This is the new BMW M5 - the first to feature all wheel drive, the second to be turbocharged, the third (though not in sequence) with a V8, and the sixth 5 Series generation to wear the hallowed M badge.
It’s also, by no accident, the sixth sleeper in the series. There are, of course, subtle nods to its potential in the exterior details but you won’t find ground-scraping stance, massive wings, or loutish wheel arch extensions here.
BMW insists that’s what buyers want. A nine-to-five executive car that hides its neck-snapping potential behind a mature and refined facade.
It’s that duality, a seeming clash of personalities, that establishes character of this new-generation bahnstormer.
Vehicle Style: Performance large sedan
Price: From $199,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 441kW/750Nm 4.4-litre 8cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.5 l/100km | Tested: 14.8 l/100km
With a family history like that of the M line of vehicles, the evolution of this super sedan should come as no surprise. Traditionalists are often painted as being shocked at the latest M development, but in truth they are just as likely to welcome the next step in performance potential as BMW itself is.
With four wheels tearing the tarmac for the first time in M5 history the newest generation manages to accelerate to 100 kilometres faster than any version before it. This is no incremental improvement either, but a rather impressive 0.8 second improvement over the the (regular) previous car.
The new M5 joins a league of competitors with a similar all-wheel layouts including the Mercedes-AMG E63, and Audi RS6 and RS7 range meaning the move away from the ‘purity’ of rear wheel drive may be more a matter of survival in the modern performance-prestige landscape.
ON THE ROAD
Developed under the directive that the M5 must not only be hugely capable as a performance car, but also perfectly suited to a life of executive duties, the latest generation steps up efforts on both accounts.
As an introduction, BMW used the the roads of Portugal - both on the flowing motorways as well as the tight connecting roads, and even impossibly narrow village streets.
As a cross-country grand tourer there’s no doubting the power the M5 packs, but in this instance it’s not grunt that matters the most (bloody handy to have though) rather, it’s the ability to carry a full complement of passengers in absolute comfort.
Indeed, compared to its predecessor the M5 practically floats over imperfections, with a surprising softness to the ride that never unsettles occupants, and finely balanced control that never bounces or becomes unsettled in Comfort mode.
Cycle through the individually adjustable suspension setting and Sport mode tightens the reins slightly without entirely ditching suppleness creating firmer feel, or toggle through to Sport+ for finer control in highly demanding situations.
As a limo the M5 does a convincing job, but it's on Portugal’s Estoril raceway that the new generation car demonstrates exactly what it’s made of.
The headline change for the new model is the addition of all wheel drive, but Dirk Haecker, the Vice President of BMW M Engineering insists that the new system exists only to assist in controlling the car in situations where the rear wheels may be overcome or the car’s balance might otherwise be upset.
This he revealed while behind the wheel of the new car around Estoril, and to prove his point, he threw the car into the the chicanes at the top of the circuit, and exited with a liberal dose of oversteer, all while still in 4WD sport mode.
M also understands that buyers may also wish to go it alone, so to speak, without the assistance of the front wheels, allowing the all wheel system to be switched into a pure rear wheel drive mode - all the better for wide arcing and hugely controllable smoky drift action.
Revisions to the M5’s 4.4-litre twin turbocharged V8 see outputs rise to 441kw and 750Nm, an increase of 18kW and 70Nm compared with the outgoing car in standard specification. Technical changes include slightly larger turbochargers, revisions to the intake system, and a reprogramming of the engine’s electronic support systems.
The acceleration available is phenomenal, with a wide torque band resulting in rapid pace free from hard-working histrionics.
The other mechanical change that’s sure to raise questions is the adoption of an eight-speed torque converter automatic, replacing the previous seven-speed dual clutch unit. Although cars like the X5 M and X6 M SUVs use a similar system, BMW’s continued work sees the new version shift gears just like the previous transmission.
Lightning quick gear changes and the ability to adjust the assertiveness of each shift, be it in manual or automatic mode, create an experience that will be familiar to M owners without the compromised low-speed drivability of the last M5.
The result of BMW’s change in philosophy results in a vehicle that is absolutely packed with astonishing ability. Around Estoril it’s possible to feel the front axle assistance helping to pull the car around corners, holding tight line without letting the rear loose.
Select M Dynamic mode for raises stability thresholds and even with all four wheels making a contribution the M5 is simple to adjust via the throttle and happy to push the rear out in a predictable and easily controllable manner.
Adding all wheel drive to the M5 was a risk for BMW with the potential to dull the driving clarity the brand is renowned for, but M lovers can rest assured that the drive is only improved over a wider range of situations thanks to this latest change.
Better still, those who simply must have a rear wheel drive car can - via a the 2WD mode that creates an instant rear wheel drive car for situations where, say, you might tire of the added grip and speed of the well-judged M xDrive all-paw system.
Though it may not have the same dramatic ‘assault of the senses’ impact as some rivals, it’s the finer balance of prestige and performance that endows this giant-killer with day-to-day livability.
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