• May 5th 2006 at 5:04PM
  • 20

Sure it's got great handling and massive amounts of horsepower, but when you've got a clunky 7-speed sequential manual gearbox and an overly-complicated i-Drive, you just paid too much for your $81,000 super sedan. So says Mark Phelan, who tested out the BMW and can't wait for the manual version to come out this fall.

While the i-Drive is tolerable (because it's largely avoidable), Phelan maintains that the SMG is not. Slow and jerky, the gearbox can be controlled by the driver tapping the stick up or down, or via 11 different electronic programs that enables the car shift to on its own. The only good thing about the getup is that drivers who can't drive stick get to experience something an awful lot like it, though Phelan argues that that probably wasn't what BMW was going for.

The interior appointments and exterior design are stellar, Phelan says, and giving the vehicle a traditional manual will likely put it at the top of Phelan's list.

In fact, Phelan's criticism of BMW's SMG gearbox and i-Drive aren't new, but a growing chorus of voices have expressed discontent with both. For support, look no further than reviewer Robert Farago of TheTruthAboutCars.com.

[Sources: Detroit Free Press; BMW; TheTruthAboutCars.com]



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  • 20 Comments
      • 9 Years Ago
      He needs to realize that the SMG needs to be driven like a manual, not an auto.

      I made that observation when driving the M3 SMG with comp package.
      http://wheeltalk.fancal.net/?p=39

      Took some getting used to - you need to lift the throttle a little when shifting at low speeds to smoothen it out.

      The VW/Audi DSG is a better solution for those looking for a more traditionally auto experience. Frankly, given the availability of new auto transmissions, the only reason to go with a manual is because you want to. It's a valid reason, but it's not about performance anymore.

      And iDrive has the first navigation UI that I can't figure out with 20 min of casual use. I finally figured why it's got such a bad rep. Doesn't have to be that way though.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I'm not sure why people consider a manual stick more 'hardcore' than the SMG. To me, the SMG is for hardcore car enthusiasts.. it gets you quickly into the correct gear out of a hard corner, or getting out of a double apex in the correct gear at the maximum possible speed. Otherwise, why would anyone want it. Automatics are for normal drivers, manuals are for those who want more control, and the SMG is for the truly hardcore drivers.

      • 9 Years Ago
      you peaple know nothing about smg. it DOES have an automatic made you know. if you don'e know what smg is, don't comment about it. if you think its a clutchless manual, you know BS. its two transmissions in one. plys it also have sport mode.

      and about the idrive. it not bad.. its just this guy is too lazy. he wants it to have voice activation. the m5 is a racecar - and no racecars have voice activation. your lucky it even has al those luxury feature AND the the v10. so if u think idrive is complicated, your just lazy!
      dave
      • 9 Years Ago
      People kill me, all I hear is SMG isn't as good as a stick, its slow, its clunky...blah blah blah.. I own an M3 with SMG, (chosen over stick after a test drive in both over some twisties on farm roads), and I recently drove the 2nd M6 to come to the states...both are awsome..(the M6 was scary awsome) I can without a shadow of a doubt assure you that no-one on the plantet, alive, or has ever lived, -all geeked up on coke, and speed could ever shift as fast as the SMG on its fastest setting.. yes at slow speeds it works alot like a racing transmission: jerky and at times clunky ..but at any speed over 35 it is amazing, you can keep both hands on the wheel and enjoy bursts of downshifts through 3 gears in the time it would take any person with a stick to depress the clutch.. Also mite I mention SMG is not designed to appeal to old fashion "gimmy a good ol' cluch pedal and a stick to grab" kinda drivers..it's for the conesuers of modern auto racing, in particular formula 1 where the technology is king..I sure BMW will continue to offer a stick here and there, and upon demand, but in the end paddle shifting will eventually replace all.. hell even the good ol' vette's getting some paddels.. right now there is a guy in a black #3 shirt with a Busch beer resting on his stomach and his face burried in his hands crying right now..
      • 9 Years Ago
      A regular automatic in this class of car doesn't make much sense. Formula 1 cars cars use semi-automatic 7-speed trans. I don't know much about SMG, but VAG's DSG is excellent. I combines most of the pluses of automatics and manuals and does away with their minuses.
      BMW can just license it from VAG.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I've driven BMWs with SMG, and found the system's response aggravatingly clunky and unpredictable--except at WOT, where it's brilliant. I've never driven an M5, nor could I even remotely hope to afford one. But as much as I like the 530i and 550i, the M5 won't be on my dream-car list until the conventional manual arrives.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Personally, I think the M5 is a sweet ride but I wouldnt buy it just because of the transmission and i-Drive. I usually dont take the advice of someone else about a product. I like to try it before I buy it. But I have heard nothing but complaints about the transmission and i-Drive. They should have just stick a regular manual transmission in it.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Borg-Warner

      The BW dual tronic.

      See Audi, 7 forward speeds and 1 reverse in a longitudinal package. The next A4 will ride the 3 series ass, it still will only be 55/45, but that is a step up from 60/40
      • 9 Years Ago
      Maybe the manual shift will be a 7 speed (dog leg 1st) otherwise it will be way slower than the SMG

      Maybe the SMG isn't for Mark Phelan, maybe he needs MB AMG 6.2 and 7g-tronic?

      A double cluch 8 speed would solve BMW's (and maserati's) problems.
      • 9 Years Ago
      He didn't pan the M5, just the transmission. He's far from the first journalist to pan a clutchless manual. I'm not sure nationalism has anything to do with it.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Just my .02 regarding the manual vs. SMG/DSG debate...

      Clutchless manuals do indeed make you faster on a track, saving fractions of a second that you'd otherwise spend moving a lever between gates.

      On the road, though, performance isn't measured by lap times, it's a simple matter of how much fun the car is for the driver to drive it. This is why I often find cars that do 0-60 in the 6-second range more fun in the real world than those that can do it in 4-something. They're still fast, but you can push them hard without doing anything seriously illegal or endangering other road users.

      A long-winded way of saying that while clutchless manuals are faster, they're not as much fun, because they remove a layer of direct, physical connection between the driver and the machine. Anyway, to each his own.
      • 9 Years Ago
      The M5 has progressed from a powerful executive sedan to essentially a "supersedan" now, and the 7-speed SMG transmission is fitting. Interestingly enough, the 6-speed unit will be for North America only...
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