2006 BMW M5 First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2006 BMW M5 Sedan

(5.0L V10 7-speed Automated Manual)

Worth the Premium

The ad reads: 2006 BMW M5, Black/Black or Silver/Black. October/November Delivery. All Options. Best Offer Over Cost. (800) OVER-PAY

We may have faked the phone number, but this exact classified did appear in a popular print periodical, and it wasn't the only one.

Another ad read: 2006 BMW M5, Loaded, October Build, Red with Tan Leather, MSRP Plus $5K.

Looks like the new 2006 M5, which is just now rolling into U.S. dealerships, is the latest markup darling of the auto market. The fourth generation of BMW's super sedan has been on sale in Europe for about a year, so America's wealthy car nuts have had to wait, and that pent-up anticipation is driving up prices. Despite the M5's $81,895 base price, which includes a steep $3,700 gas-guzzler tax, it appears that buying one for that price is impossible. At least for awhile.

Usually when this happens, we say wait, don't be a fool, save your pennies. But not this time. The 2006 M5 is so good, we say break the bank and pay whatever it takes to get one as soon as possible. Sell your kids into servitude if you have to, just get one. Trust us when we tell you, the first time you take it to redline in all seven of its forward gears you'll forget what it cost you.

Until then, take the ride with us.

400 or 500 hp, You Choose
Mat the M5's gas pedal and all hell breaks loose as 400 horsepower are transferred to the tarmac by the computer-controlled manual clutch Sequential Manual Gearbox. Keep the throttle pinned and the tires squeal, as the big 5.0-liter V10 spins to its 8,250-rpm redline faster than my G4 laptop can type the words.

Flick the steering-wheel-mounted upshift paddle for 2nd and the 285/35ZR19 rear tires chirp under the strain of all that power. Split-seconds later, you're doing the same thing for 3rd and the tires still can't hold traction, squealing once again as the all-aluminum V10 sings its post-6,000-rpm Formula One wail. A mile later the car has already reached its 155-mph speed governor.

Cripes, this thing is fast and we haven't even hit the button. The one that makes the M5 feel as if it's grown a turbocharger. You see, when the V10 is first fired up, it defaults to its 400-hp mode, a figure not coincidentally identical to the maximum output of the outgoing M5's 5.0-liter V8. And since the two cars weigh virtually the same, it means the new V10 M5 in its economy mode is as quick as the old V8 was at full speed.

The button is located just forward of the gearshift lever, push it and the V10's 10 individual throttle butterflies completely open (the reduced power mode restricts them to about 90 percent) unleashing another 100 hp. Now you've got 500 hp peaking at 7,750 rpm and 383 lb-ft of torque at 6,100 rpm to play with. Which is enough for that V10 to kick you in the pants so hard it makes that last top-speed run seem like a Sunday hop to your favorite bar for wine-soaked steaks and a side of couscous.

Incredible Civility
If the engine is a leap forward, the M5's chassis is more evolutionary. The basic setup and dimensions remain true to the 5 Series with identical measurements for the front and rear track and wheelbase.

Of course, the magic of BMW's M cars has always been their massive performance accompanied by incredible civility. "The M5 is as comfortable going to Trader Joe's as it is lapping a racetrack," says Dave Buchko BMW's product communications manager.

He's right, it is. Were it not for its stiffer ride and the SMG tranny the M5 could be a garden-variety 5 Series. Electronic Damper Control lets the driver choose between three suspension settings — Comfort, Normal and Sport. Although it's firm, the Comfort mode is surprisingly compliant for a car of such massive abilities, swallowing all but the harshest bumps. In Sport, things stiffen up to the point of uncomfortable, but there's precious little body roll and more immediate turn-in.

That said, despite the claimed 50/50 weight distribution, the M5 will understeer — especially when pushed through low-speed corners. Mind you, that's at lateral G-force levels that would challenge a Corvette. And oversteer, of course, is but a quick stab of the throttle and the V10's 500 tire-shredding stallions away. Don't worry, lifetime roadside assistance for tires is included in the price of the car.

Power to Stop, Too
The M5's brakes don't seem to need any such special treatment, though surprisingly, the front calipers only have two pistons rather than the de-rigueur-for-a-sports-car four. But the front discs measure a massive 14.7 inches in diameter and provide more than enough leverage to speedily get the 4,012-pound über-sedan down from its top speed.

As usual, the M5's Dynamic Stability Control, which is standard, can be deactivated by the driver. Plus, the M5's DSC system has a third mode called M Dynamic Mode, which allows more oversteer and wheelspin but will kick in before things get completely out of hand.

DSC also works with the brakes in two ways. The first is called Brake Standby. In anticipation of hard braking, it moves the brake pads closer to the rotors if the driver lifts off the throttle abruptly. The other is called Brake Drying. Acting upon input from the windshield wipers' rain sensor, the brake pads periodically engage the rotors just enough to eliminate any film of water, but not enough to cause any brake application.

Look, Mom, No Torque Converter
Much improved over the previous such transmission used in the M3, and newly fortified with seven forward gears, the SMG transmission is now finally ready for prime time. Shifts are fairly smooth, and their speed and force can be adjusted among six programs with a console-mounted button. In the "softest and slowest" setting, it could be the transmission in a luxury car. In the "hardest and quickest" setting, the gear changes happen with all the subtlety of Jeff Gordon charging out of the pits at the Daytona 500.

In the SMG's automatic mode, shifts also feel more sophisticated than in previous versions. There's not as much gap between upshifts and less hunting for gears. This is especially true in the Sport mode. Nonetheless, you still can fool its computer occasionally, and a foot full of throttle is greeted by a delay while the M5 searches for the appropriate gear. It matters not a whit, of course, when you're going for it. Being able to get instantaneous gear changes with the flick of a paddle is worth the trade-off. Plus, it matches revs on every gear change with the precision of Juan Pablo Montoya.

A six-speed manual will become available next fall, but it will be exclusive to the U.S. market. BMW expects to sell 2,000 M5s a year in America, about 50 percent of those with the manual gearbox. For now the sedan body style is it, but Mercedes-Benz does offer its E55 AMG as a sedan and a wagon, so an M5 wagon may be in the cards. "We're looking at doing a wagon, but nothing is confirmed," is all Buchko would say.

Out to Launch
The only mechanical difference between the European-spec M5 and the one sold in America is the elimination of the SMG's Launch mode. At least, that's the only difference BMW will admit to. Although Launch mode does make it easier to blow off that Camaro from a stoplight, and it is similar to the system used in BMW's F1 racers, you won't miss it. Even without Launch mode, BMW says the M5 will hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

But what do you expect from a car powered by an engine that's cast in the same facility as the BMW-Williams F1 motor and is the largest naturally aspirated engine I can think of that exceeds that Holy Grail of more than 100 hp per liter of displacement?

It's also an engine with 10 individually tuned inlet manifolds, BMW's BI-VANOS system with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams, and a sound that's just like an F1 engine once the revs climb past 6,000. As a last point of reference, it's also worth noting that at 7.7 pounds per horsepower, the M5 is the most powerful BMW sold anywhere in the world, eclipsing even the limited-production, carbon-fiber-infused M3 CSL. It's also one of the thirstiest, with EPA ratings of 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.

Loaded and Luscious
Inside, apart from the SMG gearshift and the attendant performance-oriented switchgear, the major differences from a run-of-the-mill, top-line 550i are beautiful suedelike headliner trim and a head-up display that includes a tachometer. There's also some new electronic trickery like oil level measurement that can be displayed on the LCD screen between the gauges.

The same output also informs the driver about necessary scheduled maintenance, which is free for the first four years or 50,000 miles. And through the iDrive system, you can configure something called MDrive that sets things like the stability control and suspension-damping systems to your personal tastes.

Unfortunately, the tach in the head-up display disappoints. It lags behind the real deal by as much as 1,500 rpm, so it isn't very useful. Rely on it while driving hard, and you'll be constantly bouncing off the rev limiter.

Other candy includes supremely comfortable and substantially bolstered standard front sport seats with 16-way adjustment for the driver and 14-way for the passenger, plus standard almost-everything-else you can think of, like a premium sound system with 13 speakers, navigation, Park Distance Control, heated front seats and, of course, leather.

As good as those standard front seats are, we recommend the optional M Multifunction sport seats, which include active side bolsters that automatically inflate and deflate like a jet fighter's G-suit to better hold the driver and passenger in place during hard cornering. It sounds gimmicky, but it works. There are even three settings to adjust how quickly the bladders inflate, and the system can be deactivated with the push of a button.

Save Your Pennies
A regular 550i is a fine handling, powerful beast with a sweetheart of a motor. But this new V10 is another virtuoso effort from BMW, where superiority is expected. Only this one exceeds even the incredible demands placed upon the M division's broad shoulders.

For now, the M5's price is well over sticker. We consider the car well worth it. Hey, can you put children on eBay?

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