One of the most polarizing M5s to ever be made was the E60-generation BMW M5. Loved for its spectacular 5.0 liter naturally-aspirated 500 hp V10, killer sound and great performance, but hated for its strange looks, horrific iDrive system and unreliability. If you’re a BMW fan, you probably sit on one side of the E60 M5 fence or the other. There isn’t a lot of middle ground, there.
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In this latest episode of The Smoking Tire, Matt Farah gives the E60 BMW M5 another shot. Having driven many of them with the much-maligned SMG automated manual gearbox, Farah was curious to try this particular M5 out. Reason being the strange stick thing in between the seats.
The manual gearbox wasn’t very popular with the E60 M5. It’s odd because the North American market stomped their feet to get BMW to sell a manual variant here and then didn’t buy any (the same thing happened with the F10-generation and now BMW has axed the manual M5 for good). But the few folks who did buy them claim it to be far superior to the SMG version. So Farah gives the E60 M5 manual a try to see if it actually is any better.
While the SMG gearbox was clunky at slow speeds and frustrating at times, it was actually well-suited to the M5’s V10. That’s because its V10 could rev to the stratosphere, making the rapid-fire shifts of the SMG preferable. It’s the same reason why the DCT option was so great in the E92 M3. But there’s something really special about being able to rev that V10 to a million rpm and shift gears with your food and hand, not with a paddle.
Farah learns this is just a few miles behind the wheel. He notes that it doesn’t feel weird at all, as some have claimed before, and considers it to be better. Especially considering the far better reliability of the manual over the nightmarish SMG. He also makes a good point about the SMG’s age. While it was fine back in 2005 when the E60 M5 came out, that was more than ten years ago. So it seems far too old, now that automatic transmission technology has come so far. He makes the point that you wouldn’t want to use an iPhone from 2005, would you? But a manual is a manual, the technology has been around for a hundred years and hasn’t changed.
Overall, the E60 BMW M5 seems to be much better suited to a three-pedal gearbox. It’s more fun that way, as you get to shift gears yourself on a V10 revving to 8,250 rpm, and it’s more reliable. Plus, it’s smoother around town (depending on your skill level) and more fun on a track. Do you lose some tenths of a second on a race track? Sure, but these are personal road cars, not cars you buy to provide with racing wins. So if you’re in the market for an E60 BMW M5, get the manual. You won’t regret it.