BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
BMW M5 review (2011 onwards)
Model - BMW M5 F10
Bodystyle - four-door saloon
Engine - 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbo, 560hp @ 6,000-7,000rpm, 501lb ft @ 1,500-5,750rpm
Transmission - Seven-speed DCT
Date of test - January 2012
What is it?
The BMW M5 is a firm icon. A quarter-century of history means BMW has an ever-harder act to follow with every new one, though. Particularly as, today, even supercars not only have to be faster and more powerful but must also be green and responsible too.
BMW's headline answer with this new F10 model is to ditch the ill-conceived 5.0-litre V10 of the old M5 and replace it with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. Turbocharging the M5 is a controversial move but BMW promises it's been able to replicate the response and purity of a normally aspirated model - while also improving fuel economy by a startling 30%.
The most powerful production M car ever, the turbos of this M5 also fix a glaring flaw of the old one that made it so ill-suited to British roads: a stark lack of torque. Pulling power is now up 30%, with power up 10% for good measure too.
Bespoke suspension, a special M-engineered DCT gearbox, Active M rear differential and six-pot brake callipers (with compound discs) blend with much detail engineering and a welter of electronic gadgets. Indeed, the on-paper specification reads like that of a supercar. Does it perform like this on our unique British roads?
Where does it fit?
Its rich history means the M5 is generally more widely recognised than rivals such as the Mercedes E63 AMG and forthcoming Audi S6. The M5 is considered an alternative to Porsches and Ferraris in a way its rivals can't quite match, thanks to the heritage it has built up.
As the most powerful M car ever, the F10 M5 sits firmly at the top of the BMW performance car range. Even so, it isn't the firm's most expensive car. Just the most expensive 5 Series (by, ooh, around £20k). Unlike before, there won't be a Touring version. The focus is firmly on the saloon this time round.
Is it for you?
The design marks you out as a performance car connoisseur: it's both understated yet brilliantly purposeful. BMW doesn't spoil it with daft wings or glitzy alloys, but has fitted a front bumper with three massive, bulging air intakes, to feed the engine's insatiable appetite for oxygen.
There are subtle side skirts, a preferable set of 19-inch double-spoke alloys (ill-advised 20-inch options are available) plus a rear venturi-style diffuser with the M-trademark quad exhausts. The boot is topped by the famous, oh-so-discreet gurney spoiler.
This purposeful discretion is an M5 trademark. So too is step-above performance: the new F10 M5 checks this box as well. 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds and 0-124mph in 13 seconds are facilitated by standard Launch Control, while a top speed of 155mph can be raised to 190mph by choosing the Driver's Package option.
It's very fast, then, but it's also now useable performance thanks to 501lb ft of pulling power spread from 1,500 to 5,750rpm. The M5 now doesn't require total high-rev commitment from you to go as quickly as its legend suggests. It's easier, more accessible. But does this mean it's gone soft?
What does it do well?
Hacking away at the M5's multitude of control buttons turns it from the precise, powerful, comfortable cruiser you discover on first acquaintance into a searing, devastatingly capable performance car. Indeed, the first time you perfect the setup, it will genuinely shock you with the ferocity and intensity of its response.
The contrast is stark, and takes your breath away. A car this large and heavy shouldn't respond with such electric passenger-flinging immediacy. It shouldn't feel so well balanced, shouldn't shrink around you as speeds rise.
The M5 also works particularly well on British roads. Great accuracy means it flows easily through twists despite its size, with foursquare poise yet enough taut feedback to involve you. It's not raw, but still satisfying. It's a bit like a well set-up race car: it works with you, rather than asking you to muscle it.
The old M5 felt more distant and less confident on UK tarmac unless you were driving it quickly. Its heart was on the racetrack: this new M5 gives you more when you're not on the circuit. It also has a better ride, supple enough to soak up broken British roads, with brilliant body control.
And the engine? Its character is forgettable but its response is not: it's a boundary-shifting powerhouse, with colossal acceleration at all times. Its depths of performance are absolute: there are times when it feels like it's not accelerating but skyrocketing forward like the proverbial startled cat.
BMW's M DCT seven-speed gearbox suits it perfectly. Changes are seamless and eye-blink fast, control is as intuitive as the old car's SMG was sloppy. The best bit is full-throttle gearchanges: the thunder crack from the exhausts on upshifts is brilliant. And response? BMW's right. It IS near-instantaneous.
What doesn't it do well?
No two ways about it: the M5 is aloof until you key into it. This takes time, and much adjustment of the various on-board settings for suspension, engine and gearbox. There are two M Drive buttons on the steering wheel, three adjustment buttons on the gearlever surround and a whole load more parameters buried in the iDrive menus.
It's bewildering at first. You need patience to shake out the M5's perplexing character. Best advice is to concentrate on achieving two preferred setups, sporting and everyday, and save these on the two steering wheel M buttons. Then, simply forget you can adjust anything else.
This helps ease the nagging doubt that there's something artificial about the M5. There IS something surreal about it, and it IS less raw than older models, but it is still a rewarding driver's car. The gadgetry enhances the inbuilt ability, rather than compensates for any lack of.
The steering is always odd though. It never quite has the feel you'd expect, with BMW making the basic, arguably incorrect, assumption that weight equals sportiness: in Sport+ mode, it feels like the power assistance has broken. It's accurate, yes, but detached.
What's it like to live with?
In its most meek setup, the M5 is as easy-going as a powerful executive saloon. Smooth ride, crisp engine response and slurring nature, it's mellow enough to almost leave you disappointed. Until you discover its other side: then, switching back to this everyday mode may even be welcomed.
This is the way of modern cars: they have the technical hardware to possess dual modes. BMW gives you far too much choice, which confuses this, but strip it back to two and you have an M5 with the greatest bandwidth of talent ever. Living with it is thus easy.
Particularly as it's roomy, packed with equipment and very, very comfortable. The deep-dished M seats are brilliant, M dials are clear and the colour M head-up display is a real treat. It's a pity it's just not a bit more bespoke still - and why M still persists with overthick, spongy steering wheels is lost on all.
One dubious aspect is the noise. This is computer-generated, with a digitally enhanced soundtrack played through the car's speakers. Some say this epitomises the artificiality of the new M5: we wonder why the subsequent V8 noise isn't more distinctive and less dominated by exhaust rumble...
How green is it?
It catches you unawares at first, simply because it's so unexpected in such a searing performance saloon: yes, the M5 has standard engine stop-start. At traffic lights, if your foot is on the brake pedal, it switches off. Restart occurs as you lift the brake pedal. It's seamless, and slightly bizarre.
Restart is amusing too: it happens with a rumble and a bark from the exhausts. It helps cut fuel consumption by 30%, meaning the new M5 returns a barely creditable 28.5mpg and emits 232g/km CO2. Once you've sampled its performance, you'll understand how impressive this is.
Would we buy it?
For two days, we wouldn't have. The M5 had gone soft, we thought. It was a faster 550i rather than a true M. Then, we cracked the setup, found the roads, and the full talent of the M5 revealed itself - the basic mechanical talent, rather than the computer-generated top layer.
We're now sold. The M5 is a brilliant performance car. The steering is lacking and there's still an unshakable layer of artificiality, but it's also astonishingly capable and extremely rewarding - and as British roads only enhance its newfound breadth of ability, we were convinced.
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