Munich, Germany – BMW cannot be said to have invented the Gentleman’s Express (that honour belongs to Marc Birkigt of Hispano-Suiza) but with the original M5 of 1984 it defined the category forever: a luxury four-door, five-seater sedan that can whisk you to work on weekdays and spank most sports two-seaters at the weekend.

Now, with the sixth generation M5, due for release later this year, the Blue Propeller Boys have upped the ante with the first M-specific xDrive AWD set-up, very much rear-biased, using the traction of the front wheels more as a driver aid than a prime mover.

But let’s start, as did the universe, with the Big Bang: in this case, a further improved version of BMW’s biturbo 4.4-litre V8, with higher fuel-injection pressure, new turbochargers, higher-flow lubrication and cooling systems, and a lighter, freer-breathing exhaust system with a more authoritative crackle to its soundtrack.

No output numbers have come out of the M skunk works in Munich yet but, given that the current M5 Competition Edition is good for 441kW and 700Nm, the speculation buzzing around the cybergarage of ‘more than 440kW’ is likely to be conservative.

Whatever the final figures, it’s a safe bet that the new M5 will be quicker than its predecessor in a straight line despite the extra weight of the transfer case and all-wheel drive hardware.

That hardware is modulated by an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with paddle shift and the ability to make sporty multiple downshifts on demand, accompanied by all the right noises.

The transfer case uses an electromechanically operated multiplate clutch to channel torque between front and rear axles, bringing the front wheels into play only when rear wheels can’t lay down any more power and more drive is needed, while an active M differential splits the drive between the rear wheels. And for purists, there’s also a 2WD setting in the drive select menu.

À la carte handling

You can choose between five different configurations based on combinations of the Dynamic Safety Control modes (DSC on, M Dynamic mode and DSC off) and M xDrive modes (4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD).

Every time you start the engine it defaults to 4WD mode with DSC on – which will still allow a little bit of oversteer before the electronic nanny steps in. But for the full monty M5 delivery you need the M Dynamic Mode with 4WD Sport, which sends even more power to the rear wheels and will happily allow controlled drifting.

Switch off the DSC completely and you have a choice of 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD. The default setting gives the car neutral balance for controllability on poor roads, without interfering in the fun, while 4WD Sport is geared towards track days in dry conditions – and 2WD is exactly what it says on the tin: exuberantly, traditionally tail-happy. Don’t try it anyplace where you don’t have room for error.

Cockpit checklist

The M-style instrument cluster has two classical circular dials with red needles, as well as digital speedometer readout on the left and shift lights on the right. Between them is a display panel for either drive mode and gear selection, or navigation, as needed. The apparent size of the head-up display has also been enlarged by about 70 percent.

The three-position rocker switch for the Drivelogic shift programs is on the head of the gear lever, while a short press on the DSC button on the centre console activates M Dynamic mode and a longer press switches it off altogether.

At this point you can select 4WD, 4WD Sport or 2WD using either the iDrive or touchscreen control. And once you’ve got everything set up just right, you can memorise two sets of parameters, and go back to either set-up anytime by pressing the M1 or M2 buttons on the steering wheel. Cool, hey?

We don’t know yet when the new M5 will be released in South Africa, how many will be allocated here or what they’ll cost – but as soon as we do, so will you.

IOL Motoring

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