What's New for 2009
The 2009 BMW M5 is unchanged, though an updated iDrive system debuts midway through the model year.
There was a time when the mere presence of a BMW M5 would cause us to bow down at its bumper and offer gifts of frankincense and Quaker State. As the sportiest variant of one of the finest sedans on the planet (BMW's 5 Series), the M5 boasted an iconic combination of performance and practicality. Even now, many of us pick a previous-generation M5 over many brand-new cars. And yet the current 2009 BMW M5 leaves us sort of cold.
That's hard to say about a car that packs a scintillating 5.0-liter V10 pumping out 500 horsepower. Acceleration is invigorating, to say the least, and autobahn speeds are achieved without a drop of sweat. This is a supremely fast car that likes going supremely fast. Interestingly, the full 500 hp is only available when selected by the driver using the MDrive performance settings. The default setting is 400 hp -- the same output as the previous M5's V8 -- which sort of seems like dating Scarlett Johansson and asking her to wear a muumuu. Nonetheless, keeping those 100 extra horses at bay should help prevent the average driver from overdoing things on the way to the grocery store. Rear-wheel drive, 500 hp and a free-revving V10 with an 8,250 redline can be a volatile combination.
At the current generation's debut, we were pretty impressed with the latest M5. But the more time we've spent with the car, the more ambivalent we've become. First of all, both of the M5's available transmissions leave much to be desired. The sequential manual gearbox (SMG) is painfully slow on the draw when the driver summons maximum power, and it lurches awkwardly among the lower gears when dawdling around town. You'd think the traditional six-speed manual would be more satisfying, but we found in previous testing that the mighty V10 overheated it during aggressive driving.
The variable-assist and variable-ratio power steering is a further disappointment, as it's notably lacking in feel and generally doesn't offer the sort of vehicle control and car-driver communication we've come to expect from BMWs. And while the various power, throttle, transmission, suspension and stability control settings sure create a lot of choices -- BMW says there are 279 different vehicle settings, to be precise -- it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the electronic and mechanical trickery designed to keep you going fast and/or on the road. Altogether, it's enough to make us yearn for a simpler time -- and simpler BMW M5s.
Speaking of simpler, BMW has made the standard iDrive electronics interface a more user-friendly piece of technology starting halfway through the 2009 model year. We strongly suggest waiting to get one of these cars. You'll be able to tell the difference between the two systems by the new design's menu buttons for frequently used functions (stereo, navigation, telephone) that are now adjacent to the control knob. Redesigned menus are also more logically arranged now, while the navigation system features a hard drive and real-time traffic information.
In its effort to create the most technologically advanced super sedan ever, it almost seems as if BMW forgot to imbue the 2009 M5 with a soul. No question, the M5 is still a world-class speed machine, but other high-performance four-doors like the Mercedes-Benz C63 and E63 AMG, BMW's own M3 sedan and the mighty Cadillac CTS-V are more satisfying to drive. As John Denver may have sung, we're falling out of love with the 2009 BMW M5.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 BMW M5 is a high-performance variant of the midsize 5 Series luxury sedan. Standard equipment on its lone trim level includes 19-inch wheels; performance tires; adaptive xenon headlamps; front and rear parking sensors; M sport settings; auto-dimming mirrors; a sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column; heated front seats; power sport seats with power-adjustable side bolsters, headrests and thigh supports; front-seat memory; leather upholstery; iDrive electronics interface; navigation system with real-time traffic and voice commands; Bluetooth and a 13-speaker Logic7 surround-sound system with a CD player.
Options include soft-close automatic doors, keyless ignition and entry, fold-down rear seats, upgraded power front seats, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side shades, extended leather trim, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, an upgraded sound system, satellite radio, HD radio and an iPod interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 M5 boasts a high-revving 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 the standard seven-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG), an automated-clutch manual that can be placed in a fully automatic mode or operated manually via the gearshift lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddles. A six-speed traditional manual transmission is a no-cost option.
In performance testing, the SMG-equipped M5 went from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, while a manual-equipped car did the same sprint in 4.7 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 11 mpg city/17 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined with both transmissions.
Standard safety equipment on the 2009 BMW M5 includes stability control, full-length side curtain airbags and front-seat side airbags. Rear-seat side airbags and active head restraints are optional. In government crash tests, the BMW 5 Series received a disappointing three out of five stars for driver protection in a frontal crash, but it got a perfect five stars for front-passenger and side-impact crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 5 Series a "Good" rating -- the highest possible -- in frontal-offset crash testing but a second-worst "Marginal" rating in the side-impact crash test. There's little reason to believe the M5 would perform differently in these crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Build and materials quality inside the M5 are outstanding, and the commodious backseat makes this an easy car to live with every day. The standard 16-way-adjustable front seats are superb, while the two available seat upgrades give the M5 some of the best seats presently for sale, in both comfort and adjustability. That said, the active side bolsters found in the "Multi-function" seats that move inward to brace the driver (or passenger) against cornering loads aren't just annoying -- they can also distract at critical moments. We'd turn them off and leave the adjustable bolsters at your preferred setting.
Speaking of distracting, early production 2009 M5s come standard with BMW's old iDrive electronics interface. Too many movements of the mouselike knob are required to perform simple tasks. (Going from the radio preset menu to the auxiliary audio control takes two nudges upward, three turns, a push of the knob, then two nudges down.) Six programmable presets help matters, but not enough. The heavily revised iDrive found in later production M5s is a huge improvement.
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. The exhaust note is more controversial -- some of us don't mind its subdued rasp, while others find it off-puttingly tinny. Neither transmission choice is enticing. The six-speed manual is more pleasant and gratifying than the herky-jerky SMG (talk about damning with faint praise), but a manual transmission in an M5 we tested a couple years ago had a propensity to overheat during hard driving.
In terms of handling, the 2009 BMW M5 is a tad underwhelming in the real world, even if it excels on a racetrack. The steering lacks feel and is inconsistent in its effort -- a very strange phenomenon in a BMW. Frankly, we'd rather drive a 535i with the sport package on a daily basis.