Front view of BMW M5 E60 on rooftop in city

In-Depth Review: BMW M5 E60

Photos by Djordje Sugaris

It might not have been the prettiest, but the BMW M5 E60 is by far the wildest sports sedan ever to wear the blue and white roundel. Nearing twenty, this astonishing Bavarian has come to be respected even by the loudest naysayers and there are quite a few reasons why.

Diabolically high running costs are definitely not listed among this car’s positives, but the supercar-grade 500 horsepower V10 surely is worth emptying one’s pockets now and then. The E60 M5 was not just a special 5 Series—because in fact, they all are. It was a special M Car, and that accolade is something much harder to earn.

Close up of BMW M5 logoEven if you already know a thing or two about this ultra fast orca whale of a car, it’s time to refresh your memory and remind yourself why it’s worth catching the last train for this oddly cut gem. If not, stay with us and see what you missed about one of the greatest performance cars of the early 21st century.

Background & Development

BMW M GmbH was founded as BMW Motorsport in 1972 as the company’s racing division. Before there was the M5, the M Division fiddled with the E9 coupé, creating a hugely successful 3.0 CSL homologation special.

The first M Car was another homologation model, the M1 coupé and then in 1979, BMW Motorsport modified the E12 generation 5 Series into the M535i, creating the first M Car intended for road use rather than being built for racing requirements.

The E28 generation had another M535i and then, in 1985, the first true M5 was born by combining the underpinnings from the M535i and M1’s M88 straight six. In the following two generations, the M5 evolved from a straight-six E34 into V8-powered E39 M5. All three generations of the M5 defined the sports sedan market segment, helping BMW cement its position as the ultimate driving machine.

The success BMW garnered throughout the 1980s and the 1990s culminated with the 1994 buyout of the Rover Group, with the Bavarian company getting access to Land Rover’s all wheel drive technology, thus creating the X5 crossover in 1999. In between these two events, BMW started working on the entirely new, more radical range of vehicles, trail blazed by the E65 7 Series in 2001.

The development of the new 5 Series began in 1997, finishing in 2002 and premiering in 2003 in both North America and native Europe. The E60 M5 itself debuted in 2003 as a concept, reaching production in 2004.

During its production span from 2004 to 2010, BMW M built 19,564 sedans and 1,025 E61 Touring cars (offered only in Europe). Out of those sedans, just 1,364 had optional manual transmission, and those cars are quite desirable on the collector market both in the US and Europe.

BMW M5 E60 Chassis, Body, & Interior

Having adopted unibody construction in the 1960s with the Neue Klasse range, BMW continued on building the majority of its cars using the same principle, and the E60 was no exception. Its skeleton was constructed from various grades of steel with aluminum front wing supports, roof and body panels. The center of gravity was moved downward and the nose-heavy front was lightened, helping the 3869 lb M5 achieve 53:47 weight distribution.

Front view of BMW M5 E60 on rooftop in city

The polarizing design was widely attributed to Chris Bangle, but that is true only to a certain extent. While Bangle directed BMW towards deconstructivism, thus reimagining its conservative design language, the E60 and its E61 wagon counterpart were in fact penned by Davide Arcangeli.

An immensely talented young designer, Arcangeli joined BMW’s ranks from Pininfarina, but sadly lost the battle with leukemia in 2000 at just 30 years old, not living to see the E60 reach its production form. To honor Arcangeli as a brilliant designer and a beloved friend, the rest of the team was adamant about keeping the E60’s original design intact.

The M5 was available both in sedan and wagon body styles, and the E60/E61 duo was eventually redesigned in M GmbH, where Chief of exterior design Karl Elmitt did his bit to differentiate it from the regular 5 Series in both form and function. The alterations were delicate but highly effective; for example, the front bumper got three air intakes to cope with the V10’s increased need for air and achieve more effective brake cooling.

 Rear view of black BMW M5 E60 parked on city rooftop

Next, slightly wider front wheel arches got functional grilles, letting out built-up air inside the wheel wells and decreasing front lift. Moreover, the side skirts got more aggressive, while the rear end was finished off with a bumper accommodating quad tailpipes, BMW M’s signature feature since the E46 M3 and E39 M5.

BMW E60 M5 side mirror

To help minimize the increase in drag due to a bigger frontal area, square side mirrors were replaced with aerodynamically efficient almond-shaped ones. The final and most subtle change was the sedan’s trunk lid, which featured a smaller and deeper licence plate cutout and no keyhole (due to the M5 having an automatic trunk).

Interior of the BMW E60 M5

Inside, the M5 was generously equipped with a long list of standard features, including first generation iDrive, satellite navigation, and a sporty anthracite headliner. The M-specific details included a multifunctional three-spoke steering wheel with blue and red stitching, a speedometer etched to 200 MPH or 330 km/h for the European model, a tachometer with a moving redline indicator correlated to the engine temperature, a special head-up display, and M Sports seats with optional active lateral support.

 BMW M5 E60 Rev Counter

For this car, BMW also offered plushier M Comfort seats with optional cooling, made from perforated Nappa leather and providing active lateral support.

BMW M5 E60 Engine & Transmission

The E60 M5’s standout feature was the S85, a 5.0-liter aluminum alloy 90° V10. Unlike other S-Code engines which were high performance variants of BMW’s production engines, this unit was unrelated to any other production powerhouse.

The engine was developed from scratch by M Division, using the basic architecture of V10 engines BMW developed as an engine supplier for Williams. Backing up these bold claims, the S85 engine blocks were cast in the company’s light alloy foundry in Landshut, where their F1 engines were made.

Engine bay of BMW E60 M5 S85 V10

The S85B50 had four valves per cylinder, ten individual throttle bodies and M Double-VANOS variable valve timing. It produced a total output of 507 hp at 7,500 RPM and 384 lb-ft of torque at 6,100 RPM, redlining at 8,250 RPM.

While in regular use, the V10 was tethered to mere 400 horsepower, unleashing additional 107 ponies at the click of a button. This transformed the overpowered executive commuter into a potent track weapon.

 BMW E60 M5 power button and gearshift

To keep the steady supply of oil, the engineering team conceived a complex lubrication system consisting of four oil pumps, and two oil sumps. That way, the supersedan could handle up to 1G lateral and 1.3G longitudinal when braking hard without the engine experiencing oil deprivation.

The state of the art engine was mated with Getrag SMG III, a single-clutch seven-speed automated manual gearbox sending torque to the rear wheels via a locking M differential. The gearbox allowed the driver to shift the gears manually on the floor mounted lever or metal paddles behind the steering wheel, while the DRIVELOGIC system gave the driver a choice between six shifting speeds in the manual S Mode mode or five in automatic D Mode.

 Close up of gearshift in BMW E60 M5

Catering to its North American customer base, BMW introduced a 6-speed manual as a no cost option from 2007 model year onwards. The unit was based on the V8-powered E60’s 6-speed manual and provided a more immersive driving engagement at the expense of a slower 0-60 time and lack of ability to disengage the Driving Stability Control (DSC) system.

Not many customers ticked this option though—so as previously mentioned, only 1,364 cars sold until the end of production in 2010.

BMW M5 E60 Suspension & Handling

When it came to keeping the M5 firmly on the road, BMW M GmbH redesigned the regular E60’s independent suspension into a lightweight, yet highly durable system made almost entirely out of aluminum.

The E60 M5 got revised front and rear subframes, stiffer bushings, and anti-roll bars in the front and rear—plus additional cooling for the gearbox and the differential via NACA ducts on the front thrust plate and cooling fins on the differential cover at the rear.

The E60 M5 came standard with adjustable electronic dampers, and the Electronic Damper Control (EDC) offered three grades of stiffness and responsiveness: Comfort, Normal and Sport. A button next to the gear lever let drivers choose the suspension response, although it could also be navigated through iDrive.

In addition to adaptive dampers, the E60 M5 also featured adaptive steering. The system dubbed M Servotronic adapted to the EDC settings to offer corresponding feedback on the steering wheel.

The E60 M5’s Driving Stability Control had a unique M Dynamic Mode which effectively disengaged the DSC allowing the driver to push the car to its limits.

BMW E60 M5 M dynamic button

Once activated, all settings regarding DSC, EDC and the engine’s power output could be activated or deactivated via a M button on the steering wheel.

BMW M5 E60 Brakes, Wheels, & Tires

Ventilated and cross drilled steel rotors came as standard, measuring 374mm in the front and 370mm back, gripped by twin-piston sliding callipers. Carbon ceramic rotors were a very rare optional extra.

Close up of front wheel on BMW E60 M5 with brake visible

For the North American market, the E60 M5 had one wheel design, the 10-spoke Style 166M produced by BBS, measuring 19” x 8.5” front and 19” x 9.5” back, with Continental Sport Contact 2 tires in 255/40/19 and 285/35/19 respectively.

 Close up of rear wheel on BMW E60 M5 BBS Style 167M

On the other markets, BMW offered the M5 with optional 19” x 8.5” front and 19” x 9.5” BBS Style 167M forged double five-spoke rear wheels (pictured), also wrapped in 255/40/19 and 285/35/19 Continental Sport Contact 2 rubber.

BMW M5 E60 Legacy

When the E60 M5 hit the press, it was criticized for its clunky SMG and too many complicated electronic aids, forming a public image of a car too detached from the real M experience despite its phenomenal V10.

On the upside, this supersedan emerged in the golden age of V10 engines, marked by the veteran Viper and newcomers like the Porsche Carrera GT, Lamborghini Gallardo and a trio of Audis sporting its engine: R8, S8, and last but not least, the C6 RS6, the M5’s head-on competition. Displaying an abundance of naturally aspirated power in a refined manner, the M5 made an everlasting mark in this exclusive club.

Side view of BMW E60 M5

Moreover, the fact that no BMW besides the E63 M6 sported the V10 before or after it makes the E60 M5 a remarkable car in the vast M family. As BMW incorporated turbochargers, dual clutch transmission, all-wheel drive, and even more electronic aids in subsequent F10 and F90 M5 models, the E60 M5 turned out to be the last somewhat visceral M Car, closer in spirit to the E39 M5 than to its successors.

Its idiosyncratic character and historical importance caused the latest surge in prices, especially for the scarce manual variant. It’s safe to say that the E60 M5 has matured well, becoming a highly collectible piece of modern performance history.

Rear view of black BMW M5 E60 with logo visible

In retrospect, all of this car’s drawbacks can easily be attributed to the spirit of the era it was made in, and the E60 M5 is now loved exactly for what it is: perfectly flawed.

Show Comments (2)

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  1. It’s a pity that only a passing remark was made about the unbelievable expense required for the care & feeding of one of these “classics”. Just the demands of the SMG transmission is scary enough, then you have the issues that seem to plague most all the M engines from around 2000-2001. SMG clutch, slave cylinder position sensor, and wiring harness failures can be expected sooner or later. Have some fun trying to replicate that wiring harness!. And the last few BMW M engine series all seem to have rod bearing issues if driven hard, including the V10. What’s that all about BMW? Not to mention the misfire, valve spring, cooling system and other maladies the the M and standard BMW’s suffer from with a little age/use.
    My expectation is that if you see one of these in a museum 20 years on, it will be a static display. It will likely be an almost impossible task to keep one these things going as they age.

    45+ year Professional Car Doctor

  2. I have owned a 2006 e6 m5 for 5 years now. With 103000 on the clock. This car has what it takes to excite me every time. Mechanical problems have been few. Mostly the usual upkeep has kept me on the road. I hope to keep on hitting the car shows to enlighten the younger crowd.