With a screaming 5.0-litre V10 under the bonnet and room for the family, the BMW M5 E60 is just about the most insane super saloon money can buy. It’s not a sensible purchase, and a bad one could break you, but it’s an incredibly special car and one that’s well worth experiencing at least once in your life.
Guide from Performance BMW magazine. Photos: Matt Richardson.
Buying a BMW M5 E60 could potentially be both the best and worst decision of your life. The want factor for this awesome M car is through the roof because, for not a lot of money, you can have something with basically a supercar engine parked on your drive. There are very few V10-equipped road cars out there, and it’s an inherently exotic engine, one you’d normally associate with something Italian, not a comfy car that can sit five people. It’s an incredible package, one that delivers a spine-tingling soundtrack with astonishing performance, all wrapped up in a discreet saloon body that’s as practical as you like. There are numerous downsides that come with owning a highly strung V10-powered saloon, but life is too short not to take a few risks and have some fun, which you will be having a lot of with a BMW M5 E60 on your drive.
A brief history of the BMW M5 E60
The BMW M5 E60 was launched in 2005, and it definitely had a hard act to follow after the all-conquering E39 M5. While the styling wasn’t to everyone’s taste, there was no arguing with the handling – or the performance. Where the previous generation M5 had felt like a muscle car, the E60 M5 delivered a very different driving experience thanks to its incredible F1-inspired V10.
The S85 was, and still is, a technical marvel; it uses a 90° V aluminium block to achieve a mass balance of the crankshaft drive, optimised for low vibration and increased comfort. For added stiffness, a bedplate design was used for the crankcase, the first time BMW had ever used this design. All the valvetrain components were designed to be as light as possible. There were low-weight, flow-optimised 5mm-shaft valves, spherical valve tappets with hydraulic valve play compensation, and single valve springs, all of which helped to keep weight down, essential when you’re building a high-revving engine. There was a stainless steel exhaust system, which included stainless five-into-one tubular exhaust manifolds, and the S85 used four oil pumps with a quasi-dry sump setup. This was employed because the M5 could achieve over 1g in corners, so this ensured the engine would never be starved of oil under even the most extreme cornering.
The redline sits at 8250rpm, peak power of 507hp arrives at 7750rpm, while peak torque, 384lb ft, comes in at 6100rpm, and that’s enough to take the E60 M5 to 62mph in just 4.7 seconds. The BMW E60 M5 came equipped with SMG III, the third (and final) generation of the single-clutch sequential manual gearbox. The seven-speed SMG III gearbox – the first seven-speed ‘box offered in a road car – can handle up to 406lb ft of torque, and seven gears were chosen to have closer ratios for maximum acceleration. Due to market pressure, BMW released a six-speed manual option for the North American market in 2006. Other technical highlights included a torque-sensing variable M diff lock, M Servotronic steering, two-stage DSC developed specifically for the car, three-stage EDC electronic damping, optional active side bolsters, and a colour HUD that displayed speed and revs.
The M5 range is pretty small, with only a few special editions. First, you’ve got the basic E60 M5, which went on sale in 2005. Then there’s the E61 Touring, which joined the saloon in 2007, with just 222 right-hand drive examples produced. In 2008, the M5 25th Anniversary was launched; 25 cars were produced in both Saloon and Touring form, and just 10 came to the UK. This extremely limited edition model was finished in Frozen grey paint and came with special sill plates with the “M5 25th Anniversary” inscription, and the UK examples were fitted with black Merino leather.
While the Touring is exceedingly cool as fast estates always are, it carries a hefty premium over the saloon, and so, our choice would be the four-door, as the fact that it’s cheaper would mean money set aside in case anything were to go wrong. If we were feeling flush, we’d hold out for a 25th Anniversary model, but honestly, we’d be so happy with just a normal saloon, that would be our ‘sensible’ choice.
BMW M5 E60 Prices
Prices start at around £16,000, and, for that, you’ll be able to pick up a non-Cat sub-100k-mile saloon. £20k should secure an example with 70-odd thousand miles on the clock. Around the £25,000-mark is the top end for saloons, and the entry point for Tourings, though you’ll need to spend closer to £30k to have a bit of choice. We also spotted one 25th Anniversary model, up for a heady £57,000.
What to look for on the BMW M5 E60
The M5 E60 hails from a time when BMW wasn’t putting cars together as well as it should and, as a result, build quality and reliability aren’t exactly stellar. Electrical gremlins are commonplace, iDrive DVD drives fail, the whole iDrive unit can also fail, the controller can stop being responsive, Bluetooth can be flaky, and the E60 can suffer from water ingress problems. In addition to that, the interiors don’t wear particularly well – there are lots of cheap trim materials and they really show their age while leather can start to look baggy. In terms of S85-specific problems, here are a few things you need to be aware of. The big one is rod bearings. They fail and can do some seriously terminal engine damage, so prevention is better than cure. Oil analysis tests have shown to be inaccurate and not that great at warning of impending doom, so if you’re buying a higher-mileage car that’s on its original bearings, or you just want peace of mind, get them changed. It’s not a cheap job at around £1500, but it’s certainly cheaper than paying for a new engine.
The S85 also suffers from Vanos problems, throttle actuators, which can be rebuilt with a lifetime warranty for about £500, while on the SMG, the clutch, flywheel and clutch position sensor will set you back about £1500, and the SMG pump can fail. On top of that you’ve also got high oil consumption, and then there’s the atrocious fuel economy – you’re unlikely to see more than 20mpg even when cruising, and mid-teens is going to be a far more realistic fuel consumption figure. It’s all compounded by the relatively small 70-litre fuel tank, which means you’ll be getting not much more than 200-odd miles to a tank. Obviously, you won’t be expecting diesel fuel economy from a 5.0-litre V10, but it can still come as a bit of a shock to the system if you’ve never owned a car like this before.
Simply put, the BMW M5 E60 is an incredible machine. There won’t be another car like it, and it represents the last of a dying breed, the huge naturally aspirated engine, big in terms of both cylinder count and capacity. This might be old-world tech compared with where we are now, but it has a sense of occasion, and a level of appeal, that even the most powerful turbo offerings struggle to match. An E60 M5 might be cheap to buy, but it won’t be cheap to look after, and there are plenty of pitfalls to be aware of when shopping for one. Be realistic, and don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can run one on a shoestring because you can’t. But go in with your eyes – and your wallet – open, and you will be able to experience one of the greatest super saloons ever made and a truly legendary M machine.