Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
BMW M5 review (2011 onwards)
We like - Effortlessly ballistic pace, thrilling handling balance, surprising economy potential, unintimidating personality
We don't like - Steering could be sharper, brakes firmer
This is a different sort of BMW M5. In place of the madly revving, V10-powered old model we have a new one which seems to have gone almost sensible. It had to be done, because few buyers nowadays would consider a car like this unless it can be made at least slightly tax-friendly. No longer can the engine be a racetrack fugitive with a throttle per cylinder. Mainstream road-car rules have to apply instead.
That means turbocharging and a slightly smaller engine, a V8 of 4.4 litres instead of a V10 of 5.0 litres. CO2 comes crashing down from 357g/km to 232. And yet the new M5 has more power: 560bhp against 507. It's a miracle.
What's more, turbos - there are two of them - mean more torque at more accessible engine speeds. It's a win-win situation, made even better by the new seven-speed, double-clutch transmission that replaces the old and surge-prone six-speed, single-clutch paddle-shifter.
As usual, other parts of the M5 are considerably altered to make the best of the outputs on offer. Gently flared front wheelarches, enlarged front air intakes plus exits on the front wings, bespoke suspension components and settings and the M differential are among the many unique M5 components, so many of them that just 20% of pieces are shared with other 5 Series models.
The result is a car that looks potent but manages to avoid overt aggression, so it can play the executive express role if track-day thrills or backroad amusement are off the immediate agenda. The price of this assemblage of M-division engineering is £73,040: fractionally cheaper than a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, dearer than a Jaguar XFR.
It's huge. As well as that 560bhp, delivered on a plateau of revs spreading from 6,000 to 7,000rpm, there's a hefty 502lb ft of torque all the way from 1,500 to 5,750rpm. So if you floor the throttle and give the engine its head, you'll be launched from a standstill to 62mph in 4.4 seconds, to double that speed in 13 seconds and, given the right place and time, on to an extraordinary 190mph if you've persuaded your BMW dealer to disable the 155mph speed limiter.
That said, the previous M5 managed fairly similar numbers. The difference is in the way they are achieved. In this new M5, you can stay under 4,000rpm and still make searing progress as the engine draws on its deep vat of torque, overtaking with a mere flex of the ankle. Various buttons on the centre console give direct and separate access to the modes of engine/gearbox, suspension and steering, with Sport Plus as the keenest, Sport in the middle and Comfort (chassis) or Efficiency (engine/gearbox) the gentlest.
Set to the last of these, the M5 feels much like a regular 5 Series with some extra pace. Sport Plus, at the other extreme, gives gearshifts that are quick, firm but never jerky, even when set by a further control to the fastest of the three shift speeds. The previous M5 had six shift speeds, incidentally, but three really is quite enough variation.
Of course you can shift manually via the paddles on the steering wheel, but all that torque makes it seem unnecessary unless you're after the last ounce of control and interaction on a twisty, challenging road. In which case, the M5 rises to the occasion brilliantly.
There are some great sound effects here. Valvetronic variable valve timing and lift means that there are now no throttles, but the twin turbos nestling in the engine's vee are each connected to two cylinders on one bank and two on the other. This makes the best use of the exhaust pulses and makes the engine note change from a deep, sputtery burble at lower revs to a purer howl, almost like a quiet Ferrari when heard from the outside, at high revs. There are some deep bass flutters and pops during gearshifts, too.
Ride and handling
Lots of power and rear-wheel drive means lots of entertainment, and there's that clever M differential (an electronic limited-slip system with clutches) to make it even better. This ensures that when the inside rear wheel starts to lose grip under quick cornering, the power is precisely transferred to the outer rear wheel so none is wasted. This has some excellent side-effects, or even sideways effects if you turn the traction and stability controls off.
This is a big and heavy car, but most of the time it disguises its bulk well. With the suspension in Comfort, the ride is still quite firm but civilised enough not to cause complaint from your passengers. Sport Plus is really only for the track unless you're a masochist, Sport is good for self-indulgence when you're alone on the right road. It's also the best road compromise for the steering unless you're just cruising, when Comfort's lightness is worth the sacrifice in 'connectedness'.
Arrive quickly at a corner tighter than you expected, and you'll feel the nose drift wide as you turn. That's the natural consequence of the M5's weight. But if you accelerate at the same time, interesting things happen. The tail will move out, gently and precisely, to tighten your line; you can effectively steer on the accelerator, putting the M5 in the beginnings of a gentle drift in a way that can make you feel like a hero.
It makes the M5 a wonderfully interactive companion, as all the forces generated by its pace and weight are channelled in the most useful direction. On a track it's even better, as you find yourself entering corners ever faster and getting back on the power ever sooner. The only downsides are that the steering lacks a true feel of the road, thanks to the hefty power assistance, and the brakes feel too springy and soft under hard use.
Apart from the various M-specific enhancements, the M5 is a typical high-end 5 Series inside - which means a 10.2in central screen, the latest iDrive system, which is now quite easy to use, and the usual high standard of finish. Those M bits include M logos at strategic points, red instrument needles, very supportive front seats with Merino leather upholstery, and of course the extra buttons on the console.
The steering wheel has two M buttons, which can store two different sets of favourite engine/suspension/steering settings, so you change your M5 from motorway commuter to track-day weapon in one prod.
There's no wood trim in here, because that would be wrong for such a 'metallic' sort of car. Instead the cabin's trim strips are in Trace aluminium. A head-up display, which includes the dynamics settings, is standard.
Economy and safety
The M5's official fuel and CO2 figures are remarkable for a car of such pace, although you're unlikely to get near them unless you drive like a saint - in which case there's little point in having an M5. It's a shame another 7g/km couldn't have been shaved from the CO2 score, though, because at 232g/km the M5 is still in the highest tax category.
Being a BMW, the M5 nods towards the company's Efficient Dynamics ideas with a start-stop system and brake energy regeneration, which means that, usually, the battery is being charged only when the M5 is slowing down or braking. Does that make it a very mild hybrid? Possibly...
As for safety, it's a 5 Series which means it has all the systems and equipment you'd expect. And fast as it may be, the M5 is easy and unintimidating to drive, which is a safety feature in itself.
The MSN Cars verdict
In many ways the M5 is a miracle of modern engineering. It's even more potent than the old model, yet it's more economical and easier to drive with no loss of entertainment when you're in the mood.
It can alter its personality to suit your needs and wants, and adopt every role completely convincingly. Here is the supercar saloon that does it all.
|Need to know||BMW M5|
|Engine, petrol||4395cc, twin-turbo V8|
|Torque, lb ft||502|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.4|
|Top speed, mph||190|
|CO2 g/km/ tax||232/35%|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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