BMW's six-speed M5 doesn't let you fully disable stability control. They say it's because of liability issues. We say it's because of PR weenies and nazi-esque lawyers. Also, their North American commander-in-chief knows something's amiss. Why? He told us, seven years ago.
Hypocritical statements are a way of life in this business. The spin doctors spout 'em, the executives fine-tune 'em, and the press releases coat 'em in pretty words and nothing statements about "integrity" and "dynamic strength."; It's simply how things work: policies change, the industry changes with them, and the car companies become caught in a never-ending spiral of their own bafflegab. Few manufacturers--Porsche, BMW, and Honda being notable exceptions--ever have the tenacity to stick to a mission statement and philosophy over the long term.
Which is why this is all the more disappointing.
It's there, plain as day, on page fifty-eight of our May 2000 issue:
"Our Dynamic Stability Control makes it possible to drive the Z8 very quickly. But, if you like, you can turn off the DSC. The day when we don't allow the driver to turn off such a device will be the day when we are no longer BMW."
That's Tom Purves, the CEO of BMW North America--the largest arm of one of the most important car companies in the world. When the first press releases for the current M5 dropped, people yelled and screamed: there was only one transmission listed, and it was a sure-to-be-clunky sequential manual seven-speed. The car hit the streets, and again, people yelled and screamed: the sequential seven-speed was clunky, it wasn't very rewarding, and it was nowhere near as much fun as a traditional manual. For the first time, an M car . . . lacked something. Something significant.
The saving grace? At the very least, the seven-speed M5 is capable of all the things we've come to expect from a BMW: It's a true driver's car. Limit handling remains easy, predictable, and polished. Feedback close to the edges of adhesion--where the chassis starts to seriously work, where slip angles and grey areas of grip/no-grip factor in--borders on amazing for a 4000-lb car. This is the bit stability control takes away; these are the rough edges it polishes off. That we like the burnouts and the heinous sideways action and the taking credit for massive opposite-lock hero-move saves goes without saying.
The North-America-only six-speed M5 does not want your hero moves; it doesn't want your hoonery. It's afraid you're going to harness all 500 of its F1-inspired horsepower and turn its driveshaft into a pretzel or some creepy twisted-up balloon animal. It's afraid that its $700 clutch disk will turn into a small bag of lemon-flavored custard. And in New Jersey and Munich, BMW is no longer BMW--and a hundred different lawyers are happy.
Hypocrisy: "We build the ultimate driving machine. But seriously. It's not like we're going to actually let you drive it."