A few months ago, I wrote a list about coupes that should be turned into sedans. Like I usually do, I received a lot of vitriol for that piece. Much of it did with things involving beauty, and me being a poor judge of it. This clearly did not bode well for my goal of being on the Miss America judging committee.
Today's topic will do nothing to break that perception, because I'll be discussing the E60 (the ugly 5-Series) M5 and its utter greatness.
That’s because there will be no other car like the E60 M5. Mainly because it had a V-10 which sounded like nothing else. Because it was loads of fun on the track. Because it could seat four people comfortably. Because it could easily play with the Gallardo and F430. Because you’ll never get comments at the gas station since people tend to reserve the same contempt for E60 M5 owners than they do for E36 M3 owners. (That's right. Its looks are an asset.)
Since you’ve dissected the headline by now and are thinking, “How does he think a more powerful 5-Series is a supercar?”, I'll start discussing the M5's downsides, all of which can be exhibited in two very plausible scenarios:
Scenario 1: The gauge cluster display tells you the car’s due for service. You go the local BMW dealer or independent BMW mechanic who promptly gives you a menu of everything that needs to be done. Most of the time, this also involves replacing all four tires because they can never be rotated (and because you wanted to drift around that corner on your way home to annoy that one Panamera owner in your neighborhood).
During the explanation, you also mention that iDrive was acting up again like your old Windows Vista computer and the mechanic will promptly update the software (for a fee, of course). There'll also be a valve-timing issue and that sequential manual gearbox may start acting up. All of this will lead to a four-figure bill every 5,000 to 10,000 miles.
Scenario 2: You decide to drive from Portland to San Francisco. After all, you have a fast sports sedan and you believe it was made for that sort of thing. But it wasn’t, and you’ll realize that in 200 miles or so when the low fuel warning light comes on due to a small fuel tank and abysmal fuel economy. You've effectively doubled the amount of stops on the trip. This will especially ring true when you find a straight stretch of road and you hit the 155-mph governor.
When you’re approaching San Francisco and are in traffic, the SMG will start acting up. It’ll lazily shift through gears and simply does not care what it’s doing in automatic mode. At some points, the car may be limping. And then you'll decide to listen to the radio. Unfortunately, you'll have to use iDrive to tune the radio because voice control is very hit-or-miss. while also having to deal with its navigation function.
In other words: supercar problems. But they're on a car which now costs between $40K and $60K and is readily available at CarMax with a wonderful warranty that’ll save you a lot of money if those performance systems stop working.
The upsides are on par with supercars as well. There’s the engine, that award-winning 5-liter, 10-cylinder complicated piece of goodness, was developed particularly for the M5. The only other BMW product that had it was the M6. And the wail of the engine at 7000 rpm was better than anything else on the market at that time. This is unlike the current M5, whose engine is based on the twin-turbo V-8 in the 50i cars, and therefore needs an engine sound piped into the cabin.
Then there’s the handling. This is quite possibly the only performance sedan of all-time which can be just as fun on the track than on a winding road. It’s where the SMG comes into its own. I guarantee that you’ll have more fun behind the wheel of an E60 M5 than an R8 V10. The R8 is all-wheel-drive, idiot-proof, and direct. In the BMW, you can go sideways around corners and enjoy every minute of it.
At this point you’re thinking, “Well, he didn’t nail down the whole supercar thing, and with his criteria for what makes a supercar, he’s totally wrong. And it definitely wasn’t the last four-door one.” I venture to disagree.
I’ll address the Audi contingent first since they’ve been idly scrolling down, primed to leave comments like “The author is a moron. He has no idea that the C6 S6 and RS6 and D3 S8 had a 5.2 V10 in them shared with the R8.” And they did. They were all fast in a straight line (especially that RS6), but they couldn't play in the corners like the M5 could.
Everyone also forgets about them. On YouTube, a search for “E60 M5” yielded over 100,000 results versus less than 70,000 results for all the Audis combined. (Mercedes fans who insist the S65 is a supercar should petition AMG to run it around the Nürburgring. I bet the driver'll lose it at Flugplatz.)
And none of today’s four-door performance cars can be considered “super.” Audi’s lineup of the RS6, RS7, and S8 (perfect for breaking Ed Bolian's record) is very fast in a straight line and the four-liter turbo V-8 in them is exceptional. However, they’re not quite track vehicles, especially as Travis and Raphael demonstrated with the RS7.
The current BMW M5 and M6 Gran Coupe are heavier and the steering feels disconnected from the rest of the car. They are fantastic on highways (and crucially, have larger gas tanks) but there’s no more fun in the corners. This becomes a problem when attempting a short drift on an on-ramp and you quickly realize you have absolutely no idea where the rear end is going.
The top-end AMGs (S63, E63 and CLS63 S-Model) have all-wheel-drive so no more burnouts. They also don't have that glorious-sounding 6.2-liter V-8 anymore. The Jaguar XFR-S is good (and a sleeper with the spoiler delete), but the automatic transmission can only do so much. And the Cadillac CTS-V, as good as it is, is not quite a supercar on account of being more like a four-door Corvette than anything else. That's certainly not a bad thing, but it's not a supercar thing.
So that leaves us with the E60 M5, a car now much cheaper, and uglier (there, I admitted it) than all the cars I listed and a car readily available from CarMax with an extended warranty. It, ladies and gentlemen, is the deal of the decade.
In the end, the E60 M5 is a supercar. There's no other reason for why it's so horrible as a normal, day-to-day vehicle, yet so wonderful at full blast.
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Corvette fund. Though he drives a Volkswagen Jetta (MkV 2.0T Wolfsburg w/DSG), he intentionally avoids VW forums to prevent anxiety of break-downs (and a German engineer not receiving his wings).