We track test BMW's ballistic new M5
Kyalami - So-called petrolhead purists may have thrown up their hands in horror at the news that the new-generation M5 has all-wheel drive. It’s just very un-BMW-like, they may have muttered into their Nurburgring-branded coffee mugs, lamenting their God-given right to experience rear-wheel drive opposite-lockery in an M-badged car.
For these drift heroes with 20W-40 flowing through their veins, the good news is that the sixth-generation M5 has a mode for everyone: all-wheel drive for drivers who want thrills with control, and full hooligan mode for those wishing to let it all hang out and make tyre smoke. But please note: rear-wheel drive can only be engaged when the stability control is switched off, making this a mode for true Sebastian Loeb wannabes.
My few laps around Kyalami with the new M5 in all-wheel drive mode (known as M xDrive in BMW-speak) confirmed what Audi had long since discovered with its quattro system, and more recently Mercedes with its 4Matic: big power and all-wheel drive go together like pap and gravy.
Yes, there was a time when drive to both axles meant heaps of frustrating understeer, where it seemed you needed a calendar, not a stopwatch, to mark off the time before you could finally boot the throttle out of a corner - but those days are gone.
The more rear-biased AWD systems of modern muscle cars make them far more appealing to drive, and so it is with the new M5. For such a big piece of hardware it’s impressively pointy, a car you can really poke into corners.
Yes, the nose will run wide if you get overzealous with your entry speed - as it will with any car - but the M5 has an alertness to it that belies its 1855kg weight. This, incidentally, is lighter than the previous M5 despite all the extra 4WD hardware - this thanks to lightweight body componentes including a new carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof.
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That the car felt as composed and twitch-free as it did through fast curves didn’t come as a surprise. What did was its quick turn-in into tight corners, and how early you could punch the throttle out of them. Too early on the petrol and the stability control cuts in to quell such over-eagerness, but without being a total party-pooper; it cuts out again sooner than it would have in the old rear-wheel drive M5, thanks to the superior mechanical traction of the all-wheel drive.
‘Tis this that makes the new M5 such a great driver’s car: the ability to be a fun drive even when all the traction nannies are on.
In two-wheel drive mode (which, remember, comes with no traction assistance) one needs to treat the petrol pedal like a teenager meeting his new girlfriend’s father for the first time - with plenty of respect and treading lightly. Simply hammering the throttle out of a corner will unleash 441kW and 750Nm of you-did-WHAT-with-my-daughter? There will be plenty of smoke and going sideways. For ‘purists’ only.
The new M5 comes standard with M compound brakes and optionally carbon ceramic brakes that are 23kg lighter. The car I drove at Kyalami had the carbon ceramics fitted and they were surprisingly the one weak part of the car’s track-attack ability, as the brakes started fading a bit after three laps.
It’s still a loud-growling 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 under the bonnet, but the outputs have been raised from the previous 412kW/680Nm. This increased muscle, combined with the all-wheel drive traction, has reduced the 0-100km/* sprint time to just 3.4 seconds - a big improvement over the 4.4 secs of the old two-wheel drive M5.
A new eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic now sends the power to the wheels instead of the old DCT (dual-clutch transmission), and it’s a slick-shifting gearbox that didn’t take away anything from the sportiness of the track-driving experience.
The new M5 is priced at R1 762 806. There’s also a First Edition version .selling for R2 024 006 which is decorated with black 20” mags instead of the regular 19s, exclusive Frozen Dark Red Metallic paintwork and Shadow Line trim among other exterior and interior design tweaks. Only five First Edition units came to SA and sorry, all of them are sold.