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Reader test: BMW M5

2007-11-01 07:42

Nimrod Barlev

I love fast cars. That adrenaline rush under hard acceleration is an awesome feeling. It makes me feel alive!

I also like the flexibility of a big car. It allows you to go on holiday with mates or fetch people from the airport with no hassles.

With all that in mind, and considering that I absolutely loved the older generation M5 I had a few years back, it seemed a no-brainer to opt for the new model.

Five-litre V10, 373 kW of adrenaline, 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds and the practicality of a large family sedan with the go of a Ferrari.

Black on black with shiny chrome bits, my M5 really looks the part too. The kit is also impressive and all the bells and whistles - sunroof, PDC, sat nav, auto xenon headlights, auto windscreen wiper, folding mirrors, heads up display, the list goes on and on - are standard.

The iDrive system is a pain, but I find that if I use voice activation, I can do most things without even attempting to navigate the maze that is this "user interface".

All is not well

So it ticks all the right boxes and, in theory, should be a brilliant car, but it isn't.

It does have some minor flaws, such as the turning circle of an 18-wheeler truck and gearbox settings that reset to the minimum level every time you start the car.

On the default setting, the gears change so often that by the time you hit 20 km/h, you're up to seventh gear and the bus that was next to you at the robot has already reached its destination.

This means that you need to press the gearbox select button a few times to find an intermediate setting - every single time you start up. Irritating yes, but not the end of the world...

Also, after 250 km of relatively sedate driving, the fuel light generally comes on. This means that I'm a VIP at most petrol stations in Sandton as I frequent them all on a weekly basis.

I may well be able to live with all these things, but I can't live with the SMG gearbox (which stands for Stupidly Moronic Gearbox).

What were they thinking?

Modern auto 'boxes are a pleasure - simple and intuitive - but this SMG nightmare, in my opinion, is the worst piece of German engineering since they decided a hundred years ago that a Zeppelin should be the transport mode of choice.

The irony is that it is probably one of the better "flappy-paddle" 'boxes around when in manual mode. Once you get used to taking your foot off the accelerator just after up-changes, you can get an incredibly smooth and satisfying ride. It offers a truly clutchless manual as it never kicks down or changes up on its own, and only changes down when you stop in the wrong gear.

The problem is that 95% of my driving is in traffic using the auto mode. And that's where it's sooo painful.

For example, you're on a slight incline at a red light behind a few other cars. The light changes and you start moving slowly when, all of a sudden, the SMG decides you need to be in second gear. Due to the low speed, it then commences the slowest gear change in history, so much so that you feel as though you're going backwards.

So you put your foot down and four minutes later when second is eventually engaged, 373 kW propel you forward and you have to brake to avoid going into the car in front of you.

Rolling to a near-stop on an incline is equally hazardous. If you need to go again just before you've come to a complete stop on a hill, the 'box, which is in second, will decide it needs to engage first gear. So you try accelerating, but you're in the middle of "the four minute gear change" again, so now you ARE rolling back and you have to brake to avoid going into the car behind you! Shocking!

I recently went to KZN and drove a rental Hyundai Accent with an auto gearbox. I cannot tell you what a pleasure that crappy gearbox on that crappy car was compared with my M5 and its SMG. I absolutely loved it and it really hit home just how bad my car's gearbox is.

So, for me, my car has amazing power, comfort, space and is loaded with features, but the gearbox is so atrocious that I wouldn't recommend the M5 to anyone.

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