Long term report: BMW M3

Funny how there seems to be an M3 at every set of traffic lights I pull up to or every roundabout I’m waiting to join, and yet seeing an E60 M5 is still a very rare treat. You’d think after an M3 it’d be natural to trade-up to an M5 – but that clearly isn’t the case. In fact I wonder how many M3 owners have sneaked a test drive in an M5 at all.

Well DR has got an M5 in at the moment (for an upcoming ‘how-to-oversteer’ vid. OK so having over 500bhp helps, but Chris assures me there’s going to be more to it than that)) so a little back-to-back test is in order… The M5 is £65,890 in the UK to the M3 saloon’s £49,900 and for the extra £15,900 you get a V10 with 501bhp instead of a 414bhp V8, a seven-speed SMG ‘box as standard (the seven-speed DCT ‘box on the M3 is a £2590 option) and a good chunk more space in the rear and boot. Plus of course, the knowledge that you’ll rarely see another car like yours on the road. So how do they compare? Well despite the extra 140kgs that the M5 is carrying around its V10 has a big edge over the M3’s 4-litre V8. People have accused this motor of lacking torque (I’m not sure you can call 383lb ft below par myself), but just stroking along using 5000rpm or so the M5 feels very strong. Wind it out to 8000rpm and it’s just a complete nutter. Even a fully committed M3 driver would be left wondering quite how such a big saloon just dropped him so easily. And I love its mellow howl – despite revving so hard it never sounds even remotely stretched.

The SMG ‘box is less successful. In auto it’s all over the place and really struggles with crawling around in traffic – there’s no creep built-in so you’re forever rolling back when you want to move off, so you panic and jump on the throttle, which sends you hurtling towards the bumper of the car in front. It’s better at speed and brutally fast when you select the most extreme shift program, but it’s not a patch on the new twin-clutch DCT system, nor the simple standard fit six-speed ‘box in the M3.

Strangely the ‘box actually gives the big M5 a more hardcore character than the smaller, lighter M3: It always seems to be waiting for you to wake-up and start caning it, whereas the M3 does the big-hearted GT thing more convincingly. It rides almost as well, has lighter steering and because the difference between its top end and mid-ranges isn’t quite so stepped as in the M5, you feel happier forgetting about its 8400rpm limiter and just enjoying the thumping power between 3500-6000rpm. Most of the time the M3 just feels better resolved, a better dual-role car.

The M5 has its moments, though. It has terrific steering – quick and well-weighted – and surprisingly it feels just as agile and well-balanced as the M3. In fact I’m not sure you’d ever guess that it weighed over 100kgs more. It’s astoundingly accurate and has brilliant body control and when you do spin-up its rear tyres (which you surely will) it’s breakaway is more benign than the shorter wheelbase M3. I absolutely love it.

Is it worth £15,900 more than the M3? In absolute terms I’d say no. The M3 is more usable, as fast as you could ever need and has a truly exceptional chassis. I’m more impressed with it every day. However, if money were no object the M5 would be very hard to resist, if only to hear a 5-litre V10 engine spinning at over 8000rpm on a daily basis. So come on M3 owners, tell me why your next car shouldn’t be an M5 in no more than 100-words. And ‘MPG’ isn’t allowed to be one of them…