What's New for 2008
The 2008 BMW M5 receives minor changes this year in line with the regular 5 Series. Styling changes are subtle, while the interior has been more significantly upgraded. Door handles and window switches have been relocated for improved ergonomics, and the much-maligned iDrive system gets six programmable memory keys.
Like an exaggerated soap opera character afflicted with dissociative identity disorder, the 2008 BMW M5 has multiple personalities lurking inside its handsome body. Only it has 279 personalities to be exact, which range from maniacal hooligan to civilized everyday companion.
Two-hundred seventy-nine is BMW's number; the company says the M5's fully controllable MDrive system allows the driver to vary horsepower, throttle response, transmission response, electronic damping control and stability control. BMW added up all these possible combinations and came up with 279. These aren't exactly wildly different settings, but they do give an M5 driver the ability to easily tune their car for whatever scenario, road, traffic condition or mood swing that may come along.
Adjustability is all well and good, but what really matters is the sedan's 5.0-liter V10, pumping a maximum 500 horsepower to the fat 19-inch rear wheels. That's maximum because the engine's default mode (known as P400 in MDrive) restricts power to a paltry 400 hp for a more civilized power delivery. But that seems like dating Carmen Electra and asking her to wear a muumuu. With the full-monty 500 hp selected, the M5 rips from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds with the six-speed manual and 4.8 seconds with the seven-speed automated clutch and paddle-shifted SMG transmission.
The manual may therefore seem like a more attractive choice, but we discovered that after only 12 minutes of hard driving, it simply couldn't handle the immense amount of power being fed through it. (It's carried over from the 394-hp V8 in the previous M5.) It began to overheat, causing the car's computer to lower the engine's redline to 6,000 rpm. The SMG is still not as smooth as we'd like, but we'd probably recommend it over the manual transmission.
Unlike recent BMWs that have featured questionable high-tech aids like active steering and run-flat tires, BMW's M division stuck with the basics and then worked their magic: divine rack-and-pinion steering, all-aluminum suspension and gargantuan brakes. All M5s also come with BMW's Electronic Damping Control (EDC) that allows the driver to choose one of three suspension settings that are nonetheless all exceptionally well-controlled.
In a comparison test with the Audi RS4, we came to the conclusion that the BMW M5 is no longer the king of performance sedans. Its transmission issues and the Audi's more agile nature led to its stripped crown. But against sedans its own size like the Audi S6, Cadillac STS-V and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, the M5 is still the most athletic and fun -- even though the Benz is a fraction quicker. Plus, with those 279 personalities, the 2008 BMW M5 can be as bad as you want it to be.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 BMW M5 is a high-performance variant of the midsize 5 Series performance sedan available in one trim level only. Standard equipment includes lightweight 19-inch wheels with performance tires, xenon headlamps, parking assist, automatic climate control, Merino leather upholstery, heated and 16-way power-adjustable sport seats with driver memory, a sunroof and Bluetooth connectivity. BMW's iDrive vehicle management system is standard, along with MDrive performance control and a navigation system that offers real-time traffic information. The standard stereo is a Harman Kardon Logic 7 system with 12 speakers and a glovebox-mounted CD changer.
Stand-alone options include 20-way multifunction seats with active backrest width, front seat ventilation, heated rear seats, a heated multifunction M steering wheel, keyless ignition, soft-close doors, a full leather interior with Alcantara headliner, a head-up display, satellite radio, high-definition radio, an iPod adapter and a 16-speaker premium sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 M5 boasts a 5.0-liter V10 that generates a maximum 500 hp at 7,750 rpm and 383 pound-feet of torque at 6,100 rpm. Sending power to the rear wheels is a standard seven-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG), an automated clutch manual that can be placed in a fully automatic mode or operated manually by steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The SMG includes 11 shift programs selected via MDrive, as well as a launch control mode that primes the M5 for aggressive acceleration. A six-speed traditional manual transmission is a no-cost option.
Standard safety equipment on the 2008 BMW M5 includes full-length side curtain airbags, front seat side airbags, traction control and a stability control system programmed for performance driving. Rear seat side airbags and active head restraints are optional. The BMW 5 Series received a "Good" rating -- the highest possible -- in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash testing and there's little reason to believe the similar M5 would perform any differently.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the interior looks unchanged, there are a few key updates made for 2008. The window switches have been relocated to the driver armrest and the front door handles have been moved for an easier reach. The simple, modernistic dashboard now features six programmable memory buttons for iDrive -- the mouse and LCD screen control system that controls everything from radio presets to MDrive transmission settings. The 2008 improvements are welcome, but for many drivers, iDrive will still be as user-friendly as a triangular steering wheel.
Build quality and materials inside the M5 are outstanding, while the supportive seats and commodious backseat further serve to make this an easy car to live with every day. We'd advise sticking with the standard 16-way adjustable front seats, though. The optional 20-way adjustable M multifunction seats are equipped with active backrest bolsters that move inward to brace the driver (or passenger) against cornering loads, but we've found this to be a gimmicky feature that can distract at critical moments.
The 2008 BMW M5 is an extremely balanced machine that can handle aggressive driving maneuvers as well as it does dilapidated highways, thanks to its Electronic Damping Control. As expected, the M5 exhibits precious little body roll in EDC Sport mode, along with excellent turn-in. EDC Comfort mode is actually quite compliant, with the suspension swallowing all but the harshest bumps. Engine performance is absolutely outstanding, as the V10 spins to its 8,250-rpm redline faster than the driver can find words to describe it. Sadly, a tinny exhaust note accompanies the experience. And although the SMG delivers expert gearchanges most of the time, it can be slow on the draw when the driver summons maximum power and isn't especially smooth during full-throttle upshifts.
We initially thought the traditional six-speed manual would be a better choice, but we found that the mighty V10 overheated it with aggressive driving, preventing skilled drivers from using their M5 as a track-day car.