BMW’s M5 landed in a blaze of excitement – and consternation – in 2011. As is usually the case when an icon has a shift in philosophy foisted upon it by a change in the way the world works, the internet exploded when it was discovered the latest M5 would have – gasp – a twin turbo V8.
Of course, all that has long since been forgotten because, predictably, the new fast Five (codenamed F10) was brilliant. Now, less than three years into its life, BMW has released the traditional mid-life update for the M5, known as the LCI.
Normally this is no big deal, but for Australian-delivered cars, this actually means more than a spec adjustment – all of “our” M5s are now fitted with the otherwise optional Competition Pack, without a price rise over the “old” F10.
As with most M cars, the M5’s look isn’t immediately recognisable to everybody – you need to know. For the spotter, the quad pipes at the rear are a dead giveaway, as is the vent behind the front wheels, but it could otherwise look like a M Sport equipped 520i. For many of us, that’s a good thing.
In Monte Carlo blue, a favourite of M buyers, it’s the loudest M5 colour you can get. Buy one in a more unassuming hue, like silver or white, and you can frighten many unsuspecting boy racers.
From front on there’s a bit of drama from gaping brake ducts and LED headlamps, but the M5 has never been about high visual impact. If anything, it’s a Q-car and all the better for it. You don’t go on a bear hunt in a hi-vis vest with a red strobe light on your head.
High in the dash is a 10.2-inch screen which runs the stereo and sat-nav. Packed into the stereo is the usual AM/FM, Bluetooth and USB, a six-disc changer and DAB digital radio.
The screen also displays the rear view camera and a pair of cameras fitted in the front bumper to help you see out of T-junctions.
Oh, and there’s a digital TV, just to make sure you’re entertained and you want to pretend you’re watching the kids’ soccer training while luxuriating in the merino leather seats. The front seats are electrically adjustable, with the key remembering a variety of settings for the seats, steering wheel and entertainment.
The climate control has four zones, there’s an electric sunblind in the back as well as manual blinds in the rear door windows, internet functionality and professional sat-nav.
The Competition Package, depending on where you live in the world, is somewhere between $7000 and $8000 worth of power, torque, twenty-inch wheels and lower, stiffer suspension. We get it gratis.
The interior is clothed in what BMW calls merino leather and it’s a huge jump over standard BMW hide. It’s so much nicer to touch and sit on, making the M5’s front seats all that more comfortable.
Being a BMW, it’s five stars all the way. Along with six airbags, traction and stability controls and ABS, corner braking control and brake assistant there’s also what BMW calls Active Protection. This tightens the front belts, the front passenger seat is returned to upright if it isn’t already and windows and sunroof are closed. It will also keep the brakes on hard to avoid a second accident if one has already happened.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
BMW’s 4.4-litre V8 lurks beneath the long bonnet and, courtesy of the Competition Pack, has a small power bump to 423 kW and 680 Nm of torque. The V8 is direct-injected and has two twin scroll turbos to make all that go.
This is also the first M engine to use BMW’s Valvetronic technology. The same engine is found in the X6 M but in the M5 has a higher compression ratio and higher turbo boost pressure.
The claimed fuel economy is 9.9 litres per 100km, and while we saw closer to 13.5, this is quite an achievement given all the power on tap and how much we indulged in it.
Handling the power’s transfer to the road is a seven-speed DCT, driving the rear wheels only. Between the rear wheels is the fabled M Differential, which changes behaviour based on the drive mode selected with the iDrive controller. The M diff is electronically controlled and incredibly complicated, but it is of the limited slip variety and one of the most effective understeer-killers known to man.
The M5 has always been blindingly fast and the F10 just raises the bar yet again. This is the fifth generation of BMW’s sports sedan and as the years go by it is getting more refined but also far more of a weapon.
The delightfully nuts V10-powered E60 M5 was much lamented at the F10’s launch. The E60 itself was decried as the End of M because you couldn’t get a manual, but everyone soon forgot about that. (BMW relented and let the Americans have one).
Likewise everyone has forgotten about the fact that there isn’t a bellowing V10 revving to 8250 rpm under the bonnet, because the S63 V8 has every one of its 680 Nm available from just 1500 rpm.
Bombing around town, the M5 could be a 520i – quiet, calm, professional, it gets on with the job with just a slightly lumpy ride and the occasional hesitation from the dual-clutch transmission. The V8 is smooth and, in Comfort mode, quiet. It’ll even switch itself off at the traffic lights, just like the 2.0-litre four in the 520i.
In all likelihood, there are quite a few owners who will never get out of Comfort mode, with its progressive throttle and softer damping. It will still outhandle almost anything in this mode, it’ll just do it quietly.
Turn things up in Sport or Sport+ however, and the character changes, markedly. If you’re on the move and you hit either the programmable M1 or M2 buttons or use the selector to switch it up, the car leaps forward as the throttle remaps to a more aggressive pattern.
The ride firms as the suspension goes into a more racy mode and the transmission goes to full attack. Shifts are faster and harder, the exhaust opens up to let a little more noise through to the outside world (still needs more noise, though. A lot more…) and you now have a track-ready machine.
There’s a lovely stretch of road a couple of hours out of Sydney that tests cars like this –
a series of fast, off-camber S-bends with a surface so bad it makes the moon look like an Autobahn.
It’s a brilliant place to take a car like this and see what it’s made of. A 5 Series is no slouch across these roads, but the M5 is on another planet. Even in minor-danger mode (Sport+ reduces the intervention of the stability control), the M5 sticks to the road like the Prime Minister to visiting royals.
The V8’s torque hurls you out of corners and you can easily modulate the throttle in the unlikely event the rear is misbehaving. Provoke that rear end by stabbing the super-fast throttle, however, and you can hold the car at any angle you like. On a track, obviously. Getting a car this big and this heavy (almost two tonnes) sideways on a public road is suicide.
The good thing about this is that you’ve made the decision about that, the car doesn’t do it for you. With better steering than the 2011 original there’s more communication from the front tyres and you can now place the car even more precisely on the road.
The M5’s 20-inch wheels, shod with 265/35 tyres up front and huge 295/30s at the rear, are kept in constant contact with the road by active dampers. Together with that improved steering, the M5 has a front end that’ll go where you point it at almost any speed.
But the entire experience is completely dominated by the engine. Whereas in M5s past it was the noise, this powerplant promises – and delivers – galactic thrust. Some fast cars stop feeling fast after a while, but when you push the throttle through the click – regular BMW drivers know what this means – the acceleration is ferocious. Everyone in the car will be pinned to their seats and their organs rearranged, so massive is the shove.
The M5 accelerates like a freight train has run into the back of it rather than building up as though being dragged by a jet fighter.
It means the power is accessible to anyone and, unlike the old V10, it doesn’t feel like you’re hammering the drivetrain to get the best. Even dispensing with mechanical sympathy it doesn’t feel naughty, you won’t feel the need to treat the F10 gently.
And when you’re done torturing the tyres and testing the rev limiter, you can switch it all back to comfort and potter around to the shops in comfort.
With a big family-sized body and interior as well as a powertrain that’ll blow most cars off the road, what more could you want from a car? The M5’s reason for being is hardly to be a practical family car, but it features all the attributes that allow it to be one.
Owning one would force a rethink – do I really want to live in a city anymore, why not find a home at the end of a piece of road with more bends in it than a NSW politician’s ethical reasoning? Some performance cars are frustrating to drive around the city, but more because they’re a pain. The M5’s potential is the “problem” here. Around town, the performance potential is like a nuclear deterrent – nice to know you’ve got it, but you can’t use it.
Even at its whopping $230,000 price point, it’s a relative bargain. It’ll stay with a supercar unless there’s some real talent behind the wheel but it’ll also patiently trail a Micra on its bi-monthly trundle to the supermarket.
They say you can’t please everyone, but BMW’s M5 is hard to fault. If you had the money, why would you own anything else?