Autoblog Finds The New M5 6MT To Be Quite Unsatisfying At Nine-Tenths

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

We haven’t had the chance to thrash the newest M5 around a racetrack yet, but Autoblog has been granted the privilege of running “nine-tenths” around both the Ascari course (in the DCT) and Laguna Seca (in the new six-speed manual variant). What do they have to say for themselves?

In his article on the new six-speed manual M5 — a variant that, like the six-speed manual E60 M5 before it, is exclusively supplied to the North American market as a concession to the BMWCCA Club Race crowd — Michael Harley is not enthusiastic about the “enthusiast” M5.

we were very involved as all four of our limbs were tasked with an individual role. The 6MT required us to become an integral part of the car – both microprocessor and hydraulic actuator – and our attention had to be diverted from the apex and exit markers to get the shifts just right. We were plenty quick in the 6MT (thankfully, gobs of torque allowed the M5 to run most of the track in third gear), but we lost precious time on a few shifts and had to really concentrate on nailing the downshift into second gear at Turn 11. It was also much more nerve racking flying one-handed through Turn One at 100-plus mph…

While there is nothing physically wrong with the manual box, rowing one’s own gears is based on a technology that peaked in the mid-1990s (think Acura NSX, Mazda MX-5 Miata or Honda S2000), and it really isn’t going to get any better…

the M5’s 6MT is a Frankensteinian adaptation to the platform incapable of handling the same stress as its dual-clutch sibling – that’s a fact…

While our enthusiast-rich blood craves involvement, in this particular situation, it became painfully clear that the computer-controlled 7DCT is the M5’s better transmission.

The guy writes like he’s Seb Vettel adjusting the fuel map in the middle of 130R or something while holding Lewis Hamilton exactly 1.2 seconds behind him to simultaneously conserve his tires and preserve the DRS distance. Is it really that difficult to drive a manual-transmission vehicle around a mostly empty racetrack? What would happen if the M5 had a regular old Blaupunkt FM radio with a knob?

we were very involved as each finger was tasked with individual control of the knob surface. The FM radio required us to become an integral part of the car — both frequency-locking quartz crystal and amplitude/quality evaluation microprocessors. It was nerve-racking trying to dial in the perfect sound for Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” while at the same time inching forward in traffic.

Mr. Harley seems surprised and hugely impressed by the fact that the DCT gets around the racetrack quicker. He shouldn’t be. That’s been true of automanual transmissions more or less since the F355 F1 first made its way into the nightmares of Ferrari mechanics. He does, however, condescend to recommend something for the throwbacks who can’t stand to have a computer changing gear: they should go buy an E39 M5 with a stick-shift.

For better or worse, Mr. Harley’s autojourno privilege is on stark display here. Many prospective M5 buyers don’t want the choice of a clutch and stick for lap time, on-road pleasure, or even enthusiast credential at the Cars and Coffee. They want it because even after fifteen or so years of automated non-epicyclic transmissions, the technology is still fragile, difficult, expensive to repair, and resale poison everywhere the buyer has a choice. The people who are considering dropping $90K on these cars aren’t all lease-and-dump trustafarians looking to make a splash in the campus parking lot. Many of them are long-time BMW fans who keep their cars a long time. The pages of Roundel are filled with one-owner M cars from the Nineties, and they are also filled with llistings for SMG or DCT-equipped M cars selling for a considerable discount from their stick-shift kin.

Your humble author was a CCA member from 2001, when he got his first new Bimmer, to 2011, when he completely gave up on the brand. During that time, I came to know the mindset of M-car purchasers. Many of them look at automanuals as expensive transmission replacements waiting to happen. They don’t care about lap time — the ones who do care are running hopped-up E36es with numbers on the door. They want a durable, exciting sedan that makes them feel like an Autobahn dominator while they commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic. They want that car to last, they want to be able to enjoy it the whole time, and they want to get real money for it when they sell.

For those reasons and many others, BMW’s decision to bring the “throwback” transmission to us here in the States is a genuine, and useful, nod to the company’s emotional core. Mr. Harley is correct — at the awesome track velocities he and his compatriots achieve, the manual falls down. In the real world, however, it stands tall.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Darkhorse Darkhorse on Oct 12, 2012

    I don't understand why BMW doesn't offer a MT in Europe. When I lived and worked in Europe in the late 80s and early 90s, I'll bet two-thirds of all cars were manuals. Only the big sedans (BMW 7,MB S class, XJ6 etc.) had manuals. Have things changed that much?

  • Johnny Canada Johnny Canada on Oct 13, 2012

    An automatic transmission is the one component that guarantees to kill the resale value of a performance orientated automobile. Jack, you nailed it. Complex, fragile, and heart stopping expensive to replace. Anyone remember the BMW SMG transmission in the E46 M3? You can pick one up for about a 40% discount compared to the 6 speed manual. Funny how a manual transmission and a sunroof delete is the most desirable combination for a used M3 or 911.

  • ToolGuy I would answer, but the question might change again, and then where would we be? Also, bran... wheat bran? Bran Castle? The coliva served at Bran Castle is made with wheat, I checked. (Some places use rice, because collectivism does not work.)
  • ToolGuy Learn to drive, people.
  • Corey Lewis I saw a TVR Griffith 500 (mfd 1990-2002) back in June 2014 at the Ault Park Concours, in a side parking lot. It had plates on it, but was MUCH too new to be in the US, especially so as the 500 was a later model 1993+. Luckily I took pics as proof!
  • Bd2 This is when BMW started to go downhill design-wise...
  • Jalop1991 "...their resale value to be in par with a 80's GM diesel wearing a Yugo badge." Those words, sir, paint a picture.
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