Seat time. That’s what I was thinking as I mashed the pedal in the F10 M5 I was driving. Believe it or not, I had never sat inside, let alone drive one. Like ships in the night, we always seem to miss each other. Too busy on shoots at the Performance Center. Owners with schedules that didn’t sync up with mine. I’ve had the title of this article in my head for years, and maybe that’s why it’s been so hard to test one. Have we forgotten about this M5 already?
The BMW F10 M5 overview
It might surprise you, but the legend of BMW M did not start with the number 3. BMW’s smaller M offering wasn’t even available in size four-door. No, if you wanted a fast sedan, it had to be the E28 M5.
Over the years, the M5 has been able to hold its own in the lineup. Chassis codes like E34 or E39 should bring back warm fuzzies. But the F10 M5 is different. It’s the first turbocharged M5, replacing a legendary V-10. It had grown in size, making it much less of a hoon machine, and much more like a really fast 7 Series. And its looks, while beautiful to behold, weren’t meant to draw attention to itself. It was the ultimate Q car.
With the benefit of 20/20 vision (and a recent turn in the newer F90), let’s climb into an F10 to see if it does indeed belong in the M hall of fame.
Performance Score: 8. Refined racing
One way that time adjusts our perception is through Clarkson’s old friends of speed and power. When the F10 M5 came out, wow. 560 horses. A DCT (maybe a manual if you’re really lucky). A 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds. Yet here we are 10 years later, and it’s made the car seem…normal? Pedestrian? The F90 is a second faster to 60. You feel it. But dismiss this car’s performance so easily, and you’ll miss the point of it.
It’s the S63! This glorious V-8 debuted in the X5 M, but BMW updated it when the F10 came out, and the result was the S63TU. This was the first M engine to receive Valvetronic valve timing, and along with 22 lbs of twin-turbo boost, helped give the F10 M5 560 horses and 500 lb-ft of torque. Though this example was missing it, Competition-equipped cars could be had with 575 horsies. Doubt you’ll miss it, like in every other Competition-vs-base debate.
What makes the engine work here is that you can actually use it. Put the car in Sport+, and it gives you the typically wonderful throttle response M engines are known for. The F10 weighs 4,300 lbs, which is about the same a the F90, but with less power, the car needs a bit more prodding to pull itself out of corners.
This makes the F10 M5 fun. More fun than any sedan this luxurious has any right to be. Keep your foot in it and acceleration will become violent as you rush toward the redline (peak power is at 5,000–6,000 rpm), but this isn’t an inline-6. You can’t really fall off boost and feel sluggish.
The only thing I can knock here is the sound. The exhaust is muted, distant. Dare I say it doesn’t even sound like a V-8. If you get one, set aside some money for an aftermarket exhaust.
“We demand a manual!” said the American market. The Germans groaned, then begrudgingly gave us one, which we then confusingly refused to buy. 577 were built, and only America received it. If you can find one, it’s sure to be a future classic.
Could the reason it didn’t sell be because the DCT was really what the engine deserved? It seems the Germans were right.
But here’s one area where the F10 hasn’t held up as well. A Dual-Clutch Transmission used to be the only way to truly achieve lighting-fast shifts with the least amount of interruption to power. And it works well enough. BMW insists on giving its automatic M cars odd shifting patterns, but once you get used it it, you forget about it. Still, overall the transmission can be rough.
There are multiple shift patterns here, from lazy comfort to “If he dies, he dies.” You can’t drive the car in automatic Sport+ mode without the car insisting on hanging onto revs. But the flip side is that this is the first car I can remember driving that actually encouraged me to use the shift paddles behind the wheel, each time with a satisfying click.
The ZF eight-speed in newer BMWs is better, but the DCT here allows you to have plenty of fun.
Whatever notion you have of a big moo cow wafting around turns here is inaccurate. Yes, the F10 M5 is heavy, but in a football tight-end sort of way. It’s solid. No shutters over bumps. Turn-in response is excellent; the front-end is as well-planted here as it is in my G80 M3. In fact, this F10 reminded me a lot of my own car in its ride and handling abilities.
Sadly, that also includes the steering. In the F10 it’s oddly heavy, even in comfort mode. But as usual, heft is no substitute for feel. Will you run out of grip soon? Is the car understeering? These are good questions. Only the M5’s tires know the answer. Maybe you can phone a friend.
There are what seems like an infinite number of adjustable controls for the suspension and steering feel, but I don’t know – do I need Comfort or Sport for what I’m about to do? Why can’t the computer just decide for me?
I was also aware that while the chassis wasn’t overwhelmed by the amount of power, it felt like it might be ready to raise its hand at any moment.
“Hey, you sure you want to pin it out of that corner?”
It’s a perfect example of why the F90 went to all-wheel drive. It’s also a good example of why the rear-wheel drive only Blackwing’s chassis is so magical.
You’re driving a 560-horsepower M5, and you’re feeling racy at a red light. Well, you might need the Konami code memorized to help you launch the car. Place the transmission in manual. Tap the button below the shifter twice to put the transmission into the fastest shift mode. Hold the traction control button down for about 10 seconds to turn traction control off. Then, touch the brake pedal lightly with your left foot, and with your right hand, push the stick forward (and do the Hokey Pokey). Release the brake. Almost there.
Finally, you simultaneously jam the throttle to the floor and release the stick. And just so you know, the M5 keeps count. Do it too much, and BMW would void your warranty. Hey, clutches are expensive.
The brakes on the F10 M5 are standard fare. You could get carbon ceramics, though this example was on the standard steel. They work well, with excellent feel and progressive stopping response. Again, it’s not F90- capable, but even with the weight, the brakes give you enough confidence to push the M5 around.
Actually, the entire car gives you confidence to jump in right away and push it. I think BMW used the F10 M5 as a benchmark when developing the G80 M3, because the cars feel almost identical in ride and handling. While this M5 might have slightly duller responses when compared to newer M cars, the F10 really left an impression. I could push it at subsonic speeds and actually feel the car working with me. In the F90, it’s yawning. Here, it’s sweating a bit. The reviews of the time stated the car had some numbness to it, but time has been kind here.
Utility Score: 8: Family with an M
I had an F10, a 528i, that my family loved for two years. The car has a prodigiously-sized trunk and plenty of room in the back seat, but it’s not an SUV, so despite the size, room can sometimes run out if you have two kids in the back.
The newer G-series 5 Series offers more room inside, but when we consider that the mission of the M5 is speed and fun, there’s plenty of space here to be used as a daily.
Efficiency: 5. Mileage with an M
The F10 M5 gets an EPA rating of 16 combined MPG, with a 14 MPG rating for city, and 20 for highway. A gas tank size of 21 gallons means you’ll become best friends with Exxon’s accountants.
I only spent a few hours with this car, so I can’t tell you want I achieved over the course of a week, but it’s a twin-turbocharged V-8 with 560 horsepower. Act accordingly. The F90, with its ZF automatic, achieves a similar rating (though that’s all-wheel drive), but the F10 is much better than some other supercharged V-8s I’ve had.
Features and comfort: 8. Welcome home
If you put iDrive 8 on the screen and added a digital dash, the F10 M5 could be sold today. Well, almost.
Open the soft-close doors and sit inside the extremely comfortable Merino leather driver’s seat, and you’re greeted with a dash from what could be out of my old 335i, or any other BMW from the “F” era. That’s no knock; the interior of these cars are extremely well thought out.
White backlit M gauges are such a refreshing view when compared to the modern digital mess often confronting my eyeballs. Small LCD screens inside the speedometer and tach dials display driving modes and other relevant information.
The entire cockpit wraps around you, with excellent visibility out of every corner. Talking about A pillar width might not be exciting, but BMW just gets it right every time. You don’t notice it because it doesn’t make itself known, you see better, feel more comfortable, and drive faster.
I mentioned my old 335, but perhaps the 550i from last week’s mailbag is a better comparison. The M5 has softer leather, unique trim on the dash, and…that’s it. The M steering wheel, center stack – all of it could be right out of that lower model.
And I do see some familiar cheapness from those F models. The flimsy silver plastic around the DCT shifter – why? This car was over $110,000 when new. Black on black can hide some of the cheap feel, but has a way of making anything not black really pop.
Despite the cheaper materials, there’s a lot to love here. The Bang and Olufsen stereo lights up and has a center speaker in the dash that rises up when you turn it on. Night vision is also here, and it’s pretty useful at night for spotting animals and debris in the road.
18-way adjustable seats with a massage function makes these some of the most comfortable chairs I’ve sat in. And iDrive – here we have iDrive 4.0. Works great. Still easy to use. If you’re that concerned, they have kits that can allow you to access Apple CarPlay, but by no means does it feel like you’re driving a Nintendo 8-bit car.
The F10 M5 is better equipped than many modern cars, and aside from some quality concerns with the interior, makes a great place to do some high-speed work.
The F10 M5 deserves its place in the M pantheon of greatness
Think of your current car. I bet you got inside of it and thought, “Wow, this is so much more solid and tight than my old car!”
Four years or so later, you repeat the cycle with another new car. “Wow, this feels…“. You get it.
While each new M generation improves upon the last, there is also a layer of refinement that dulls the reflexes and feedback available at the helm. The F generation seems to be a sweet spot. It has most of the modern creature comforts available in new cars, while still having a little personality shine through. You can make an argument that an E39 is more engaging to drive, but those cars are getting old. You can appreciate it, but it’s a novelty now, advanced past the age to make it a reasonable daily driver.
The F90 is faster, more capable, and more refined. It should be. Missing from it is a layer of feel that this car has. Perhaps when you climbed out of your old E60 in 2013 and hopped into the F10, you thought it was much more isolating. But with the benefit of time, we see the F10 for what it is: one of BMW M’s best modern cars.
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