BMW's ballistic M5 testedComment on this story
I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but BMW has introduced quite a catchy new phrase for its M cars. It goes along the lines of: “M. The most powerful letter in the world”.
Which is quite a statement. But having just stepped out of the Bavarian bomber that is the new, fifth-generation M5, I’m starting to see the rationale behind the claim.
Being the most powerful M car ever built you know things may get a little hair-raising, and the 4.4 twin-turbo V8 under the M5’s bonnet is exactly on that page in terms of boosted power delivery. Those 412kW and 680Nm numbers translate into serious 20-inch tyre smoking aggression, which in a straight line had our VBox palpitating when the 4.6 second 0-100km/h time (BMW claim 4.4) and 12.9 quarter-mile time came up at our Gauteng test facility.
But more interesting, especially when compared to the previous-generation V10 M5, is how simple the boys in Munich have made the go-faster toys to use. There are four main areas you can tweak – throttle response (engine dynamics control in M speak), suspension (electronic damper control), steering (servotronic), and gearbox (drivelogic).
Each of these have a simple, dedicated button next to the gearlever which allows you to scroll through softer, harder or sharper (in the case of the gearbox) settings – with a cool display below the rev counter telling you exactly where you are.
And if this seems like too much of a mission, there’s an M1 and M2 button on the steering wheel, which through the iDrive system lets you preset your favourite settings – so that when a 6-litre Lumina lines you up, you’re simply a buttom away from cremating it. Even the launch control is something Miss Daisy could work.
And unlike the previous M5 which needed a push of the Power button to push power from 300kW to 373, all 412 kilowatts are available at any point in this car. Not to mention how much better and smoother the current dual-clutch technology is than the V10’s disliked Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG).
Then there’s what my high-school science teacher used to call the law of physics which, in M5 speak, is what happens when you take a 1870kg object at speed, and try to suddenly change its direction.
With all Sport Plus boxes ticked and gearbox sharpened it’s like this massive block of metal hunkers down into assault mode, with everything around it a hunting ground. Against it is its weight, and I’m not going to lie to you, it does feel as heavy as it looks. But the engineers have managed a bit of Houdini with the chassis set-up, leading to high-speed handling I found to be truly superb.
The suspension hardens up to the extent that you can feel ripples through the plush driver’s seat, the thick-rimmed steering wheel heavies up for a real meaty driver feel, and the seven-speed dual clutch gearbox – through the paddles – actually listens to your instincts with razor sharp changes.
Then there’s the throttle response, which is manic and perhaps a little too sensitive in balls-to-the-wall mode. Acceleration is instant, even with a gentle prod from the tip of your toenail. Think zero turbolag and boost like a time machine.
Forget the satisfaction of simply stomping the loud pedal, a lengthy piece of tarmac (and possibly an uncle in the tyre business) is needed for this.
Which is where it becomes tricky when words like gravel traps and run off areas start featuring. It’s like there’s too much power between the corners meaning you’re always picking up too much speed then braking for dear life – great throttle restraint is required for an enjoyable, apex-nailing experience. Even the limited-slip diff wants to phone a friend at times.
Being turbocharged, I knew the glory days of howling naturally-aspirated V10s and V8s were gone. Especially with the newcomer revving to 7200rpm versus the ten-pot’s glorious 8250 limiter. Even so, the newby does have a magic race-car like backfire when drilling through the gears in anger.
When driven in anger the fuel consumption hits 18.6l/100km, though when we really put our minds to it and drove ultra conservatively we achieved 10.5 litres which isn’t far off BMW’s 9.9 litre claim.
I also think the designers could have gone more hardcore with the design. It doesn’t scream M5, which it should.
Overall the new R1.155-million M5 can be a civilised brute in daily use, with all its claws clipped, and quite the predator when it smells a bit of blood.
Treat it with respect.
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