Strictly speaking, this isn’t the First Drive of the F10 BMW M5; it was officially launched some months ago, yet this was our first opportunity to drive the six-speed manual – a car built solely for US enthusiasts.
When faced with a plethora of exotic European machinery that never makes it across the Atlantic, it’s almost impossible to fathom how the US would get a model European enthusiasts would clamor for. However, this is the case with the M5 six-speed– built at the behest of BMW North America to satisfy our stick-shifting desires.
In last month’s issue we reported on a statement from the head of quattro GmbH who claimed the world will never see another manually operated Audi RS model, and yet here’s BMW creating a manual M for us.
How should we react? With our checkbooks, of course. If we’ve demanded it, and they’ve built it, we sure as hell better buy it. Because if the six-speed misses expectations it could go the way of the manual TT RS, where sales dropped to the point that it justified the death of all manual RS models…
After driving the BMW M5 and M6 equipped with M-DCT transmission, it felt liberating to jump into the three-pedal M5 and make all the decisions myself: when to change up or down, how aggressively to release the clutch and – the greatest pleasure of all – when to execute a heel ’n toe downshift. The pedals were perfectly placed, so even my first attempt looked like I’d been doing it daily. The placement flattered the driver, eliciting a satisfaction difficult to express.
Teaming up with a colleague, we decided to compare the six-speed manual and seven-speed M-DCT M5 on the track. Again, it was good to be commander of your own destiny. However, it soon became apparent around Laguna Seca’s fast turns that the DCT’s ratios and its swifter changes saw the stick-shift lose a few tenths in each turn. In some turns the manual’s gearing seemed better suited, but in others it was too close to the rev-limiter to avoid another costly gear change. By the end of the lap, the DCT was a couple of car lengths ahead and a cold reality slapped us in the face.
The latest flappy paddle transmissions do offer genuine advantages on the racetrack. They can execute sexy throttle blips on down-change and can even vary the shift speed. And with the M5 engineered for DCT, the six-speed manual was always going to be an afterthought. However, we’d still opt for the three-pedal car. It engenders a more emotional response and would make each journey memorable. It’s also 44 lb lighter, although 0.1sec slower to 60mph at 4.3sec. It allegedly has a different final drive ratio, although BMW’s spec didn’t confirm it.
Off the record, we were told one reason the manual wasn’t available in Europe was because it couldn’t sustain high speed without overheating, making it unsuitable for autobahn use. For our purposes, where revenue-collecting police departments mean most US motorists don’t exceed the speed limit for long, the clutch felt light enough to be practical in heavy traffic, and the gearshift was reassuringly positive. If nothing else, this could be the last European über-sedan with a manual transmission, and that alone should be worth owning.
We reported on the M6 Convertible in our 10/12 issue, and you can read more about it elsewhere in this issue. However, BMW is apparently committed to releasing a new model on an almost monthly basis, so when we had an opportunity to drive the Coupe version at Laguna Seca, we grasped it.
Driven in harmony with the M5, the Coupe seemed to possess more rear-end grip, the M5’s rear tires feeling almost “greasy” in comparison. This might be thanks to the M6’s 0.5" wider wheels for the same sized tires, or it might simply be the 130 lb weight saving with the Coupe. Either way, the M6 felt more stable both under braking and acceleration.
Compared to the rather portly but also commendably rigid M6 Convertible, the Coupe saves a useful 250 lb thanks to weight saving measures like its double-bubble carbon fiber roof. You could also find an additional 42 lb weight saving with the inclusion of BMW’s new carbon-ceramic front brakes.
The high-performance brake system will be optionally available on the M5 and M6 in early 2013, swapping 15.7" steel rotors for 16.1" M Carbon Ceramic items, with both using six-piston calipers, conventionally painted blue but finished in gold for the lightweight version. To fit them, you also require the optional 20x9.5/10.5" M forged wheels.
Fitted to the M6 track cars we were driving, the weight saving and extraordinary ability of the brakes meant it was like giving the Coupe an additional 50hp. As the conventional brakes absorbed heat and faded on our three hot laps, the carbon-ceramic rotors remained more powerful and totally consistent over the same distance. You could easily reel in an M5 with conventional brakes, simply out-braking it into any given corner.
We didn’t get an opportunity to sample the brakes on public roads, so can’t report how easy they would be to modulate in traffic. However, they did work well from cold on the track, which was a good sign. And we’re confident BMW wouldn’t release them for sale until they worked flawlessly…
Although not many M5 or M6 owners will track their cars, anybody who’s contemplating it should definitely wait for this option to become available. It makes these heavy cars more responsive, more consistent and considerably more fun. Used in concert with the M5’s manual transmission, we imagine these brakes would compensate for any gearing deficit.
Otherwise, the M6 Coupe shares the mechanical specification of the M5 and M6 Convertible, sporting the identical 560hp, 500 lb-ft S63B44Tü V8 engine with its twin turbos placed between the reverse-flow cylinder heads. Zero-to-60mph is 4.1sec and top speed is limited to 155mph.
The well laid-out interior features the iDrive control with large flatscreen display, plus buttons for power delivery, M adaptive suspension, steering response and shift speed. There are also two M buttons on the steering wheel that allow you to shortcut these settings; saving your favorites through the iDrive.
All this is available on both the M5 and M6, plus many more features such as the active M diff, M-tuned DSC and that very capable M-DCT transmission. Furthermore, the cars offer significant improvements in fuel economy and real-world performance over their V10-powered predecessors.
2013 BMW M6 Coupe
4.4L S63B44Tü 90˚ V8 with twin-scroll twin-turbos, 4-Vanos, Valvetronic, direct injection, reverse-flow heads, crossflow exhaust manifold, 1.5-bar boost pressure
M-DKG 436 seven-speed M-DCT, active M differential
Six-piston front calipers, 15.7" drilled steel rotors, single-piston rear calipers, 15.6" drilled rotors. Optional 16.1" carbon-ceramic front rotors
M front spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser, carbon roof, quad exhaust tail pipes, M gill vents, adaptive Xenon headlamps, LED tail lamps and signals
MSRP: $108295 (inc destination and gas guzzler)
Power: 560hp at 6000rpm
Peak Torque: 500 lb-ft at 1500-5750rpm
Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 4255 lb
Economy: 14/20/16mpg city/highway/combined (est)