I recently had the chance to drive a 2008 BMW M5 with a 6-speed manual transmission. I borrowed this car from a viewer here in San Diego, and on paper it’s excellent: a midsize sport sedan with three pedals and a 500-horsepower V10. Just the idea of this is crazy. How could you go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, you can go very, very wrong. Even though I love the 2008 M5, known as the "E60" model in enthusiast circles, it’s far from the most reliable vehicle on the planet. In fact, it’s one of the least reliable, with several tremendously expensive issues plaguing the car — the worst of which, its failure-prone rod bearings, could torpedo the entire engine if you don’t improve them ahead of time. There are a few other issues, too, each costing thousands of dollars — and that’s just the big stuff. There’s lots of little stuff.
The E60 M5 is so bad that a quick search of Google for "E60 M5 problems" brings up dozens and dozens of results, including hundreds and hundreds of forum posts where M5 forum users discuss their horrible experiences — from VANOS pumps to the rod bearings to throttle actuators, and much, much more. Admittedly, there are a lot of fixes for these issues that can make the E60 M5 reliable — but some vehicles are reliable directly from the factory, without requiring second or third owners to spend thousands of dollars upgrading the car to extend its life, using upgrades BMW should’ve added in the first place. Not the M5.
Which is a shame, because the E60 M5 — with its available 6-speed manual transmission — really is a joy. BMW originally planned to only sell the M5 with its SMG automatic — itself another trouble-prone failure point on this car — but eventually decided to add three pedals for the benefit of the American market, who clamored for it. The result is a fantastic, well-balanced car, with excellent throttle response and good steering feel — more precise and direct than the E39 M5, which has become the most respected, well-loved M5. I love the E39 M5, but it doesn’t deserve it: the E60 is more fun, more thrilling and faster. If only it was reliable.
The E60 M5 is also surprisingly comfortable, with excellent seats and an acceptable, if not particularly roomy, back seat. And while its old-school iDrive tech isn’t especially modern by today’s standards, it does offer some nice features, like a head-up display, active seat bolstering and a navigation system — a clunky one, sure, but an acceptable display if you’re just looking for a map.
If there’s any part of the E60 M5’s driving experience that wasn’t especially great, I’d have to say it’s the shifter action. The shifter itself feels a bit notchy, and the notches feel rubbery — meaning it isn’t especially satisfying when you jam it into gear. The clutch is also vague and there’s a bit too much travel for a sport sedan. I have these complaints with a lot of BMW’s manual transmissions from the period: they’re good, and you’d get used to it, but they’re not "Porsche good."
That’s a shame, because this car is otherwise an excellent sport sedan. Not only is the steering feel excellent, but body roll is tremendously composed on account of this car being relatively small. Newer BMW M5 models also do a great job keeping body roll in check, but they’re large vehicles, and they do it with technology that surely makes the car heavier and more complicated. With the E60 M5, you didn’t have to do much accounting for its size, because its size wasn’t excessive.
Indeed, it’s an excellent car, but I’d never buy one. Instead, I got to enjoy one in the best way possible: by spending the day with some else’s. And that someone else has a nice, long warranty.
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