- What’s Best: Power and speed that puts many supercars to shame, handling to match, civilized ride.
- What’s Worst: Fake exhaust noise not necessary, not as memorable as it should be.
- What’s Interesting: The all-wheel drive system in the M5 can be turned off, sending all 600 hp to just the rear wheels. Giddy up!
There’s fast and then there’s M5 fast.
A near-universal adoption of turbochargers in everything from small hatchbacks to giant SUVs has made speed much cheaper than it used to be. Dashing to 100 km/h from rest in 6 seconds or under was considered very fast. Big dog territory. High-priced metal. Not even 20 years ago.
A new Golf GTI can do that without breaking a sweat. Because turbo.
This year brought a brand new M5. Considered the benchmark 4 door supercar. Carrying four people in comfort. Or terror. Depending on who’s doing the driving.
When a new one comes out it’s a big deal, if you’re the type that’s into this sort of thing.
The new M5 also has turbos. And like the one before it, those turbos are attached to 4.4 litres of Bavarian V8. As you’d expect there’s more power, made possible by various upgrades and cooling enhancements. And engineering. Also boost. 24.5 psi of it to be exact. That helps it generate a nice round 600 horsepower and enough torque to stop the earth spinning.
First impressions: The power is limitless; it feels like more than 600 hp (and it probably is). If 6 seconds was considered fast, then this must be light speed. The new M5 is conservatively rated to do the sprint to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds. And it doesn’t stop there. Keep on it and you’ll touch 200 km/h in 11. Track testing by third parties has found it to be even quicker. Breaking into the 2s. That’s not fast…it’s ballistic!
The effortless acceleration and engine define this car. It’s very, very good by the way, this engine. Like a small star resides in the engine bay. Power forever.
Deciding to go with a full automatic instead of last year’s 7-speed dual clutch might seem like the wrong decision but it sure hasn’t affected shift times. Those are still lightning-quick, quicker than before and it’s gained a gear. A proper three-pedal manual is no longer an option. That’s unfortunate but the new 8-speed automatic is very good. It entices you to use the paddles. Pull one and the shift arrives right now. Just like it does in a video game. Zero lag times, up or down.
There’s no noticeable turbo lag either. Just forward thrust. With all that power you might think it takes a pro to meter it out without hitting a wall of traction control nannies or melting the rear tires, but not here. This M5 uses all four of its contact patches to provide traction. It’s the first all-wheel drive (AWD) M5. Actually, it’s the first AWD M car if you don’t count the X5 and X6 M.
Purists might not like this change to the fundamental M5 formula but you can turn it off. Completely. The front axle will not chime in, even if you overcook it. You’re on your own. And you can only activate RWD mode when you turn off the stability control. BMW literally expects you to know what you’re doing and, believe me, you do need to know what you’re doing. 600 hp is a lot and can get you in serious trouble, seriously fast.
Think of the AWD as a safety net then. But one that actually helps this new M5 go faster, in a straight line and around corners. It’s a system that makes the power accessible and helps the average driver look better than they are. I spent a week in this German muscle car looking better than I was.
The M5 looks great. It’s a bit of a sleeper. And I love that. To most people, it looks like an ordinary five series. No fender flares and bulging hoods here, like you get on the M3 and M4. There are 20-inch M specific wheels, slightly bigger intake openings, quad exhaust tips, and a subtle diffuser. The roof is carbon fibre and the hood is aluminum with a couple extra strakes down the middle. There are M grilles in the fenders and a smattering of M badges, and that’s really it. Most of these touches will go unnoticed by most. But not when you floor it and fold space and time in front of you. That will get noticed.
It’s standard 5 series on the inside too, and that means excellent fit and finish and superb materials used everywhere. Extended leather is standard and it covers every surface. This is a six-figure car and it feels like it. The front seats have cool little M5 badges on the headrest that light up when you unlock the car. A nice effect, when you walk up to it at night. They are also incredibly comfortable and offer full support no matter the cornering loads. All seats should be this good. In the back legroom is just enough, a bit of a downer in such a big car. But the driver’s seat is where you want to be and from there all is perfect.
Two bright red triggers live on steering wheel now. They are your M1 and M2 buttons. Each programmable with the exact chassis and powertrain settings you desire. I set one of them up for full attack in AWD mode and the other for full attack in RWD mode. Being able to program your favourite settings to one button is a good thing because there are a lot. 3 levels each for the engine, suspension, and steering weight, and three more for the transmission shift speed.
New this time around is an exhaust button. It’s on by default and it pipes in engine noise through the stereo speakers. Why though?
I get that cabins are quieter inside than they ever were thanks to better sealing and soundproofing, but the fake engine noise should be reserved for simulators. I’m not saying that it sounds bad, but it doesn’t sound very good either.
None of this really matters much because an M5 is meant to be driven, and it does that incredibly well. There aren’t too many places where it can truly stretch its legs, but you can get a taste of what it’s capable of. The power is intoxicating and addictive. The steering is light and fast, turn-in is immediate and the front bites hard in corner entry. The car rotates around your hips, like an office chair but more accurate, a good feeling that inspires confidence. Standard M Compound brakes with 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers offer immense stopping power, and never feel taxed.
Faultless is an easy way to describe how this M5 drives. But there’s something missing and it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is.
The chassis is so good, so capable, yet you feel isolated. Not a full part of the equation. Like when the 8-speed automatic perfectly executes a series of blipped downshifts or when the AWD system easily takes you around a corner that you entered way too fast. There are many electronic systems at your aid here and the raw nature of M5s past seems distant.
Drive an E39 M5 (2000-2003) with the 6-speed manual transmission and all this makes a bit more sense. That model only had 400 hp but it lived in an era right before technology completely took over and was an example of everything that was good about cars at the time.
Progress is forward marching and unrelenting and this new M5 is a product of that progress and market demands. Bigger, faster, safer, and capable of driving itself in traffic. It’s quieter, more comfortable, has more toys, and can blow the doors of most supercars, and it’s objectively the best M5 yet. Whether that makes it the most desirable one is a question for another day.
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