This may well be a car that you buy for the engine, and nothing else. And for good reason. The Formula 1-inspired, naturally aspirated, 5.0-litre V10 makes an enormous 500bhp at a euphoric 7750rpm – a rev figure that might sound more likely for 1990s Honda Type R screamer than an 1830kg executive saloon (and indeed one that is often found in black, looking more like a bank manager’s 520d than a supercar-scaring monster).
The BMW M5 is not a car you buy because of its ability to get to 62mph in 4.1sec, a frankly ridiculous figure for the time, but because of how it gets there. The intoxicating noise will encourage a heavy right foot – luckily, the trip computer won’t read below 7mpg, so you never quite know the true damage you’re doing (but it’s far too easy to see single figures) – and a delve into the iDrive system to find a route with more tunnels.
The earliest cars are 2005, and at £61,750 17 years ago, they came with almost all the bells and whistles possible: 19in alloy wheels (you can get those on a Volkswagen Golf these days), head-up display and sat-nav, 11 shift modes for the SMG gearbox, and even launch control.
In 2007, the M5 was facelifted (or LCI in BMW speak, meaning ‘life cycle impulse’) and the easiest way to tell is the LED running and tail-lights. (Be aware that some early cars will have them fitted retrospectively.) These are probably the ones you want, thanks to the uprated gearbox with upgraded pumps and hardware. Also note that the facelift was released in batches, so there could very well be pre-facelift cars registered late into 2007.
Alternatively, the easiest way to tell if the one you’re looking at is a facelift car could be to look at the boot: in 2007, BMW released the E61- generation Touring and all of these estates are facelift cars.
If you’re planning to buy an M5 as a comfortable cruiser, and the fuel consumption, 200-mile range and reliability scares haven’t put you off yet, be aware that the M5 went without the adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking of the standard 5 Series. Presumably, this was to maximise air intake, which the sensors would have inhibited… especially at the 205mph derestricted top speed.
Even on updated cars, the SMG gearbox isn’t the smoothest or most durable. To preserve the clutch’s life, as well as to improve shift times and jerkiness, lift off the throttle slightly when changing gear.
Otherwise, the E60 M5 should be a treat to drive – it is a BMW after all – and you can enjoy the still rather state-of-the-art engine and full stainless steel exhaust between fill-ups, and even the gimmick of switching to P500S mode, which unleashes all 500bhp, instead of the ‘standard’ 400. When filling up, admire the Chris Bangle-designed lines, which to many eyes have aged well and still help the M5 look modern today – to match its modern performance.
What we said then
14th September 2004: “We could dedicate two issues of this magazine just to the engine spec of this car. It’s a powertrain engineer’s dream, one of the finest road car engines yet built.”
An owner's view
John Simmons: “I love these cars and especially that glorious, high-revving engine, which really comes to life above 5000rpm. Modding the exhaust only makes it sound better, in my opinion. True, the launch control’s a bit useless but everything else is so much fun I can forgive it. Check the history carefully because any repairs will cost you a fortune, especially involving the big-end bearings. Oh, and you’re looking at 17mpg tops.”
Engine: Conrod bearings (probably the main cause of the M5’s reputation for unreliability) can give trouble if oil changes are skimped. Check for a Vanos warning light: it could be an oil pressure issue involving the sump-to-head hose or the Vanos pump (£1600) rather than the Vanos unit. Question the owner about the oil that has been used: it should be Castrol Edge 10W60 only. Expect oil consumption of around one litre per 1000 miles. Check if the expensive main service is due and negotiate if so. Throttle actuators can play up.
Gearbox: Even on updated cars, the clutch will need replacing after 50,000 miles (potentially £3000 or more). All will be jerky in town, but it should smooth out at higher speeds. If the seller won’t let you put it in P500S mode, they could be hiding a brutalised clutch. Some cars have had manual swaps, so check where the gearbox has come from, and who has fitted it.
Rear differential: It’s naturally noisy at low speeds and when manoeuvring, but excessive whining, clunking and grinding could signal a replacement is needed imminently. If it is leaking, it could be the seals, potentially just a £30 job.
Brakes: Discs are a big cost (potentially £1800 for a set) and could need doing every 30,000 miles. Check for a lip around the edge, or wheel wobble under long, hard braking, both telltale signs they’re worn and need replacing. Steering and suspension: Generally tough but feel for steering column vibration or knocking, which points to worn control arms. The optional EDC suspension should be reliable, but a damper is £600 if it goes wrong.
iDrive: If the system freezes on the BMW logo start-up page, suspect the hard drive. Budget £700 for an exchange system or get the ECU and computers updated with the latest software.
How much to spend
£15,000-£16,999: Pre-facelift, high-mileage cars (some in excess of 100,000) that’ll probably need bits doing on them soon.
£17,000-£19,999: Where most still sit. So a selection of years, still with higher mileage (70,000-plus), many with full service history and the major jobs done.
£20,000-£29,999: Later cars, and even some Tourings. Circa 50,000 miles, a full BMW or M specialist service history, and a low number of owners.
£30,000 and above: Many ‘as new’ saloons with low mileage and sometimes one owner, and a greater selection of Tourings.