Other than the poor-sounding V8 engine and many kilogrammes of excess weight, there's not a
great deal wrong with the new M5. So there really wasn't much of a case to mess with it. But that didn't stop the US market moaning about the lack of a manual gearbox.
So, to quell the rising volume of requests, BMW has started to offer a no-cost manual option in the US only. And, on first impressions, that was a mistake. The rubbery-actioned manual is worse than the twin-clutched car in a number of ways: it's slower, it's less precise, and in a car as flooded in hi-tech gadgetry as this, it initially feels odd to have to stir your own gears. Like using a pitchfork at a gunfight.
But, of course, BMW hasn't just plonked a standard self-stirrer in place of the robocog swapper. Oh no. This, like the rest of the car, has a few tricks up its sleeve, too: rev-matching up and down the 'box, plus hill-start hold. So, even though the brake and throttle pedal are almost millimetrically perfect for heel and toeing, the manual M5 does all that matching of engine revs to the next cog
up or down automatically.
It's only supposed to do this in Comfort and Sport modes, leaving you to demonstrate your heroic helmsmanship in the third, full brain-out Sport Plus mode. But our test car did it even in Sport Plus occasionally. So maybe it steps in when it thinks you are about to make a hash of the change. Which would be often for most people, because it's not the easiest car to drive smoothly until you've sussed all the car's habits. It absolutely rewards good driving technique and makes you look like a just-passed learner if you get sloppy.
It's the first car in a long time where you actually have to select your shoes carefully, so you can better feel the pedals. But once you do that, the car is transformed. Instead of being an awkward lummox with a bipolar drivetrain, it becomes the fantastically rapid, quick-witted and willing sports saloon an M5 should be. And the best bit about it is that you, the driver, feel absolutely at the very centre of all the action. Crucially, even more so than in the twin-clutch model.
So start making some noise, Britain - you want this car, too.
4395cc, V8, RWD, 552bhp, 501lb ft, 19.0mpg, n/a g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 4.2secs, n/a mph, 1988kg
An unexpected pleasure that should be offered to UK drivers, too. One step closer to a real M-car experience