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Tuesday 4th December 2012


DRIVEN: BMW M5 MANUAL

Manual gearbox sticks it to the (electronic) man and transforms the cold and clinical F10 M5


Electronics - there's no escape; they're present in almost every aspect of our lives, including our cars. We're not foolish enough to argue against the advance of technology but sometimes we just prefer our cars with more character than computing power.

How to unlock the M5's tech-heavy character
How to unlock the M5's tech-heavy character
That's the criticism levelled by Editor Trent at the techno-laden F10 M5 earlier in the year - he even drove it all the way to Wales to check. Lauded at launch by the assembled hacks, the M5 answers every criticism directed at the previous E60 model and boasts a set of numbers pretty much untouchable by its competitors. In the end Dan departed Wales blown away by the M5's ability but left cold by the lack of engagement.

Our way or the highway
In the case of the M5, UK (and European) buyers have one piece of technology forced upon them that our American and Canadian cousins don't - that smooth shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto. Place your order for an M5 in Orlando or Ontario and you can tick a box marked 'six-speed manual' instead, and it costs nothing extra to do so.

Stateside M5 includes one thing we can't have
Stateside M5 includes one thing we can't have
Still laden with kit including adaptive suspension, steering and throttle response it's clear swapping cogs yourself won't dramatically transform the M5 experience. It's still a geek fest of gadgetry in here. But maybe, just maybe, this 'land of the automatic' is getting access to a subtle slice of extra involvement that we miss out on. With the Rim of the World Highway (really) and a full tank of gas at our disposal we head towards Great Bear Lake to find out.

Slick roads and grey skies aside, this Alpine White M5 with its 20-inch double spoke wheels already stands out against the legions of oversized trucks and poverty spec Chevrolets it shares California State Route 18 with. The familiar six-speed manual lever actually looks like something of an afterthought in the M5, missing the textured aluminium surround and neat layout for the adaptive damping, steering and throttle controls found on the automatic's transmission tunnel.

All it took was one extra pedal...
All it took was one extra pedal...
MTFU
Thankfully more effort has gone into the shift itself, which, befitting a car of this size (even in America the M5 feels on the large side) has a meaty and positive action. Sure you can swap cogs with a pair of digits, but for quicker changes you need to take it by the scruff of its neck and manhandle it into your desired ratio. In contrast the clutch feels quite light, and with a long first gear you need to balance the pedals carefully to avoid bogging down.

But for all this muscle car feel, electronics continue to play their part. In Comfort or Sport mode the M5 blips the throttle on every downchange. The revs are matched quickly and smoothly, but those who enjoy the art of their own expertly executed heel and toe changes will need to select Sport+ mode.

White M5 makes sense ... in California
White M5 makes sense ... in California
Slightly lighter than the automatic (1,975kg plays 1,990kg according to the US website) with fractionally better weight distribution, the manual M5 is also one tenth slower from 0-60mph at 4.3 seconds. You'll not notice any of this on the road of course, and the M5 remains just as much of a hooligan as before, the rear end's grip overwhelmed with ease on our damp test route.

Flaws equal character
One thing that is noticeable is the turbo lag. Clearly the automatic box normally masks this, pre-empting off-boost lethargy with shorter ratios and making it difficult to tell its 501lb ft of torque is delivered via forced induction. Not so in the manual where, even in the higher rev range, there can be a tiny delay before full forward thrust is reached. Do the same with the engine spinning lower down the rev range and that morphs into what feels like tenths of a second, before the boost takes over and you've forgotten all about it. On paper that sounds like a problem, but in reality it's a refreshing dose of character normally missing from the linear power delivery of almost every modern turbocharged car.

Previously hidden lag adds character
Previously hidden lag adds character
On paper the M5 is superior to all of its opposition and boasts a history far richer than any rival, but in reality this F10 generation seems to have been missing some M car magic. However, while the manual gearbox highlights a couple of minor drivetrain flaws it more than makes up for this with added character and driver engagement. It's still loaded with electronics, but no longer are you a passenger in a digital super saloon - with the stick-shift option it's once again the driver who is in full control, and that's a very good thing indeed.

 



BMW M5 (F10)
Engine:
4,395cc V8, twin-turbo, direct-injection
Power (hp): 560@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 501@1,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.3 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,974kg
Price: $92,095 (including $1,300 Gas Guzzler Tax)

On the road in the manual M5.