2008 BMW M5 Sedan new car reviews

Better than: Pontiac G8 GT--barely.
But not as good as: an M3 with a spare car.
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 46.31

For about $80,000, BMW's newest M5 sedan should do a fine job of impressing passersby and potential dates, but what about the driving experience? That's a different kettle of fish. Although it has all the right components, including a 5-liter V10 that generates 500 horsepower, the car is let down by its intrusive electronic gadgetry.

There are many options meant to enhance the driving experience, but honestly, we'd prefer a little less from our ultimate driving machine. We can't blame the highly capable V10, of course. Rather, it's the balky, confused manumatic gearbox. With seven (yes, seven) forward gears, the car spends a lot of time shifting between cogs.

The problem is that unless you're wailing out full-throttle upshifts, the gear changes are unsettling and very rough--fun, but hardly luxurious. We also noticed that while it's hard to argue with 500 horsepower, we'd probably rather have the V8 from the latest M3, especially if it came with the slick six-speed manual from its little brother.

The technology-gone-wrong sensation was present in the ergonomics of the car, as well. We're still split on the iDrive, but we were all in agreement that the active seat bolsters were an abomination. When the time came to turn the car back in, we were all ready to see it go.

Other staff views

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

I loved the previous M5, as it could do almost everything. We once borrowed one while out in Colorado, and the car did it all, from taking our niece and nephew back-to-school shopping to charging up past the tree line. Awesome car.

This one, um, is a disappointment, and large part of it is the MSG "semi-auto" tranny. Where VW's DSG tranny is so smooth and seamless, this one was just seemed not ready for public consumption. My dad, a BMW fan, was wondering if something was actually wrong with it and questioned how BMW could release something this poor. Its biggest problem was just deciding what gear to use. Case in point: My parents have a fairly steep driveway. We'd enter the driveway, and I'd give the car a little extra gas. Each and every time, the car would come to a standstill as it had to think about which gear to choose. An $85k car shouldn't do that.

I actually racked up quite a bit of miles on the car and used the gearbox in both auto and manual modes, and always came away disappointed. Fortunately the stick shift is a no-cost option. I only wish our car was so equipped.

The fuel economy was also pretty poor. I could live with the M3's 20 mpg considering it could double as a track/autocross car, but we could never come close to the EPA's 17 mpg rating for the M5.

It is fast, but if I want a fast BMW sedan I'd get the M3.

Joe Gearin Joe Gearin
Associate Publisher

This car leaves me amazed, stupefied and sadly confused I keep looking for signs that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are headed our way, because if I hate a 500-horsepower car this much, the end of days must be upon us.

The SMG transmission resists smooth driving, and is the most counterintuitive gearbox I've ever dealt with. The I-drive continues to be an asinine solution to a human-automotive interface problem that no one had to begin with, and the active seats, which grab you in a "robot hug," are disconcerting and downright creepy. Sure, the engine is wonderful and loaded with power. The car is also poised and incredibly capable for a machine weighing two tons. We expect dynamic excellence from BMW, and this car delivers that in spades.

The problem is, instead of technology enhancing the driving experience like it does in the new M3, the tech gets in the way of the fun in the M5. It is a crying shame, because underneath all that electronic buffoonery is an incredibly great car. It just can't get past all the mucky muck.

Scott Lear Scott Lear

I'm usually the first one in the office to defend brave new leaps in technology, but this M5 had me sounding like Joe at his most anti-tech curmudgeony. No denying it's very fast, but only if you go through the various menus and make sure that the engine is turned on to its full 500 horsepower mode.

Granted, once you've configured the computer, turning the engine on to its most powerful setting is easily done with a touch of the M button on the wheel, and that same M button can be programmed to activate a number of other aggressive driving features in conjunction with the bump in power. Still it seems to me that cars have had a user-friendly power-selecting feature for a long time before this. (Hint: it's the gas pedal.) If you want less than maximum output, don't let the bottom of the pedal touch the carpet.

The automated seven-speed clutch-and-shift droid is completely out of date by dual-clutch sequential-shift standards, and even at its most aggressive setting it takes a surprisingly long time to change gears. And it's not very smooth in any setting if you drive it like an automatic. It is possible to smooth things out by learning the shift points and takeup characteristics and emulating the throttle habits of a real manual transmission car, but it's all much easier, lighter and less expensive when the human driver just does the whole lot with a traditional clutch and shifter. Mercifully, a standard six-speed transmission is a zero-cost option on the M5.

With all the weight-adding automated features, particular the grope-a-riffic active bolsters, the M5 seems most specifically designed to impress whoever the driver might be trying to impress in the passenger seat. It's a hey-look-how-cool-my-toy-is car. Thank goodness the M3 sedan exists for those who want more fun for less money.

Tom Heath Tom Heath
UberDork

I'd never been in or driven anything nearly as expensive as the M5, so if there was one singular impression, it was to be careful. I was amazed at what $100,000 will buy. Dozens of buttons and electro-gadgetry littered the dashboard, but in the end they were a detriment to the usable performance of the car. I'd love to trade all of the gadgets for a simple clutch pedal. Better yet, how about throwing few million development dollars toward a true manual transmission with an automatic mode instead of the other way around? Too expensive and high tech to be fun in my book.

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