Manual gearboxes are becoming increasingly rare in performance cars these days. But BMW hasn’t forgotten those who prefer to change gear – in the US market at least. Buyers there can choose a six-speed manual transmission for the M5 super-saloon as a no-cost option. We headed to the Laguna Seca circuit in California to see how it stacks up against the standard seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Engineering a transmission that can cope with 552bhp and 680Nm of torque isn’t easy, yet BMW has done a great job of keeping both the clutch and short-throw shift action smooth and relatively light. However, the auto is a better choice at lower speeds – by shuffling into a higher gear earlier, it smooths out that huge amount of torque.
Surprisingly, it’s the same story after 10 laps of the track and several miles driving down a twisting California back road. The occasional jumpiness that even the best driver will get from a manual means you’re less confident about using the M5’s full performance.
The six-speed manual does highlight the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8’s incredible pulling power from low revs, though. On a fast B-road, unless you have to negotiate a very tight hairpin, you really can leave the car in third gear and let the endless torque do the rest of the work.
When you’re not shifting gear, the driving experience is as good as ever. The M5 will leave most supercars standing and there’s a great muscle-car rumble from the exhausts. It’s also incredibly grippy and agile for a car that weighs nearly two tonnes.
But if you want a manual M5, your only option is to import a left-hand-drive car from the US.