Overkill: German cars of the 2000s and their crazy engines

I have written before about why I think that the 2000s was the best era for performance cars. But in that article, I only briefly mentioned the absurdity that was German cars in the late 2000s. In retrospect, this era of BMW and Audi specifically deserves more than just a few lines of text. Because what these two companies were doing in the late 2000s—specifically with their engine application choices—was truly insane.

V10s and V12s were being used for family cars, and in today’s world of hybrid-ized, turbocharged, and fuel-sipping crossovers, that’s a concept that seems completely unfathomable. As an example, imagine the sort of buzz BMW would generate if they announced that the next M5 would have an F1-derived V10 and a manual transmission. It would cause absolute chaos in the car community. However, that’s exactly what they did just over a decade ago, and it’s high time we talk about it. So, let’s go over why the late 2000s was a ridiculous era for German engines, why it came to an end, and why we’ll never see anything like it again. 

What was so ridiculous about these engines? 

If you’re a Euro car enthusiast, you already know why people say that the Germans went completely off the wall with their engines in the late 2000s. If you don’t know why, here’s a list of some German cars from the era, along with the engines that they were completely over-endowed with. 

  • 2005-2010 BMW M5: 5.0L V10 
  • 2008-2013 BMW M3: 4.0L V8
  • 2008-2010 Audi RS6: Bi-Turbo 5.0L V10
  • 2006-2011 Audi S6: 5.2L V10
  • 2006-2009 Audi S8: 5.2L V10
  • 2008-2012 Audi Q7: available with a 6.0L V12 Turbo-Diesel
  • 2005-2010 Volkswagen Touareg: available with a 6.0L W12
  • 2002-2007 Volkswagen Touareg: available with a 5.0L V10 Turbo-Diesel

Just a quick pass over that list is all it takes to realize that German automakers seem to have completely lost their minds when deciding what engines to put into their cars. BMW thought that the M5 would be well-suited by an F1-derived V10, and the M3 had a high-revving V8 loosely-based on that same F1 engine.

Audi seems to have truly gone insane, outfitting the RS6 with a twin-turbo V10, and using a naturally aspirated Lamborghini-derived V10 in the lesser S6 and S8. They also thought the Q7 needed enough torque to reverse the rotation of the earth (738lb-ft), so they shoehorned a 6.0L V12 turbo-diesel under the hood. Volkswagen joined the party too, making their Touareg family-hauler available with either a 6.0L W12 or a 5.0L turbo-diesel V10. 

Now, to the average person, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable that some of these cars would be fitted with such incredible power-plants. The M5 and RS6, for example, are serious performance cars, why is it so crazy that they have V10 engines?

This is a fair point, and while the M5 and RS6 are serious performance cars, they’re primarily family sedans, with seating for 5, fancy navigation systems, concert-hall quality sound systems, and enough cargo and passenger space to take all of your friends and their clubs to the country club for a round of golf.

When you take these amenities, and pair them with a bonkers powertrain, the absurdity becomes a bit more clear. It’s even more clear in cars like the Q7 V12 TDI. There is absolutely no reason for the Q7 to have 500 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque, unless of course, you want to tow a small building with your family SUV. However, Audi shoved that massive engine in there anyway, and the world was better for it. 

How did this era of absurdity come to be? 

The story behind how these powertrains came to be is an interesting one, and it dates back to the late 90s when BMW released the E39 generation of the M5. The E39 M5 had a 4.9L V8 that made a then-astonishing, and still impressive today, 394 horsepower.

Around the same time that the E39 M5 was released, Mercedes-Benz also unveiled their E55-AMG, which was also a V8-powered, mid-size luxury sedan, albeit with about 40 less horsepower than its BMW counterpart. This direct competition between the E39 M5 and W210 E55-AMG sparked the great German Horsepower Wars, a battle that still rages today. After BMW and Mercedes made their entries into the fray, Audi decided that they wanted to throw their hat in the ring, too, and in 2003, they released the 2003 Audi RS6. The RS6’s bi-turbo 4.2L V8 making 450 horsepower topped both the M5 and E55-AMG.

Mercedes bit back at Audi with an all-new E55-AMG, this time sporting a 5.4L supercharged V8 that produced a whopping 469 horsepower. BMW, not being one to bow-out of a good competition, decided to up the ante. In 2005, they unveiled the E60 generation M5, which sported a 5.0L V10 making 500 horsepower, and the rest is history… Mercedes continued to fight in the horsepower wars, but they stuck to V8 engines for their mid-size sedans, while BMW and Audi both upgraded to V10’s. 

Why these glorious powertrains no longer exist, and while we’ll never see them again

As incredible as the massively overkill engines that BMW and Audi were using at the time were, they were destined to be short-lived. In the early 2010s, and increasingly today, OEMs were forced to adhere to stricter fuel-economy regulations. Of course, 5.0+ liter 10 and 12 cylinder engines are not conducive to maximum fuel efficiency, so they were replaced by smaller engines with fewer cylinders and turbochargers. The M5’s V10 was replaced by a 4.4L twin-turbo V8, and the RS6, S6 and S8 all got 4.0L twin-turbo V8s to replace their V10 engines.

The M3’s V8 was replaced by a 3.0L twin-turbo inline-6, and the Q7 V12 TDI, Touareg V10 TDI and W12 were simply discontinued with no direct replacements. However, while fuel-economy improved and engine size decreased, the horsepower wars raged on, and still do to this day. While the above replacements all went down in size and cylinder count, they all went up in horsepower. BMW and Audi simply found more efficient, more sensible ways to make more power.

Final Thoughts

As unfortunate as it is that we can no-longer buy mid-size sedans with V10’s, or family SUVs with V12 turbo-diesels, it should come as no surprise that this era was a short one. The automotive world is continuing to turn sharply toward EVs and ultra-efficient engines, so it’s all but guaranteed that we’ll never see engines like these ever again, at least not in new cars. That’s why we should consider ourselves lucky that the current M5 and RS6 even have V8s, let alone V10s.

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