a car that feels utterly invincible and yes, machine like. It may not deliver the pure M experience of a 1M or M3. But it does deliver on its promise to be the best sports sedan on the planet if you want driver involvement and real feedback to go along with the expected healthy dose of speed. We’ve confirmed it on the track and now we can confirm on the road. The “Machine” is still king.