2006 BMW M5

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The BMW M5 makes you feel invincible — because the car itself is all but unbeatable. Here are some specifications to consider:

* FI-derived, 507 horsepower 5 liter V-10 engine; redline, 8,250 RPM
* Seven speed Sequential Manual Gearbox with computer-controlled clutch and multiple “Drivelogic” launch modes
* 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds; 140-plus in fourth gear
* Standing quarter mile in 12.58 seconds at 120.70 MPH
* 180-plus mph top speed capability

To give you a better feel for this level of performance, let me relate the following. I am into fast motorcycles; and a fast motorcycle such as my 1200 cc Kawasaki sport bike can make 150 or so all out and with a running start (90-plus going in) on a stretch of road near my house I won’t identify (suffice to say it’s a nice straight bit of deserted blacktop with clear lines of sight and few cops around). The M5 hit 140 from a starting speed of about 70-something (vs. 90-plus on the bike) without the benefit of a full-tilt, banzai-style effort.

Had I begun the run as I might have on the bike (90-plus at the top of 9,000 RPM coming onto the straight stretch), the Beemer probably would’ve hit 160. That kind of speed is more than enough to make an impression on me — two wheels or four. Put the pedal down and you will get to scary numbers before you have time to think much about it — so be careful with the beast. It can get away from you (and almost anything else on the road, for that matter).

But once you get used to the car’s extremely high capabilities, you are truly the king of the road. And not just moving forward, either. All BMWs handle well but the M5 (which features an all-aluminum suspension and near-perfect 50-50 weight split, with the chassis riding on 19-inch rims and ultra low-profile Continental tires) is several orders of magnitude above and beyond the run-of-the-mill Beemer when it comes to barnstorming a series of S-curves. Going up Bent Mountain in rural SW Virginia near my home is an experience in the M5 — which can maintain almost 70 mph on curves that are challenging at 50-something in other cars (and suicidal in an SUV). There seem to be no limits to the car’s grip as it charges through each apex, the computer-controlled SMG 7-speed manual gearbox holding the revs just so.

I’d be scraping the pegs, knee down at full lean on my Kawasaki to match the M5’s moves up the mountain. Any other “cage” I could walk away from without expending more than a dismissive twist of my throttle. But I’d have to work that bike to escape the M5 — and that, amigos, is something to consider.

Your journey begins with a push of the start button, rousing the DOHC V-10 from its slumbers. This engine, which replaces the V8 used in the previous generation M5, starts out with 400 horsepower — exactly the same as the old V-8. But you’ll notice a small button on the center console labeled “power.” Push it and you now command the full 507 — 107 more than the old M5.

Consider this button your training wheels. Playing with 400 hp will help you get accustomed to race-car power levels and performance before you get ahead of yourself. Trust me — 400 hp is plenty entertaining (remember, this is precisely the same amount of power the old M5 developed). Getting into the 500s, though, is another thing entirely. You are now approaching the output level of a Winston Cup stock car. Or consider it another way. The fiercest of ’60-era muscle cars like the 426 Hemi-equipped Chargers and ‘Cudas — which were essentially detuned race cars barely drivable on the public roads — never offered more than about 425 hp or so. And that was under the old SAE “gross” ratings system, which exaggerated actual rear-world horsepower by 20-30 percent. Not one ’60s-era mass-produced muscle car was capable of 12 second quarter-mile times (at least, not without extensive modification and tuning). The M5 will deliver them right out of the box, no special tricks or tuning required. Just floor the gas and go.

The SMG transmission can be programmed for multiple driving styles and operates in either manual mode (you control up and downshifts) or simply left in “D” (and the computer will do it for you). It is important to emphasize that this transmission is a true manual, however — and not to be confused with an automatic transmission that has a “manual” gear change function. The SMG has a clutch — only it is operated by electronics instead of your left leg. The advantages include quicker, more consistent gear changes and (especially in a very high powered car such as this), longer clutch/transmission life. There are a total of eleven levels of shift firmness/aggressiveness the driver can select from — five “steps” in automatic mode and six in manual, with six in manual mode the most aggressive of all.

Turn the two-stage Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) electronic traction control system to M-Dynamic (a setting designed for the driver with “racing ambitions”) and click the shift selector to step six in manual mode. Hold first gear, drop the pedal and the engine surges to around 4,000 RPM as the computer simultaneously feathers the clutch. Twin black patches about 10 yards long mark your departure. Second comes up almost immediately — denoted by a tire-barking upshift as the engine surges toward 8,500 RPM and another ferocious (and tire-barking) perfectly timed upshift, including a throttle blip to match the revs to the new gear, all done for you. As the car gets deep into fourth, 140 mph looms large — and the endlessly potent V-10 simply continues to pull. How far you go is up to you — and common sense. But the M5 will take you there, either way.

All this fun doesn’t come cheap, of course. The base price of the ’06 M5 is $81,200 and you’ll probably end up paying six figures, given the car’s high desirability and low production. The dealer’s holding all the cards here, bubba. If you don’t buy it, rest assured, someone else is salivating to cut a check — and for whatever the man says, too. Also be aware that to make 507-hp, an engine needs to burn a lot of fuel. I sucked the tank of my tester dry in less than 200 miles; 200 very amusing miles, yes indeed — but just be advised that driving this car as it was meant to be driven will probably cost you as much in gas each month as the monthly payment. EPA says 12 mpg in city driving, 18 on the highway — but “your mileage may vary.”

So is it worth it? If you have the coin, hell yes. Nothing with four doors compares — and that includes AMG versions of Mercedes’ sedans such as the E55 AMG. The Benz is phenomenally fast, too — but nowhere near as athletic. (Or for that matter, as refined.) The M5 has the reflexes of a gymnast and the punching power of a heavyweight boxer — with the quiet manners a high-end (but extremely lethal) hitman. Think “The Transporter” and you will have an idea.

In comparison, the Benz is more like a champion deadlifter — awe-inspiring raw power, but big and heavy-feeling, too. Much more of an “image” car — designed as much to flaunt what it can do as actually do it. (Think “Ben Affleck.”)

Every M5 comes loaded with most if not all the features and equipment you’d find in a top-of-the-line 5-Series, plus a very well-designed heads-up display unit that projects vital info such as your current speed and engine revs (via a color-keyed oval-shaped bar graph), unique to the M5 bodywork (including front and rear end treatments, with distinctive vents in each front quarter panel), airflow diffusers underneath the car to prevent the build-up of excess air pressure (and thus lift) at high speeds, quad exhaust tips and unique paint schemes set off by your choice of tri-tone leather/suede (“alcantra”) interior materials.

As magnificent as the previous M5 was, this new one raises the bar to a level that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. It puts true race-car capability into the hands of anyone lucky enough to be in a position to sign the papers.

And keep the tank full.

Throw it in the Woods?

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Question. I read recently (2 – 3 months) about a treatment for fuel systems designed to prevent rust by leaving a coating behind after a few steps (including draining the system). But I can no longer find it. Can you or any of your readers help me out?

    • Hi Ed,

      There are tank coating kits for this purpose (I can personally recommend the Bill Hirsch three-step cleaner/etch/coating, having used it many times over the years). Eastwood also sells similar products, but I haven’t used them myself so can’t personally vouch for them.

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