Fuel prices be damned

Summer2012129_4fe8c94b81441-lightboxAfter selling my 135i (something I sometimes have trouble remembering why I thought it was such a good idea at the time), I bought a 330d. Well, that turned out to be a very dull car. Unquestionably excellent and good to drive, but just too much of a triumph of head over heart for my tastes.

So I sold the 330d pretty sharpish, went a little mental and bought a low mileage 2007 E60 M5 instead. Not a wise or sensible idea but definitely a fun one. I tried all sorts of things including E90 M3s, CLK63s, C63s and S5s before deciding that the answer to my needs was an RS4 and I nearly got one of those. But then whilst on an otherwise fruitless trip to view an RS4 in Surrey that turned out to be ratty, I happened to spot this M5 for sale at Vines BMW in Guildford in pretty much my ideal spec of Interlagos Blue with the full black leather interior (which includes a leather-topped dash and a very tactile alcantara roof lining). I even like the wood although I appreciate it’s not to all tastes. It was originally ordered by the Park Lane dealership, presumably as a demonstrator as it was specced to the hilt with goodies like the £5k’s (!) worth of full leather and an excellent Logic-7 hifi system.

Up until this point, I hadn’t really considered the M5 – too big, too exaggerated, too ugly, too expensive to run. Etc etc etc. But the devil on my shoulder told me to at least go and have a go in it, as much for the experience as anything else. Little sod…! Suffice to say I turned up, and was given a lengthy test drive by a very pretty and charming blonde M Power salesgirl who pointed out that this particular M5 had an aftermarket sports exhaust and giggled as much I did every time I hit the loud pedal and unleashed an almighty noise somewhere between a V10 F1 car and an anguished goddess of war. What a sound. And that was that.

I have now had the big blue ‘bahnstormer for a little over a year and it’s been a fun 6,000 miles. This is a car that makes an event out of just running errands. The aftermarket exhaust turned out to be a very expensive and loud Tubi Rumore that makes the car sound almost ridiculously exotic even when just pootling down to the supermarket. It’s a simply incredible noise for any car to make, let alone one that to most people appears just to be a slightly gussied-up 5-series. And yet it will still cruise in a quiet and refined manner on the motorway – the ride quality in the normal setting is noticeably good for a car of such sporting bent. This is a car that does the tired old “Jekyll and Hyde” description full justice. Comfy relaxed effortless luxury saloon one moment in 400bhp normal mode, screaming banshee weapons-grade loony saloon in max-attack 500bhp MPower mode the next. It’s hard to judge whether it is the noise or the ballistic performance that leaves the biggest impression, but make no mistake that this car’s defining feature is its extraordinary engine.

A bespoke 5 litre V10 utilising know-how gleaned from BMW’s F1 programme, this is surely one of the greatest BMW engines ever. Or perhaps even one of the greatest engines from any manufacturer. With a rev limiter well north of 8000rpm and over 500bhp, this is fun with a capital “F”. No, not delicate fun of the Lotus Elise sort, but still awesome and an engineering masterpiece. It is a pity that the SMG III gearbox is not quite such a memorable technological achievement, however. Much has been written about its manifest shortcomings and it’s got something like 11 modes, which is at least 7 too many, and the automatic mode is generally hopeless – either yawningly slow and jerky, and changing gear just when you don’t want it to, or clinging on to every gear for dear life at the expense of your fuel consumption and ear drums. The manual mode is better and at least has sensible paddles (left down, right up) that are more intuitive than some flappy paddle systems, so most of the time I drive around with the gearbox set to the most aggressive manual mode as I prefer the quicker shifts it offers. You learn to feather the throttle to smooth shifts if you aren’t on a mission. And actually, if you do opt to drive like your hair is on fire, the gearbox rises to the challenge and suddenly makes sense. Ultimately though, I think I’d prefer either a manual or a proper automatic 95% of the time.

The fuel economy? Bloody awful! Actually, on a motorway run, it’s not bad – up to 25mpg is possible, but heavy urban use can see consumption drop to a thoroughly planet-raping 8mpg. Mixed-use tends to give 17-18mpg. So supercar consumption then, to go with the supercar performance and supercar soundtrack.  Other running costs are a mixed bag. Obviously as a 2007 car, this one attracts full fat road tax (some earlier E60 M5s avoid this), which is a little eye-watering, and the insurance is quite dear. Servicing is an interesting one – it’s condition-based so doesn’t come around all that often (can be over two years between services) but is expensive when it does. Tyres are expensive at about £1k for a set (mercifully the car came with a fresh set of Contis), the brakes are savagely expensive (thick end of £1k for new front discs/pads) and the cost of a new clutch will make you cry.

Keeping up the official BMW Extended Warranty is also a must to ward against the potential for expensive component failure. These are generally strong and reliable cars, but an SMG box is something like £6k in parts alone and if something like the excellent heads-up display failed…. Suffice to say that at £650 for a year’s comprehensive renewal, the BMW warranty actually seems like conspicuously good value when you consider what Audi want for their equivalent warranty extensions.

Anyway, to summarise, this is a car that is a far from perfect – that gearbox, the clunky original iDrive system, rampant fuel consumption – but it is one with heroic levels of charm, performance and sheer amusement value. It feels wonderfully indulgent and if you can afford to buy one and run one, and like me only need it for weekend use, you should definitely consider it, especially now that decent ones can be picked up for the price of a new 116d. Now I’ve nothing against the humble 116d but I do know which I’d rather have while I still can…




Jonathan Malim