The Ultimate BMW S85 Engine Guide: Legacy, Impact, and Problems

Strap in and prepare to be whipped into a frenzy, fellow Bimmer enthusiasts, for today we dive into the soul-stirring, ear-shattering, and utterly addictive world of the BMW S85 engine. Allow me to walk you through the sensational symphony of this lightweight performer that once dominated the tarmac and stole our hearts.

In the hallowed halls of Bavaria’s finest, nestled among an array of legendary powerplants, the S85 engine stands proud, bellowing its high-revving V10 battle cry. Born from the white-hot crucible of Formula 1 technology, this engineering marvel powered the awe-inspiring E60 M5 and E63 M6 models, turning them into the ultimate driving machines.

For those who crave the visceral connection between man and machine, the S85 offers an experience like no other, with its intoxicating throttle response, razor-sharp precision, and a wail that could awaken the gods themselves. But, as with any complex and sophisticated work of art, it’s not without its quirks and foibles. We’ll delve into the most common problems faced by this mechanical maestro, providing insight into what makes it tick, and occasionally, what makes it tick us off.

So, fellow Bimmerist readers, join me as we embark on a thrilling journey through the inner workings of the magnificent BMW S85 engine, exploring its unyielding ties to Formula 1, the legendary vehicles it powered, and the intricacies that make it both a blessing and a curse for the true aficionados. Let the revs climb, and the adventure begins!

The Birth of the S85

Ah, the sweet smell of a Bavarian workshop in the early 2000s – the air filled with ambition and the undeniable scent of motor oil. It was in this very atmosphere that the S85 began its journey from a mere idea to a true engineering masterpiece. BMW’s M division, fueled by their relentless pursuit of performance, set out to create an engine that would not only captivate enthusiasts but also cement their place in the annals of automotive history. And, oh boy, did they succeed.

Formula 1 influence and engineering collaboration

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the turn of the millennium when Formula 1 was at its zenith – a time when the visceral, untamed might of naturally aspirated engines ruled the roost. BMW was deeply entrenched in the F1 arena, supplying engines for the Williams team, and they aspired to infuse some of that track-bred pedigree into their road-going machines. Enter the S85, a 5.0-liter V10 titan, directly inspired by the BMW P84/5 F1 engine, and forged in collaboration with BMW’s motorsport division.

Key innovations and design elements

The S85’s crowning achievement? Its jaw-dropping ability to spin to a mind-boggling 8,250 RPM, sending a wave of euphoria through anyone fortunate enough to grasp the wheel. How, you ask, did BMW accomplish such a marvelous feat? For starters, they embraced a lightweight construction, harnessing aluminum for the engine block and heads. This not only shed precious pounds but also enabled the engine to change speed more rapidly – a crucial factor in attaining those sky-high revs.

Moreover, the S85 employed a distinct bedplate design, which rendered the engine more rigid and less susceptible to vibrations – a vital characteristic for a high-revving dynamo. And there’s more. The S85 featured a highly sophisticated VANOS system, regulating variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts, resulting in enhanced power delivery throughout the rev range.

The 5.0-liter displacement, in the context of high-revving engines, facilitated the ideal balance between power and torque, ensuring the S85’s relentless performance remained manageable on the road. This design choice proved to be crucial in setting the S85 apart from its competitors.

Delving deeper into the Formula 1 connection, the S85 borrowed several key technologies from its race-bred counterpart, such as individual throttle bodies and advanced electronic management systems, which contributed to its razor-sharp response and precision.

Lastly, the engine’s unique firing order – 1-6-5-10-2-7-3-8-4-9 – played an indispensable role in shaping not only its performance characteristics but also its distinctive, spine-tingling sound, further accentuating its connection to Formula 1.

As we admire the S85’s innovative design and engineering, let’s not forget that even the most exceptional creations have their imperfections. In the next section, we’ll plunge into the heart-stopping experience of piloting a high-revving V10 and discuss how the S85 stacks up against its contemporaries.

The High-Revving V10 Symphony

Imagine the anticipation, the excitement, the irresistible urge to push the accelerator as you sit behind the wheel of a car powered by the S85. The high-revving V10 roars to life, sending shivers down your spine and evoking a childlike glee. It’s a symphony that tugs at your heartstrings, with each note a reminder of what once was – the golden age of naturally aspirated engines.

The S85’s flat-plane crankshaft configuration and even firing order contribute to its linear power delivery, allowing it to scream to its 8,250 RPM redline with no hint of hesitation. With 500 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque on tap, this engine is more than a mere performer – it’s a force to be reckoned with. And what makes it truly extraordinary is the way it communicates with the driver, providing an intimate connection that’s increasingly rare in today’s automotive landscape.

Sound and driving experience

The S85 doesn’t just deliver performance; it serves up a full sensory experience, complete with an intoxicating soundtrack that rivals the finest Italian exotics. At idle, the engine purrs with a sense of restrained aggression, hinting at the power that lies beneath. As the revs climb, the V10’s crescendo rises – a wail that’s part banshee, part Formula 1 car, and entirely addictive.

What sets the S85 apart from its contemporaries, like the Mercedes-Benz M156 V8 or the Audi RS6’s V10, is its uncompromising devotion to the high-revving philosophy. The S85 revels in its ability to spin freely, providing a visceral driving experience that harkens back to a time when automotive passion outweighed the need for turbochargers and electrification.

Comparison to other contemporary engines

While the Mercedes-Benz M156 V8 and the Audi RS6’s V10 boast impressive power figures and their own distinct personalities, they lack the S85’s high-revving charm. The M156, with its 6.2-liter displacement, focuses on delivering torque lower in the rev range, while the RS6’s V10, though closely related to the Lamborghini Gallardo’s engine, is muzzled by turbochargers that sap some of its character.

The S85, on the other hand, revels in its naturally aspirated, high-revving nature, providing a driving experience that’s all about the thrill of pushing the boundaries. It’s an engine that makes you feel alive, that demands your full attention, and rewards you with an unforgettable soundtrack and an unparalleled connection to the road.

In the next section, we’ll explore the legacy of the S85 – the iconic E60 M5 and E63 M6 – and how this remarkable engine shaped their performance and driving experience, leaving a lasting impact on the BMW M brand and the automotive world.

The S85’s Legacy: E60 M5 and E63 M6

Enter the stage, two of Bavaria’s finest: the E60 M5 and the E63 M6. These remarkable machines, with their aggressive yet elegant styling, are the embodiment of BMW’s performance ethos. They strike a delicate balance between luxury and performance, blending razor-sharp handling with sumptuous interiors that cater to even the most discerning drivers. But, it’s what lies beneath their hoods that truly sets them apart – the beating heart of these icons, the S85 V10.

The S85’s inclusion in the E60 M5 and E63 M6 bestowed upon them a level of performance and driver engagement that’s nothing short of legendary. The M5, often referred to as the quintessential sports sedan, was transformed into a four-door supercar, with the V10’s high-revving nature perfectly complementing its agile chassis and sophisticated suspension setup. The M6, a grand tourer with the soul of a race car, offered a similarly exhilarating driving experience, with the S85’s howl echoing through the cabin as it devoured the miles.

In both the M5 and M6, the S85’s Formula 1-inspired prowess elevated them to new heights, setting benchmarks that left their rivals scrambling to keep up. The engine’s frenetic power delivery, coupled with the models’ taut handling and sharp steering, created an irresistible recipe that left drivers craving more. It was a match made in automotive heaven, creating a legacy that would be remembered for years to come.

Impact on the BMW M brand and the automotive world

The S85 V10’s influence extends beyond the E60 M5 and E63 M6, as its spirit lives on in the DNA of modern BMW M models. Its uncompromising performance, unmistakable sound, and intimate connection to the driver set a standard that continues to inspire BMW’s engineers to this day. Though the world has moved towards turbocharging and electrification, the S85 remains a shining example of what can be achieved when passion and innovation collide.

In a broader context, the S85 and its high-revving contemporaries marked the end of an era, one where naturally aspirated engines ruled the roost. As the automotive world continues to evolve, the S85 serves as a poignant reminder of a time when visceral thrills took precedence over outright efficiency, and the wail of a V10 was the soundtrack to our dreams.

In the following section, we’ll take a closer look at some of the common problems associated with the S85 engine and explore the preventative measures that can be taken to keep these automotive legends running at their best.

Common S85 Engine Problems

Throttle actuators

As with any high-performance engine, the S85 has its quirks and issues. One common problem is the failure of the throttle actuators. These electro-mechanical devices control the opening and closing of individual throttle bodies, ensuring the engine receives the correct amount of air for optimal combustion. Over time, the gears within the actuators can wear out, leading to poor performance or even a limp-home mode. Regular inspection and replacement of worn components can help prevent more serious issues down the line.

Rod bearings

Another well-known issue with the S85 engine is the premature wear of rod bearings. These small but essential components play a crucial role in ensuring smooth operation of the crankshaft and connecting rods. Due to the engine’s high-revving nature and tight tolerances, the bearings can experience accelerated wear, potentially leading to catastrophic engine failure if left unchecked. To minimize the risk, owners are advised to use high-quality engine oil, change it frequently, and monitor oil levels regularly. Some enthusiasts opt for upgraded aftermarket bearings to provide added peace of mind.

VANOS system

The S85’s advanced VANOS system, responsible for its variable valve timing, can also be a source of trouble. Solenoids and seals within the system may deteriorate over time, resulting in poor performance, reduced fuel efficiency, and even engine stalling. Regular maintenance and inspection of the VANOS components are essential to keep the system functioning properly and ensuring the S85 remains the high-revving powerhouse it was designed to be.

Other known issues and preventative measures

Additional concerns for S85 owners include fuel injector failures and issues with the engine’s fuel pump. Maintaining a proper maintenance schedule, using quality parts and fluids, and addressing any warning signs early can go a long way in preserving the health and longevity of the engine.

Despite these known problems, the S85 remains a paragon of automotive engineering, and with the proper care and attention, it can continue to deliver the exhilarating driving experience that has made it a legend in the automotive world.

In the next section, we’ll explore the future of high-revving engines and discuss the potential for a comeback, as well as the lasting impact of the S85 on enthusiasts and the industry at large.

The Future of High-Revving Engines and the S85’s Lasting Impact

As the automotive industry shifts towards electrification and increasingly stringent emissions standards, the future of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines like the S85 appears uncertain. Modern powerplants are dominated by turbocharging and hybrid technologies, which prioritize efficiency and torque delivery over the raw, visceral experience that defined the golden era of high-revving engines.

Despite the changing landscape, there remains a glimmer of hope for the high-revving engine’s revival. As engineers continue to push the boundaries of internal combustion technology, we may yet see a resurgence of high-revving engines, albeit with a focus on cleaner emissions and improved efficiency. One such example is the recent introduction of Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine, which combines the advantages of both gasoline and diesel engines, while still delivering a high-revving driving experience.

The S85’s legacy endures in the hearts and minds of automotive enthusiasts worldwide, who fondly remember the era of naturally aspirated, high-revving engines. Its influence can still be felt today, as the S85 serves as a benchmark for engineering excellence, reminding us of the heights that can be achieved when passion and innovation intersect.

Furthermore, the S85’s impact on the industry is evident in the continued pursuit of engaging driver experiences by automakers like BMW, who have strived to maintain a balance between performance and efficiency in their latest M models.

The lasting legacy of the S85

As we look to the future, the S85 V10 will forever remain a shining example of what was possible during a bygone era of automotive engineering. Its howl will continue to echo through the canyons, and its performance will forever be etched in the annals of automotive history. Though the world may have moved on, the S85’s high-revving spirit will live on in the hearts of enthusiasts, serving as a reminder of a time when cars were more than just machines – they were an extension of our very souls.

Georg Meier

BMW technician since 1996. I began my automotive journey in 1993 as an apprentice mechanic at Automag, the world's oldest BMW dealership in Munich. With years of experience and dedication, I garnered a wealth of knowledge about the intricacies of BMW and MINI vehicles. The love/hate relationship with the brand led me to found BIMMERIST where I share expertise and insights with fellow enthusiasts.

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