2012 BMW M5 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: High-performance large sedan
Price: $230,000 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.9 l/100km | tested: 17.2 l/100km
The BMW M5 - it’s a monster of a car.
From outside, it’s businesslike and understated. Most pedestrians would barely give it a second glance. And for some, that will lessen the appeal of the big M5.
But this is a car for those ‘who know’. Beneath its subtly-pumped bodywork lies a truly stupendous mechanical package.
It transforms the F10 5 Series from a deceptively-styled, mild-mannered executive saloon into a roid-raging performance car.
It will smoke up its rear tyres with just a prod of the accelerator, and devour mountain roads with consummate ease - and it will do all this while carrying four adults in exceptional comfort.
Quality: Like the rest of the 5 Series range, the quality of the M5’s cabin is very hard to fault. Almost every key touch-point is covered in soft-touch plastics or supple black leather, and its quality is superb.
The M5’s cabin however lacks the sporty flourishes of some of its competitors. Bar the stumpy gear-shifter, M5-specific door-sill finishers and M-badged instrument cluster, it’s not all that different from a cooking-model 535i or 550i.
Comfort: One of the best things about the M5 are its seats. The front buckets are unique to the model and features power adjustment for not just slide, rake, bolster width and lumbar support, but also upper-backrest angle and seat squab-length.
The steering column also has power adjustment, and the range of movement is so generous that it would be nigh-on impossible to NOT be comfortable behind the M5’s sculpted wheel.
The front seats offer outstanding lateral upper-back support. The rear bench too is nicely cushioned with good under-thigh support (although the centre seat position is too firm and compromised by the tall transmission tunnel) and plenty of head and legroom.
Equipment: The M5 is loaded to the gunwales with high-tech gadgetry.
You get the usual luxuries of sat-nav, auto-on bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, powered seats, parking sensors, proximity key, cruise control and glass sunroof. But, for your $230k spend you’d expect much more than this, and the M5 delivers.
Quad-zone climate control, a powered tailgate, high beam assist, a powered rear sunblind, retractable sunblinds in the rear doors, Internet connectivity, a six-disc DVD changer, a 16-speaker premium audio system, TV tuner, 12GB of music storage and an around-view camera system.
On the options list you can tick lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor, soft-closing doors, night vision camera, digital radio tuner, rear-seat entertainment screens and heated rear seats.
Storage: The 5 Series sedan’s boot has a flat floor and measures 520 litres, with a netted pocket on the left and a deep recess on the right.
The 60/40 split rear seatbacks can be dropped via a pair of boot-mounted handles and there’s also a ski port.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With the transition to an all-new platform, the latest M5 has also undergone a substantial powertrain change.
Gone is the old naturally-aspirated 5.0 litre V10, and in its place is a 4.4 litre V8. It might have fewer cylinders and less displacement, but the new engine sports a pair of turbochargers to compensate.
End result: 412kW of power at 6000rpm, and 680Nm of torque between 1500rpm and 5750rpm. No matter where you are in the rev range, there’s an incredible amount of pulling power.
Consequently, it’s devastatingly fast in a straight line. That is, if you take the time to put the driveline in the right mode.
When set to ‘normal’ and the gearbox controller in its middle position, the M5’s muscular engine is put under a tight rein.
Give it a little too much throttle from standstill and the traction control system will dial the engine back suddenly. The result is that taking off from the lights can be a frustratingly jerky affair if you don’t treat the accelerator delicately.
Perversely, an easy workaround is to set the stability control system to M Dynamic Mode (MDM). It allows a degree of wheel-slip before intervening, and progress is smoother as a result - even when driving normally.
The twin-clutch seven-speed automatic (only the US market gets a manual transmission) is simply brilliant.
At its softest setting in automatic mode, the gearbox smoothly slurs each ratio into the next, and it performs superbly at low speeds.
But want to have some fun? Dial the shift program up to position ‘3’ and engage manual mode, and it bangs out hard, decisive shifts and perfect throttle-blipped downchanges.
This gearbox is truly a highlight of the M5 experience.
The transmission’s electronics suite includes a launch-control function. Activate it, and the M5 will rocket to 100km/h from a standstill in just 4.3 seconds. It is savagely quick.
Refinement: The M5’s 4.4 litre turbo V8 produces a pleasing thrum at idle, which rises to a guttural roar in the midrange. It’s a little quieter than you’d expect though (and we’d prefer to hear a little more of it).
There is also a seamless engine start-stop feature.
Suspension: Around town, rolling on 20-inch alloys with ultra low-profile rubber, the M5’s suspension tune is taut.
In its most comfortable suspension mode (adjustable dampers are standard-fit), the suspension is softened enough to absorb most road imperfections. However, it still has a hard edge to its bump response, and can crash over railway level crossings and bridge joins.
But a car like the M5 exists to go fast. So, crank the suspension mode to Sport (Sport+ if you prefer an even looser stability control calibration), grab the wheel and put the big M5 into a corner... hard.
Despite its weight - 1870kg empty - the M5 tracks absolutely true. With MDM engaged, you can enjoy some lurid tail-out attitudes (but with an electronic safety net ready to step in).
Backing up the technological tour-de-force of the twin-turbo V8 and dual-clutch transmission is the M5’s Active M Differential.
It constantly monitors steering and throttle inputs, and other vehicle sensors, to direct power between the left and right driving-wheels - in effect, it means you can get power on early and hold it there.
But the steering feel is a mixture of good and bad. In Sport mode there’s plenty of weight to the wheel, but not much in the way of tactile feedback. The rack ratio is perfect though.
Braking: The M5 has an enormous brake package, with two-piece rotors measuring 400mm at the front and 396mm at the rear. Huge six-piston calipers grip the front discs, while the rear caliper is a two-piston sliding type.
But while the M5’s brakes generate phenomenal stopping power, this is one area where the M5 can’t hide its weight. On a spirited drive, the heat capacity of the rotors can be quickly exceeded.
On one downhill run in the Victorian alpine region, we encountered so much fade that the brake pedal was virtually resting on the firewall.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: Standard features include ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control (switchable), and traction control (switchable).
Occupant protection is provided by six airbags (front, front side and full-length curtain), anti-whiplash front headrests and three-point seatbelts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres. Paintwork is warranted for three years, and body panels for up to 12 years against corrosion.
Service costs: BMW does not set servicing intervals for the M5, and servicing costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG ($240,985) - Like the M5, the E 63 AMG is powered by a twin-turbocharged V8. Despite more displacement in its 5.5 litres, the Benz’s 386kW/630Nm V8 is overpowered by the BMW’s 4.4 litre bent eight.
With a price tag more than ten grand less than the E 63, the M5 offers more bang for your buck. (see E-Class reviews)
Jaguar XFR ($210,900) - Jag’s XFR wins the beauty contest, but it loses on both power and torque to the M5 and E63 - its supercharged 5.0 litre V8 develops 375kW and 625Nm.
It’s got a classier interior though, and makes for a very elegant (and more affordable) luxo-cruiser. (see XF reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Big power, big car, big performance. That just about sums up the M5.
Not only is the latest F10 M5 rich in luxury features and high-tech equipment, but it can be hustled along a winding road at speeds that beggars belief.
It changes direction so effortlessly that it will leave all but the very best for dead, and its straight line speed is simply colossal.
If we were to fault it, we might ask for more steering feedback and more presence to the engine note.
But those are minor niggles. The M5 remains - for us at least - the best high-performance sedan on the planet.
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