BMW’s M5 has stood as the industry benchmark power saloon since 1985. Over the decades the Germans from Munich have improved the iconic saloon with each generation up to the all-new 2012 BMW F10M M5. The smoothest, most powerful, most elegant, and most refined M5 generation to date. Finally, we got the chance to take it for a ride and while driving through the pouring rain on German country roads, we asked ourselves the question; Are we testing of one of finest machines on the market?
Not an easy question to answer because there are many other fine (sports) cars on the market not quite able to offer the same package as the BMW M5, but who are also leaders in their own class. So what can we say after spending half a day driving the fifth generation of the world’s most successful high-performance sedan? It has been thrilling and nerve racking to say the least, combined with utter relaxation and refinement hardly any super saloon is capable of offering you on a daily basis.
The M5 is traditionally based on the latest 5-Series, but don’t think the new four-door performance saloon is simply a tweaked version of BMW’s mid-range model. On the contrary even, only 20 percent of its components are shared with the 5-Series, the other 80 percent are unique to the F10M, the first M car which has been given a specific internal name.
The most noteworthy difference is found under the hood where a twin turbo reverse flow 4.4 liter V8 with cross bank manifold, direct injection and valvetronic awaits your throttle input. All these features offer up to 560hp and 680Nm of torque, while achieving a 30 percent increase in fuel economy over the outgoing V10. The engine, codenamed S63TU B44, is an evolution of the 4.4 liter V8 S63B44 that debuted in the X5M and X6M. The M5’s engine adds valvetronic, which provides fully variable inlet and exhaust timing, revised twin-scroll turbochargers, and a higher boost pressure (1.8 instead of 1.5).
Compared to the previous M5 with the V10 engine, the power increases by 60hp produced from 6,000rpm. The maximum torque rating makes a big jump from the V10’s 520Nm. All the maximum torque is available between 1,500 and 5,750rpm compared to the V10’s late 6,100 torque peak. This means a drop in the 0-100km/h sprint time from 4.7 seconds to just 4.4 seconds, if you have enough traction available. It also means that from virtually no revs, the engine already wants to twist the rear axle and chop off your head. In our case it meant ridiculous amounts of wheel spin at lift off, and a tail happier than a dog going for some play time in the woods.
The engine is linked to a wonderful electronic double-clutch seven-speed gearbox, which ensures that the transfer of engine output to the rear wheels serves up the time-honored M experience. The M DCT Drivelogic system developed specially for the M5 has been tuned precisely to the performance characteristics of the V8 engine. It offers immediate shifts and depending on the Efficient, Sport or Sport plus mode it is either silky smooth or sporty harsh, but in any case without any drama. The performance is channeled to the rear wheels through a newly developed version of the BMW M division’s electronically operated Active M differential, capable of providing continuously variable lockup to each of the rear wheels. For US customers, BMW has confirmed that a conventional six-speed manual will be available when the M5 goes on sale in the summer.
So how does it drive? The F10M M5 offered us a clear combination between refinement when any of the adjustable settings are placed in comfort or efficient and the pure power you expect from an M car in any of the other settings. For those familiar with the standard 5-Series, the M Power sedan doesn’t feel that different in comfort due to its special Low Speed Assistance transmission program. This alters throttle response and shifts to make stop-and-go traffic more manageable.
The moment you switch to Sport or Sport plus in the suspension, shifting and steering modes, everything changes. You can also change traction in either normal, M Dynamic Mode (limited intervention), or with everything off. To help, you can customize those settings for any driving situation, BMW has added another M button to the wheel, for M1 and M2. After the buttons are programmed, the M5 will have three distinct personalities available at the tip of your finger, or more accurately, your thumb.
Switching through the modes provided us with the chance to experience the full potential of the M5, even though the rain was pouring down on us. The push forward is fast enough to be a real threat to your license. The flexibility in the power delivery is astonishing and one of the great pros of this M5. The only noticeable downfall is the slight turbo lag when flooring the throttle. You feel the forward buildup of power and inertia while you are waiting – planted in the wonderful seats – up to a moment the heavy 1,870kg, 115kg more than its predecessor, is moving you forward with an immense force, seemingly in any gear. A completely different experience from the old M5 where the intensity grew in line with the revs.
The direct and precise steering features the latest Servotronic hydraulic system, custom tuned for the F10 M5. The three settings offer a clear difference in steering feel and a choice between easy every day traffic steering up to utterly precise handling through tight corners on a race track. You can opt for your own personal best with, for instance, shifting response on full Sport plus and steering response on just Sport. The BMW’s Active M Differential is a clear player in handling all the power through the corner. It reduces under steer, provides better high-speed stability and improves cornering performance.
The grip and handling are a noticeable part of the M experience of this new M5, which is bigger than ever before, putting on 55 millimeters in length and 46 millimeters in width over its direct predecessor. Stiff suspension mountings, Dynamic Damper Control and wide tires mounted on 19 inch (or optional 20 inch) wheels work together in keeping you planted glued to the road and providing you with a much calmer and pleasant ride quality than its predecessor. Six-piston brake calipers and large discs measuring 15.7 inches in diameter at the front and 15.6 inches at the rear provide the highly needed stopping power.
The F10M M5 received some visual differences with respect to its 5-Series family members, but overall it is still clearly based on the new F10 5-Series. The main differences are three massive air-intakes at the front, chrome-rimmed gills set just behind the front wheels covering the massive brakes, a small trunk lid spoiler and a set of quad trademark exhaust pipes at the rear.
On the inside, you feel at home in a luxurious environment, while surrounded by an endless list of electronic gismos and premium ingredients copied from the standard 5-Series. This is all combined with the driver-oriented cockpit design of a sports car. The bespoke M sports seats, fine-grain Merino leather upholstery with extended features, door sills with M5 logos, an M driver’s footrest, exclusive Aluminum Trace interior trim strips and the BMW Individual roof liner in Anthracite are all standard equipment.
After half a day behind the wheel of our Alpine White M5 test car, it was time to make up our mind on this mind-blowing piece of machinery. Can we answer our initial question positively? Are there any major drawbacks and downfalls to the setup of the M5? In the end, there are two! One of which has been an ongoing debate in the automotive world and a story which has opened the eyes of the BMW M technicians the past few months. Yes, BMW a proper sound track is part of the experience, and no we do not want a factory stereo amplifier to up the experience inside the cabin. A proper sounding exhaust system should have been standard, or even an option on the accessory list. It is now up to third party suppliers to come up with a solution.
Secondly, the BMW F10M M5 remains unapologetic about being a heavyweight. Instead of losing 115kg it gained that amount with respect to its predecessor and that is simply too much considering the lightweight treatment given to the engine and the doors which are now made from aluminum. The heaviness is felt throughout the ride inside the M5. If only they would have made it lighter, it would have felt more agile, less muscular and more joyful. Don’t get us wrong, the BMW M5 is the benchmark sports sedan, but the Germans could have pushed the boundary even further then they have done.
This brings us back to the main question we asked at the beginning of our story. The new F10M M5 is much better than its predecessor in many ways. It brakes better, it is more refined and less sporty to begin with. It has a better fuel economy, and all the refinement of the current 5-Series. Combine that with the razor-sharp handling and outrageous acceleration, and you have a comfortable practical everyday car with supercar rivaling performance. If that is what you are looking for then the new M5 is without doubt the best buy out there and one of finest machines on the market.