It’s approximately ten minutes since the BMW M5 press launch wrapped at Lime Rock Park and we’re exhausted. Apart from numerous laps around track, we’ve already driven over 250 miles of some of the most challenging roads in the country, interspersed with lots of small towns and punctuated by a handful of cops who eyeball us with suspicion as we trundle by in a convoy of several thousand horsepower. We’ve been lucky all day, getting stuck behind vans and cars just as one of Connecticut’s finest happened to be sitting at the side of the road looking for a vict… sorry… keeping the roads safe. The day’s drive provided us a fine opportunity to really shake down the M5 and I’m very impressed. The M5 is one of those cars that begs to be thrashed and having duly obliged all day long I’m now ready for a warm bath and a nice long sleep. No such luck, though. Our M5 has to be back to Houston by Monday morning so one Mr. Lyle Lovett can take her for a spin. That’s over 2,000 miles away, which wouldn’t be so bad except my sister is flying into Houston on noon on Saturday and I have to be there to meet her.
That’s 41 hours from now, which means that if we stay awake the entire time, don’t stop for food and tinkle in bottles we still have to average fifty miles an hour the whole way. Right now we’re doing 30 mph as we inch through Kent, Connecticut so things aren’t looking good. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m in the passenger seat of the M5 right now as I write this. This is blow-by blow account from the cockpit of the M5 and you’re along for the ride. Our first stop is New York but I’m going to sign off now so I can motivate my fellow traveller, Matt, into driving a little faster and perhaps using the high beams on occasion. Talk to you there.
DATE: OCTOBER 27,2005 | TIME:10:58 PM | LOCATION:LINCOLN TUNNEL | CURRENT SPEED:2 MPH | MILEAGE:171.3 | MUSIC:MASSIVE ATTACK KARMACOMA | CIVILITY STATUS:GOOD
We’re stuck in the Lincoln tunnel now trying to get out of the traffic hellhole that is New York. We entered Manhattan through the Bronx and poor Matt, who’s used to the wide-open spaces of Texas, was aghast at the way drivers were swerving and ducking through traffic as if it were some elaborate 3D video game. It didn’t help matters that he had more ‘tinkle’ in him than a Pampers research facility, but there was still no need for that kind of blasphemy and damnation of the locals. Around that point our civility status dropped to ‘critical’ because the more stressed out Matt gets the more he put me on edge, so following a cross exchange of words we aim for the first available McDonalds (which happened to be near Battery Park) to get Matt some relief. At that point I took over the driving because if you’re not used to driving in New York it can seem more like New Delhi. To be honest, I had never driven in New York either up to that point but all big cities work the same, I find.
The philosophy is simple – asphalt possession is ten-tenths of the law - so if you can get on a patch of ground before someone else does, it’s yours – no arguments. There’s a weird organic fluidity to the way traffic streams through Manhattan and the only things that upset the ‘flow’ are tardiness and indecisiveness. Commit either offence and you receive a single warning honk followed by an immediate and aggressive lunge past you.(These are the natural laws of traffic physics – cars pour into the vacuum in front of the obstacle, releasing pressure from behind.) Matt’s hesitance to swap ‘lanes’ made him vulnerable to attack, whereas I’ll not only change lanes I’ll readily adapt the local custom and create my own. Oh, and Matt has an unnatural and still unexplained hate of taxi cabs as well, which makes New York probably the worst place in the world for him to be driving.
The M5’s sat-nav is fairly worthless in Manhattan, by the way. It doesn’t know any of the proper ‘Points of Interest’ and the display only shows the occasional street name. But getting lost proved a boon for us as we took in the World Trade Center site, the Empire State Building, Wall Street and, finally, Times Square, where traffic was so slow I was able to jump out (letting Matt take the helm again) and take my photographs without having to pull over. To my astonishment, the sight of the first E60 M5 drew considerable attention from passers-by who continually asked me questions about the car as I tried to take pictures. Two valets almost crashed a Mercedes twice as expensive as our $82,000 M5 trying to get across three lanes of traffic just to look at the car.
They knew all the car’s vital statistics, too ,but they were curious to know if it felt like 500 hp and if the SMG gearbox was any better than the one in the M3.Their unbridled glee even started to draw a small crowd, so we thought it might be a good idea to get out of there before someone’s admiration got the better of them and we were relieved of our M5.With a calmer, cheerier, emptier Matt behind the wheel now, we programmed the navigation system for Washington DC and headed for the Lincoln tunnel, which is where I write from now. It’s bumper-to-bumper here for some reason, and even though DC is some 189 miles away, the prospect of getting the hell out of New York’s crazy traffic with the M5 intact has raised our spirits and given us hope we might make up some time on the open road.
DATE:OCTOBER 28,2005 | TIME:3:39 A.M.| LOCATION:INTERSTATE 66,JUST WEST OF WASHINGTON,D.C.| CURRENT SPEED:60 MPH | MILEAGE:375.8 | MUSIC:FROU FROU: LET GO | CIVILITY STATUS:FAIR
Damn, I’m tired. We’ve just left Washington DC which, at 3 a.m., is not somewhere you want to be driving a flashy car around. Fortunately, in a dark colour the M5 actually drops below the radar fairly well and can scoot around without drawing too much attention to itself. The streetwalkers and pimps clock it, though. Two men, inching through downtown Washington in an eighty grand car at three in the morning? We may as well have had a flashing red beacon on the roof. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to endure the whoops and hollers if we are to get a photograph near one of the city’s landmarks. Now that so many of the streets are pedestrian-only, this is proving a tough task. The front of the Lincoln Monument is all cordoned off for construction, the WWII memorial doesn’t have any legal parking nearby and I didn’t want to stand in front of Capitol Hill or the White House with a camera at this hour of the morning for fear of getting hauled away by the CIA.
Fortunately, we eventually found a parking lot that afforded us a nice angle of Washington Monument so, job done; we pointed the M5 at Front Royal (about 60 miles west of DC) and made our exit. We’re not stopping until we get there but it’s not going to be easy. We’ve been up since 7.a.m.We’ve driven over 600 miles today alone and that’s not counting our time at Lime Rock Park where we met and rode with Sam Posey as he belted around that tricky track at breakneck speed. Alright, I confess. I had no idea who Sam Posey was either, but Matt vaguely remembers him as an NBC motorsport presenter and thinks he might be an ex-BMW Can Am driver from the 70s.Matt also thinks he overheard someone saying Sam was the first person round Lime Rock in less than a minute which is why the motorsport-mad Brand Manager for BMW, Bill Scully, has borrowed Matt’s stopwatch to sneakily see if Posey can manage the same feat in an M5 with three passengers. He can’t, but this 60-year-old veteran’s time of 66.8 seconds in fading light on hot brakes and tires is nonetheless impressive.
The hacks are pootling around in about 75 seconds but the instructors weren’t exactly letting us have much fun and one wouldn’t even let me turn on the M mode. As we stood on the side of the track watching the M5 thunder past we couldn’t help be impressed by the car’s pace and poise. And its noise! It might sound like a diesel at idle, but opened up down the main straight the M5 howls like a single-seater and causes all kinds of physiological reactions as it screams by. What’s also amazing about the M5 is that it actually seems faster when viewed from the outside than it is when you experience that speed from the inside. The brakes are so strong, the chassis is so balanced and the acceleration is so effortless that even when belting down the main straight at 125 mph, the M5 feels perfectly composed and totally at home. When viewed from the pit lane, the pace of this big sedan is almost impossible to comprehend. Even now, as I sit in the passenger extraordinarily comfy seat with the stereo booming away in the background and the miles just melting away beneath us, I can’t believe that this is the same car. Could this be the best car in the world? Ask me tomorrow. Right now I just want to get out of it and into a warm bed.
DATE: OCTOBER 27,2005 | TIME:11.45 A.M.| LOCATION: SUPER 8 MOTEL,SOUTH STREET,FRONT ROYAL, VIRGINIA | CURRENT SPEED: 0 MPH | MILEAGE:429.9 | MUSIC:A VACUUM CLEANER IN THE NEXT ROOM | CIVILITY STATUS:FAIR
I’m sitting in the hotel room and we’re about to embark on the second day’s drive. We were rudely awakened at 11:33 a.m. when the receptionist called our phone to inform us that we needed to check out, despite having asked for a late checkout when we rolled in last night around 5 a.m. Because of the exertions of yesterday, it was difficult to fall into a deep sleep so I’ve only managed about 4 hours of on-and-off sleep. Unfortunately, we still have 1,500 miles of our journey ahead of us. I’m also ridiculously behind schedule and I’ve already had to call my wife and asked her to collect my sister from the airport, which she agreed to do but not before giving me a ten-minute long version of ‘I told you so’. I’m aware it was a lofty ambition to get back by noon on Saturday and as good as the M5 is at devouring highway, there’s only so fast we can reasonably go. Next stop is the Old Fox Diner across the street for an artery-blocking breakfast before heading for the Shenandoah National Park and the famous Skyline Drive. One of the Flight Attendants on our flight to New York told us it was a beautiful road. She saw us looking at our map and kindly offered us some travel tips and, because she and her husband are car enthusiasts and fond of the odd cross-country jaunt themselves, she was very envious of our upcoming adventure. Feeling the way I do now, there’s no need to feel jealous, Jean.
DATE: OCTOBER 28, 2005 | TIME:6:21 P.M.| LOCATION: ARBY’S RESTAURANT, BRISTOL,TENNESSEE | CURRENT SPEED:0 MPH MILEAGE 777.8 | MUSIC: MICHELLE BRANCH: BREATHE | CIVILITY STATUS: FAIR
We’ve just visited Bristol Motor Speedway, which is one of the country’s oldest and most famous NASCAR tracks, apparently. It’s a half mile paved oval, Matt informs me, and it’s certainly an impressive structure, though we were glad to get out of there without getting arrested. I couldn’t resist the temptation to use the massive parking lot for a spot of drift practice but just was we were exiting the security guard turned up to lock the gates and was not impressed. Fortunately, we had a cloud of tire smoke to camouflage our hasty escape, but still. Not my smartest move. Sorry, Bristol Motor Speedway. An older boy made me do it.
DATE:OCTOBER 28,2005 | TIME:11:07 P.M.| LOCATION: GAS STATION,JUNCTION OF US 129 AND 114,SOUTHEAST OF KNOXVILLE,TENNESSEE | CURRENT SPEED:0 MPH | MILEAGE 1002.3 | MUSIC: DAFT PUNK:MAKE LOVE | CIVILITY STATUS:EXCELLENT Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! I’m so excited
I could wet myself, but before I get into all that let me set the stage for you. Matt found a road nicknamed the ‘The Tail of the Dragon ‘on the Internet while researching this trip but it lies 50 miles off our course and after our earlier disappointment on the Shenandoah Skyline Drive we seriously contemplated not bothering with it. Now, if you’re ever near Washington and fancy a pleasant amble along some pretty roads, then I highly recommend the Skyline Drive. If you want to have some driving thrills, though, don’t bother. The speed limit is a teeth grinding 30 mph and the road has been designed for Winnebagos piloted by geriatrics so it’s about as challenging as arm-wrestling your grandma.
It also cost $10 to gain access to it because it meanders through a National Park, which only added to our annoyance, so we took the first exit we could find and got back on the interstate bound for Knoxville. Nine hours later the ‘Tail’ was fast approaching but because it’s a thousand miles from home we figure we might not get a chance to run it again for a long time so we opt to go. Turns out it’s the highlight of our trip so far. Just after we fill up the M5, we turn onto the US 129 only to have a Mustang fill our rear-view mirror. He’s all over me so I figure I’d better let him go past, but once he overtakes me he really doesn’t disappear at the pace I expect. As the road becomes less residential and more challenging, he ups the pace a little bit but we stick with him easily thanks to the M5’s staggering grip and pace. We whiz along 129 for a few more miles when suddenly the surrounding forest becomes considerably denser and sheer rock faces appear in our headlamps.
We’re still not on the tail but the road has already tightened up dramatically and at this point, the Mustang takes off at full tilt. I push the ‘M’button on the steering wheels hut off the traction control and take off in pursuit. Disclaimer: This is highly irresponsible behaviour and not condoned in any way by this publication. It does sound like fun, though. The M5’s surplus of power, grip and brake force means he’s not able to shake us off, no matter what he does. Indeed, he’s using every inch of the road and we rarely put a wheel out of our lane. I’d like to tell you this was all down to my driving skill but the reality is the M5 can do things I never thought possible in anything other than a Ferrari or a Lamborghini or a Noble. It’s incredibly forgiving and flattering - it won’t eat you alive if you need a mid-corner stab at the brakes - but if you can massage the awesome grip and chassis balance just right, it will catapult you out of corners so fast it feels like you’re on a roller coaster. Serious credit and respect also has to go to the Mustang driver, who took that stock V8 Mustang Bullitt and wrung every last ounce of performance out of it, making me work very hard to keep up. As the road opens up around Chilhowee Lake, he pulls in to assess his foe and we do the same.
The Bullitt pilot, Robert, has lived here his whole life and he’s dead impressed with the way the M5 kept up. ‘Most folks lose their nerve through there, ’he confides, and I have to admit were I in anything other than the M5 I probably would have lost my nerve a long time ago too. We chat for a while in the 35-degree chill, listening to Robert’s stories about the number of bikers that get killed up here every year and what law enforcement tries to do to stop the carnage. He reckons that 10 p.m.is a terrible time to visit the Dragon, because it’s so dark and cold, but we disagree. We’re here for the asphalt not the views, which is music to Robert’s ears. He offers to act as our Sherpa for the next eleven miles and guide us up the tail, but secretly, I think he’s got a point to prove. He’s spent a lifetime driving those 318 turns and I think he wants to tell his buddies how he and his Mustang shook off some city slicker in a 500 hp, 7-speed, BMW M5.I won’t bore you with the details – it was one of those times when you really had to be there – but I will tell you that when we pulled in at the top of the ‘Tail’ I’ve never seen such a disappointed face. ‘Ain’t nobody ever stuck with me up through there before, ’he mused. Yup, the M5 really is that good. As it turns out, BMW knows this road well. BMW uses it for its motorcycle ads and a few weeks later their engineers were up there shaking down their MZ4s.No wonder the M5 felt so at home on the ‘Tail’!
DATE: OCTOBER 29,2005 | TIME:6:55 A.M.| LOCATION:GRAND OL’OPRY,NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE | CURRENT SPEED:0 MPH | MILEAGE 1279.2 | MUSIC: CHEMICAL BROTHERS:CHICO’S GROOVE | CIVILITY STATUS:CRITICAL
We slept in the car last night, which was a bad idea. The upside is that I can get my photos in the early morning light. The downside is I feel like shit on a stick: I slept in my clothes, I have nowhere to brush my teeth and I only got about three hours of bad sleep. To make matters worse, Matt wouldn’t stop snoring and then he woke me up at 5 a.m. bitching about the cold. So the car’s been running for about an hour and half at this stage, which is a complete waste of gas, but at least he’s quiet now. After I get my pictures at the Grand ‘Ol Opry our next stop after will be Graceland in Memphis at which point we’ll simply let the Satellite Navigation take us back to Houston. I don’t know how we’re going to make it back, though. We’re so far beyond shattered it’s not even vaguely amusing.
DATE: SATURDAY,OCTOBER 28,2005 | TIME: 6:37 P.M.| LOCATION:I-10,JUST WEST OF BATON ROUGE | CURRENT SPEED:82MPH | MILEAGE 1851.2 | MUSIC:DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE – SUMMER SKIN | CIVILITY STATUS: GOOD
The end is nigh so we’re happy, but today has been extremely arduous. We’ve had very little sleep the last three nights but we’re managing to grab decent naps in the passenger seat en route. We reckon we’ll have put almost 2,250 miles on this M5 be the time we park it in Houston tonight, and around 800 miles of that will have been completed today alone. We’ve driven the M5 on the most challenging roads in the country, cross-crossing Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Tennessee. We’ve also scooted around Lime Rock, spent hours on the highway and even slept in it, and all in two and a half days. Right now, as I sit in the M5 typing this, I’m at a loss to describe just how good this car is. I’ve done all you can do with a car and the only complaints I have involve the stupid i-Drive system, the cup holders that won’t let go of Coke bottles and the broken trunk release switch.
DATE: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2005 | TIME: 10:03 P.M.| LOCATION:HOME,HOUSTON, TEXAS | CURRENT SPEED:0 MPH | MILEAGE: 2080.1 | MUSIC: NONE | CIVILITY STATUS: FAIR
We made it but I’m so tired now I can barely see. The M5 is a wonder – possibly the best car in the world and certainly the only once to combine big sedan practicality, continent crushing cruising and impeccable dynamics in a stealthy and classy package .I love this car ,I really do, but right now I don’t care if I ever see one again. Right now, my family, my shower, my fridge and my bed await me so Lyle, it’s all yours, mate. Enjoy.
Engine 4,999cc V10, 507bhp, 520Nm torque
Boot Capacity 500 litres
Acceleration 0-100km/h 4.7secs
Top speed 250 km/h (limited)
Transmission: Seven-speed SMG, rear wheel drive
Economy 14.8 litres/100km (19mpg)