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BMW’s S65 V-8 isn’t as good as you remember

It’s rare that you’ll find me staring at a blank page. It’s not how I write. Instead, inspiration can come at any moment. The shower. The food store. Cooking dinner. But in this case, it came in the form of a test drive: a Lexus IS-F (you’ll get a full review soon). While putting it…


It’s rare that you’ll find me staring at a blank page. It’s not how I write. Instead, inspiration can come at any moment. The shower. The food store. Cooking dinner. But in this case, it came in the form of a test drive: a Lexus IS-F (you’ll get a full review soon). While putting it through its paces, V-8 at full tilt, I felt oddly disconnected. Slow. It reminded me of BMW’s S65 V-8.

Then I felt sad, because I finally realized the truth: these high-revving V-8s aren’t as good as you remember.

Stop looking at the screen like that, you’ll pull something.

The high-revving V-8 problem(s)

RS 4
The RS 4 might be the loudest of the bunch from the factory, so bravo to them.

Mike, what are you saying? Is this even Mike? What have you done with him?!

Rest assured, it’s me.

Maybe you want to blame the prevalence of the turbocharger, or how much chassis technology has improved, but the generation of high-performance sedans made from about 2006-2013 just isn’t doing it for me like it used to.

Don’t worry, I have some facts for you (and some opinions), but I’m going to leave this question here for now: if any car I mention had its high-revving V-8 taken away, would it be nearly as noteworthy?

The chassis

E90 M3
Heavier, with less low-end torque to pull it out of corners.

We’re going to start not with the engine, but what it’s usually attached to. The E92 M3, Lexus IS-F, and Audi RS4 might just be the worst-handling group of sedans to carry their famous badges.

The biggest issue? Weight. The M3 clocks in at 3,600 pounds, almost 200 pounds more than an E46. The RS4? Nearly 4,000 pounds. These cars also grew in width and length (the E92 is 7 inches longer than an E46). They drive smaller than they are, but they are pretty big. How come the F80 weighed less?

Even the steering. It’s better than anything you’ll find in a modern car, but we seem to applaud mediocrity here. Just one spin in an E36 will reveal how much an E92 filters out at the steering column.

The fuel economy

More power with less fuel is always a win-win.

I know. I know. My E92 used to get the same fuel mileage as my current G80 does now, around 18 MPG. But the S58 makes more power (and a lot more torque) than the S65 V-8.

Even though you can drive these cars normally, to experience anything exciting you must rev them. That’s ok, but they are so refined at low speeds that you might as well be in a 328 or an A4. And if you’re revving them all the time, you’re going to see ranges in the high 200s. Combined with a smaller fuel tank, lack of range was a real concern. So we’re paying for a lot more fuel, but getting a lot less in return.

The sound

S65 V8
8,300 RPMs is fun, but unless you drive it up there all the time, it’s a quiet car.

GASP! He wouldn’t.

I would.

The S65 V-8 sounds lame from the factory. Put just about any aftermarket exhaust on it, and you have heaven. But why do I need to spend money to make my F1-inspried coupe sound decent?

Perhaps the worst offender here is the IS-F. It sounds amazing once you swing past 4,000 RPM, but unless you plan on driving with your hair on fire all the time, it’s just sort of there when you’re around town.

Burble tunes aren’t terrific, but hey, at least you can hear the engine at low speeds.

The power

A supercharged V-8 felt more fun (and special) to me.

I never thought the E92 M3 was fast. It was capable on a track, where I could leave it in third and let that S65 V-8 boil around 4,500 RPMs, but that’s the only way to drive it quickly.

Now I must admit that not all high-revving cars are slow (think Lexus LF-A), and not all high-powered cars are exciting (think C43 AMG), but these three behave a bit like an S2000. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and then oh-my-God here comes three seconds of heaven. Then it’s back to plebe power levels. There’s no turbo to bail you out either – you get caught in the wrong gear, and you’re toast.

A car like the F-TYPE is a counter example – a V-8 that’s supercharged and has power everywhere, but asks you to rev it to 6,000 RPM because that’s where peak power is. Or keep it close to home – adding a supercharger to an S65 V-8 makes it glorious.

You can have it both ways.

The price

Lexus IS-F
Just about 5,000 of these were made for the US.

Have you seen what an E92 goes for nowadays? A 19,000-mile Lime Rock Park Edition (basically orange paint and black wheels, same S65 V-8) went for $125,000 last year. This is not a $100k driving experience folks. To be fair, there are a ton of examples in the lower $30,000 range, but that becomes a game of rod-bearing roulette.

The Audi RS4 (2,000 sold in the US) and IS-F (5,118) blow the E9X away in terms of exclusivity, by the way. What makes them worth less? Sunday morning reputation.

The S65 V-8 was a great engine that didn’t go far enough

E92 M3
You can make it great, with time and money.

The S65 was a Jurassic Park moment – BMW was so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stopped to think if they should. If you want further evidence of this, observe how quickly they went back to an inline-six.

Now allow me to bring it back to my initial rhetorical question. Without the engines in these cars, would they be remembered as fondly? Clearly, the answer would be “no”. A boosted N54 in an E9X M3 just doesn’t sound appetizing.

But as we approach 15 year anniversaries with these vehicles, I believe it’s time to consider them relics of an era, not things to be worshiped.

Excuse me, I must now don my flame suit.

Want your car reviewed?

If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email! 

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