“I heard the new M5 has a launch button,” a friend said to us.
“Uh…no, don’t think so,” we replied.
“Seriously, check the manual,” he insisted. “You press this button and hold the shift lever up and just step on it and it takes off. Incredible.”
We checked the manual and found no mention of a launch button, but that's because it's reserved for European-spec M5s. However, U.S. versions of Bimmer’s latest badmobile do have a button marked “M” that immediately sets the sedan up for maximum performance, tweaking the engine, throttle, transmission, suspension and stability control to ensure you have all the car can offer under your right foot. With 500 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s a very substantial offering indeed. In fact, it might as well be called a launch button because we could swear our faces distorted like wind tunnel techs or aerial stuntmen when we stomped on the go pedal with “M” engaged.
There’s one button we don’t recommend clicking off – it’s labeled DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) and disables this rocket’s high-tech stability and traction control system. Engaged, DSC metes out power like a belay on a rock climbing rope – you get enough to let you have some fun, but not too much so you get into trouble. Click DSC off and the effect is like letting the rope run freely with you hurtling downward with nothing to prevent you from pancaking on the valley floor like Wile E. Coyote. Not our idea of a good time in an $82,000 sedan.
But the 2006 BMW M5 is about so much more than pure speed. After all, there’re lots of cars out there for less money that can honk on down the highway in a blur. The M5 is special. It’s chock-full of high-tech gizmos that make it exciting and progressive so you feel like the most leading-edge driver on the road.
There’s only one version of the 2006 BMW M5 on sale and it’s pretty much loaded with features straight from the dealer. Your $81,895 (including $695 destination and handling) not only gets you what might be the most incredible sedan in the world, but also some out-of-this-world standard technology. You can, however, add more than $10,000 in options, from the mundane to the marvelous. Among the workaday items are a power rear sunshade with rear manual side window shades for $575 and a folding rear seat for $475. A little less boring is Sirius satellite radio for $595. And another $350 gets you (or, rather, your lucky passengers) rear seat heating. If you really care for the people you cart around, you might also spring for the rear door-mounted side-impact airbags for $385. Now, with a concurrent jump in price, we move to the more interesting optional equipment. Comfort Access ($1,000) is not new technology and is offered by other manufacturers, but it’s still great. It eliminates the need to fish the key out of your pocket to unlock the vehicle, to start it (just push the ignition button), or to lock it (just touch the door handle as you walk away). The car senses the key in your pocket and takes care of everything.
A head-up display is not new or exclusive either (you can find it in Chevrolet products, for instance), but in the M5 it gets special treatment. The $1,000 system projects a color image onto a six- by three-inch field above the dash on the windshield, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road. It can be programmed to show speed, navigation instructions, or cruise control settings. Or you can go wild and activate the virtual tachometer in rainbow colors with flashing upshift indicator. It’s clear even in the brightest sunlight, though we discovered that polarized sunglasses dull the display by about 50 percent.
If you’re already spending eighty large on a car, what’s another $3,500 for the pleasure of a full leather interior and the Alcantara (faux suede) headliner? The combination of materials makes the cabin feel like a box handmade by Italian artisans for holding your Rolex.
The most bang for your buck, however, is with the M Multi-function Sport Seats with Active Width Adjustment ($1,900). Don’t let the technical name fool you, these babies are more thrilling than a new Paris Hilton video and are the stuff of which myths are made. When Active Width Adjustment is activated, the seats respond to cornering forces by enlarging the side bolsters to keep the driver and passenger level. So in a right turn the left bolsters automatically expand and prevent you from being tossed around the interior like a rag doll. You can adjust the rate of response from Comfort to Normal to Sport. In Sport, the action is quite aggressive and the first time we felt the system working it took us by surprise. It was as though a Bulgarian masseuse had snuck into the back seat and decided to attack our midriff in mid-maneuver. Once we knew what it was, though, we couldn’t get enough and anybody who took a ride with us couldn’t get enough either. It makes JFK’s shenanigans seem dull in comparison.
In addition to these goodies, there are many safeguards built into the M5 to ensure that your first drive in a car of this caliber is not your last. Up to eight airbags are placed strategically throughout the cabin, the battery and the gas tank are designed to disconnect in the event of severe crash and, when it rains, the brake rotors are automatically dried by the pads to remove excess water. There’s also something called Slip Control, which disengages the clutch for a split second should a downshift on a slippery road threaten the sedan’s stability and, to bring the M5 down to earth without event, immense, ventilated disc brakes measuring 14.7 inches in front and 14.6 in rear.
Nuts and Bolts
There’s good reason the 2006 BMW M5 invites comparison to rocket ships. Not only are there 56 (!) buttons and controls for the driver to select from, but the sedan is also packed with space-age technology. That total of 56 doesn’t even include the steering wheel, gear shift, door handles or other basic controls. And many of the buttons are multi-functional, such as the iDrive, which operates the climate control, entertainment, navigation, telephone and the fantastic MDrive system.
MDrive lets you tailor the M5’s driving character by providing more than 280 combinations of settings that control such things as power and throttle response, manual or automatic shifting, three suspension damping selections, a trio of stability control modes, head-up display configurations, and the response level of the active seat backs. There are also separate buttons for each of these functions.
You might assume that the abundance of buttons is intimidating, but it’s not. Instead it reinforces the notion that you are sitting in a state-of-the-art road-eating machine. In MDrive’s default mode, the car provides a maximum of 400 hp with normal throttle response, but you can program it for all 500 hp and lightning-quick response. Select the electronic damping control’s Sport level for race-ready suspension settings and greater steering effort. You can also set the degree of stability control from normal to M dynamic to give the car a wider handling envelope at the limit (but, remember, we don’t recommend turning it off). Finally, you can link each of your settings to the MDrive button on the steering wheel. Then, once you’ve got your preferences programmed, just push the “M” button and you’re in business. Big time.
Until now, BMW has never offered a V-10 engine in an M car. But for the new 2006 M5, BMW wanted five liters of total displacement and since ideal cylinder displacement is half a liter, the mandate required a 10-cylinder motor. Inspired by the automaker’s Formula 1 racing engine and like the M3’s 3.2-liter V6, the M5’s powerplant is designed for high-revving performance. It doesn’t hit redline until an incredible 8,250 rpm and its peak 500 hp isn’t reached until 7,750. Peak torque of 383 lb.-ft. is attained lower down the band at 6,100 rpm, which provides a smoother delivery of power. The engine also has a throttle for each cylinder, which maximizes the engine’s breathing ability (the faster it can get air, the faster it can burn fuel and the faster you can burn rubber) and provides ultra-quick response to the throttle. So when you mash the go-pedal, you go. Fast. How fast? The 2006 BMW M5 can post a 0-60 acceleration time of 4.5 seconds, which is 0.3 seconds quicker than a 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera. Not bad for a car that can hold you, four friends and a weekend’s worth of luggage.
For now, the M5 is offered only with a seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG), which, like a Formula 1 transmission, is a clutchless system that is operated via paddles on the steering wheel. BMW says SMG has many advantages over a regular manual gear shift, including the ability to provide seven forward gears, which would be difficult for a manual shifter to navigate. The system is also capable of shifting much faster than even an expert driver and it can be switched to automatic mode when you don’t feel like changing your own gears, like in heavy traffic. Last, there’s no clutch to burn out. BMW does understand, though, that some drivers simply must have a manual shifter with a good ol’ fashioned clutch. For them, a traditional six-speed manual will be offered in the fall of 2006.
Working with SMG is BMW’s Drivelogic, which controls shift patterns in two modes: Sequential, in which the driver shifts via the paddles; and Drive, which is automated. The system offers 11 shift programs ranging from gentle, taking-grandma-for-a-ride mode to who’s-your-mama-hard-and-fast mode. The beauty is that you can have either (and everything in between) in manual and automatic and you can make changes on the fly. The new M5 is also equipped with Electronic Damping Control (EDC), a system which adjusts the shock absorbers (to your preference) for either cushy cruising or hammering turns around the track. Of course, there’s a sacrifice of performance in the first and comfort in the latter. A middle setting offers the best of both worlds.
You could fill a book with all the many other engineering doodads that conspire to make the 2006 BMW M5 the world’s greatest sedan, but that would cut into the space we can use to describe how it feels behind the wheel.
The first clue that the 2006 BMW M5 is no ordinary sedan comes at start up. The V-10 gurgles and gently shakes like a 1950 International Harvester, ominously heralding its tremendous power and latent energy. Yet, we were able to fit three baby seats on the beast’s back bench and then the sedan’s docile ride promptly put all the kids to sleep. It’s this split personality that makes the M5 so special. It can be a fierce, road-eating dragon and also a luxurious tourer.
As tempting as free doughnuts in the break room, the “M” button on the M5’s steering wheel is an indulgence too tempting to pass up. Press it and a tremendous surge of acceleration makes it feel as though you might actually become part of the car, producing greater pleasure than 1,000 Krispy Kremes. The car thunders forward, like pushing the “M” button somehow seriously pissed it off. We actually got goose bumps the first few times we tried it. You know how the hair will raise on the back of your neck when you hear a great song? That’s the feeling you get driving the 2006 BMW M5.
The SMG transmission takes getting used to. If you leave the car in default mode, the car limits itself to 400 hp and makes gear changes to maximize fuel efficiency. Up and down shifts are so slow, that, at first, we thought we were doing something wrong. We felt like teenagers again, behind the wheel for the first time and shifting badly, very badly with long pauses between gear changes and turtle-like takeoffs. But, once we fiddled with MDrive and set our own drive parameters, we became instant Marios, blazing through gears with superhuman speed and smoothness. The system even blips the throttle on downshifts so anyone outside the car thinks you’re the heel-and-toe champion of the world. And, best of all, we were able to make the switch between pimply teenager and smokin’ hot stud just by pushing that sinister “M” button on the steering wheel. If only there was an “M” button for everything in life.
Another of the 2006 BMW M5’s superb engineering tricks is how DSC allows the car to feel just a little unhinged during hard driving, as though you’re hovering right on the edge of adhesion and you need to work to control it. But it’s just an illusion because the car stays amazingly planted even when you’ve crossed the line. We know (and we’ve warned you about this) because we switched the system off and tried the identical maneuvers that thrilled us with DSC on and promptly went fishtailing all over the road, spitting gravel onto the shoulders like an M16. That was real danger, whereas with DSC engaged the BMW merely created the feeling of danger, right down to a puckering sensation below. Of course, no engineering, regardless of its brilliance can overcome the laws of physics, but within limits, the new M5 makes it feel pretty close.
You can also choose, via the Electronic Damping Control (EDC) button, between a soft ride and a super stiff one. The cushy ride, “Comfort,” is for cruising down a straight, smooth highway. The rigid ride, “Sport,” is for thrashing a twisty road to within an inch of its life. There’s also a “Normal” setting that offers a pretty good compromise between the two. We usually drove the M5 with the suspension set to Normal, and liked its balancing act between suppleness and firmness. But we really liked how EDC automatically tightened the shocks for more control and greater feedback when we decided to go hard into a corner, like the car was reading our minds. For a while, we fooled around, driving sedately one minute and then blasting into a curve the next – the M5 responded appropriately without fail.
EDC enhances a beefed-up version of the regular 5 Series model’s all-aluminum suspension system. For use in the M5, BMW added stiffer bushings, borrowed the rear links from the superb Z8, and added specially calibrated springs and shocks for maximum performance. Add to that the car’s well balanced 52.2/47.8 front/rear weight distribution and it’s no wonder we were thrilled each time we drove the M5. Despite the amount of technology that actually separated us from the road, it was as though were a part of the car, and extension of the hardware that thrummed along the highway.
Normally, the kind of performance demonstrated by the BMW M5 requires some compromise in terms of comfort, but this car asks nothing of you in return. Its big sport seats (with 16 adjustments for the driver and 14 for the passenger) and the spaciousness of the cabin make for one of the most comfortable rides around. Additionally, we never felt unsafe. During one controlled “M”-button-inspired burst, a cell-phone-yakking lady in a white Hyundai Santa Fe pulled out into the passing lane while she was doing 50 mph. We had just pushed the little better-than-doughnuts button and were planning on overtaking the cars in front of her. It was literally a life-threatening moment. We figured a nasty slide was our best outcome. But, thanks to the Bimmer’s megabrakes, we brought the car quickly to heel without drama. We didn’t even have to stomp on them and, afterward, we felt composed enough to honk at the offending driver, who had no idea how close a call it had been.
For the uninitiated, there’s not a lot to distinguish the 2006 BMW M5 from the regular 5 Series sedan. Subtle as the differences may be, BMW cognoscenti know the M5 when they see it. Each time we took the car for a ride someone would pull alongside, stare at the signature M “gills” just aft of the front wheels, nod, and then grin like an idiot. Some would give the thumbs up with maniacal enthusiasm. At night we were flashed with high beams at close range by drivers wanting to see if the M5 badge was attached to the decklid. (No, Dunlop, they were just peeved that you cut them off in your fancy German hot-rod. – Ed.) We know it wasn’t because we were moving too slow in the passing lane.
Other distinguishing features include 19-inch M alloys, a special front spoiler/intake, aerodynamic side mirrors, a small rear spoiler and four stainless steel exhaust tips – all most people see are those little beauties.
Inside, the M5 is dressed in signature M Series logos and tri-color stitching on the seat backs and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The new M5’s interior also gets special brushed aluminum trim, but you can choose from two different wood tones if you want a warmer cabin atmosphere. Adding to the effect are the M5’s special white-on-black gauges with red pointers. Taking into account the nearly 50-some buttons around the driver and the cutting-edge engineering packed into the car, this is exactly the way the interior should look: modern and high-tech.
FAQs and Specs
When can I get a 2006 BMW M5? Production of the 2006 BMW M5 began at the company’s Dingolfing, Germany, factory in September, 2005. The first cars arrived in U.S. dealerships in mid-October. The automaker hopes to sell 2,000 M5s annually.
The 2006 BMW M5 already costs more than 80 grand. Are any of the options really necessary? Necessary for driving? No. Necessary for adding to your enjoyment of the vehicle and the driving experience? Absolutely. The M Multi-function Sport Seats with Active Width Adjustment ($1,900) that automatically adjust the seat bolsters to counter cornering forces are worth every penny.
Where can I learn to drive the new 2006 BMW M5 to its full potential? Included in the price of the new M5 is a one-day instruction course in advanced driving techniques at BMW’s Performance Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. You can also pay for additional M School training classes, from beginner to advanced, that are also offered at the Spartanburg facility.
Test Vehicle: 2006 BMW M5
Base Price of Test Vehicle: $81,895 (including $695 destination charge) plus $3,700 gas guzzler tax and local and federal taxes.
Engine Size and Type: 5.0-liter DOHC 40-valve V-10
Engine Horsepower: 500 at 7,750 rpm
Engine Torque: 383 lb.-ft. at 6,100 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG)
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,012
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 12/18 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.1 mpg
Length: 191.5 inches
Width: 72.7 inches
Height: 57.8 inches
Wheelbase: 113.7 inches
Leg room (front/rear):
Head room (front/rear):
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 14 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Cadillac STS-V, Chrysler 300C SRT-8, Dodge Charger SRT-8, Jaguar XJR, Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG, Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Photos courtesy of BMW North America