Second time around

Having another go at understanding the e60 m5

4y ago

For years, probably too long in all honesty, I had a downer on the E60/E61 generation M5. I'd owned two E39 S62-engined beasts, both rounded, muscular motor cars, and the histrionic, highly-strung, binary E60 somewhat passed me by. Tales of neck-tearing SMG gearboxes (and vacuum wallets as a result of clutch and/or transmission issues) with obstreperous journeys through town put me off, as did miserable fuel economy and unremittingly dull, black interiors in pretty much every used example I looked at.

Then I drove one, properly. On sale from a UK-based specialist, and sampled for a car magazine feature, the E61 I had for the day impressed but frustrated in equal measure. It sounded epic, and provided one was prepared to DRIVE the thing at all times, truth was it didn't annoy that much in town. But I came away feeling frustrated, having never really had the opportunity to pop the top off the S85 and let it go. Promising much, but delivering no more than a big diesel in the so-called 'real world', I came away with the somewhat cynical view of not really seeing the point.

Anybody reminded of those final fights scenes in Predator?

Anybody reminded of those final fights scenes in Predator?

Open style E60 architecture not the best, but well equipped.

Open style E60 architecture not the best, but well equipped.

Not the place to be if you don't like leather.

Not the place to be if you don't like leather.

Fast forward a year or so. Another E60 offered up by a specialist. A 25th Anniversary Edition this time, and again destined for a mag feature. Time for a re-appraisal.

Collected from James Paul in West Sussex, where the car was for sale at the time and from where my previous two M5s had been purchased, it did look good in its Frozen Silver matte paint finish. And four miles of leather inside. Departing a short while later, the motor immediately makes its presence felt with that lovely mechanical creaminess to the engine note typical of the V10 format. Easing the throttle on every upshift smooths progress and snuggling down into the dynamic sports seats, appeal begins to set in.

So I chase the throttle. And it picks up, S85 starting to climb. Throaty at lower revs with a distinct metallic timbre, the 5 litre V10 speaks of latent ability and promise. But then some dosey sod in a Vauxhall Zafira pulls out in front of me and I'm forced to back off. Nip past them, mile or two to the next village, so 3rd gear from 40mph and try again.

Momentum builds, the V10 climbing once again. Speed accrues swiftly and it's clear this is one potent motor but here's the thing; The 535d I had a few years previously (admittedly breathed on by DMS Automotive) picked up a damn sight faster at these give-and-take speeds. Didn't have the geostationary orbit-like reach of the S85 of course but then we're on A-roads in West Sussex here, not banging down an Autobahn, or even bending time along an Alpine pass...

Eventually, an open dual-carriageway presents itself, and conveniently enough a knackered old Ford Transit is lumbering along in the inside lane. Launched from a parallel speed as the road widens, the Tranny is sucked backwards as the M5 escapes its surroundings and warps forward. Inexorably climbing through 5k, the V10 is now a lit firework, untethered and unleashed. Towering performance is now there for the taking, torque and pure power combining in one headlong lunge for the horizon.

Trouble is of course, the rate at which the fuel tank is drained through continuously doing this (in order to feel that V10 majesty) is matched only by the speed at which you will gain points on your licence. Or worse. Nerves are on edge, is that a bog-standard White Van Man on that bridge up ahead, or something more sinister? The M5 has just gotten started, there's more to come as the revs climb through 6k but the devil loses out and you back-off, the M5 in an instant robbed of its rabid energy like a feral cat zapped by a tranquilizer.

Sounds quite negative, doesn't it? Truth is, the S85 is a magnificent motor but hindsight has shown us that the world needed the F10's S63 with it's low, easy, fat torque. Cut-n-thrust motoring is where the later car excels. And the E60 can do that too, but it feels hemmed-in whilst doing so whereas the F10 doesn't feel out of its depth with the throttle nailed down an Autobahn. The E60 is a gloriously compromised anachronism, the F10 is all the bases, covered.

As for the rest of the drive, the ride is composed, the handling demonstrates the typical BMW balance we all know and love, the brakes just about do the job (BMW Motorsport nowadays rightly sees fit to equip their offerings with better anchors) and the steering has echoes of feel, even if it's not the most communicative helm that's ever existed. The car exudes the feeling of being something special, something more than 'just' a Five Series. A unique model almost, not a performance variant. Seats which anti-G nudge you in the corners, M-specific dials and the aforementioned leather finish whips the spell up still further, and it's easy to understand how so many people were sucked into these cars when they were new.

An ever present backing track in the shape of the V10 and it's trademark four tailpipes and that colour scheme in this (very) limited edition 25th Anniversary model guarantee that every drive feels like an event. As I've said elsewhere, this is M5 distilled, focused on the drive and little else. That was the way M5s used to be. But it's not, arguably, what they are today or what they will become.

What else did I think? Watch the somewhat edited film below to find out, remembering that this was one of the first online reviews I attempted to create, so don't go expecting Catchpole-levels of celluloid brilliance. It caused mirth in certain quarters when first released, and I've since developed an improved style (which I'll be adopting for future - new - Drivetribe content), but it's still worth watching to hear that V10 motor.

Play video

I won't win any awards for this clip, I know that already. And yes, my daughter is indeed sat on a mini-booster seat.

Today, I admire and respect the E60/E61 M5. Would never buy one though. The spectre of something big going wrong, even when compared to the E39 generation and the monster bills it could generate, combined with the reality of filling up every 200 miles, ultimately sends me elsewhere. Still an awesome engine nailed to an epic platform though and, I suspect, a car sure to grow a strong following as the years go by.

Mark Williams @QuentlyBentin

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Comments (2)

  • Cheers. I suspect if you 'get it', you're really tuned in to its approach. I think for me, what it offers isn't quite what I am looking for.

      4 years ago
  • Absolutely great write-up, very accurate. Not many things I would trade mine for.

      4 years ago