Whilst I’m getting used to the control weights, the grip level and the performance available, there a moment to note that a reasonable amount of criticism hasn’t persuaded BMW M to drop its ‘exhaust noise modulation’ strategy for this car. The M5’s engine isn’t the most characterful V8 but, as you dial up through ever-sportier modes on the car’s powertrain, you’ll notice it getting louder and slightly more synthesized-sounding.
That’s because the car’s playing an imitation exhaust barp at you. Because it’s only synthesized noise, of course, you don’t have put up with it when the car’s in comfort mode. Even so, it remains an annoyance – and a disappointment in my book. A proper M car should sound not only better, but authentic with it.
But the M5’s performance level is quite something. It takes a couple of laps until I’m comfy enough to use full power, while the car’s grip and response levels are becoming apparent – but when it comes, the big car really flies.
There’s the same slightly compliant, elastic feel to the power delivery as the ‘F10’-gen M5 has: not a sudden sledgehammer load of torque such as is delivered by the new E63, but instead a more progressive build-up and the need to keep that motor spinning above 3500rpm to feel it at its best.
Now, what handling mode is the car in? I engaged ‘M Dynamic’ mode on the stability control and ‘Sport+’ on the suspension and steering before we left the pitlane – but if you told me the car was already in one of its more agile, rear-drive-biased drivetrain settings, I wouldn’t argue.
It’s turning in fast and neatly, with better steering feedback than the last M5 had from the outset and great stability. But it’s also finely balanced mid-corner, sticking to its line and staying neutral in its attitude as we accelerate away from the apex. This is the M5’s standard mode; I haven’t even got as far as switching out the DSC yet.
When I do, the car’s handling poise, adjustability and involvement gradually progresses from very good to excellent. In ‘4WD’ mode the drive system allows little or no power-on understeer if you drive competently enough; you can slide the car just beyond neutral and, if you’re smooth and slight with your corrections, it’ll keep the lions share of torque at the rear wheels.
‘4WD Sport’ lets you be more aggressive on turn-in and then hold a good quarter-turn of corrective lock through the heart of a bend. Be any naughtier than that, or if the car changes direction more suddenly, and it’ll gradually feed enough drive forwards to help you gather things together neatly, rather than suddenly intervening and spoiling your fun.
After ‘4WD Sport’, ‘2WD’ mode actually feels a bit slow and untidy. The car’s handling is allowed to be more luridly sideways than the ‘F10’s ever was, and there’s no end of slip angle to be had anywhere you might be brave enough to dial it up.
But if anything, the relative shortage of traction available, and a slight untidiness in the car’s close body control as the lateral load in the car switches, together with a faint tendency for the rear differential to vector torque away from the loaded wheel just a little bit too abruptly at big drift angles, makes the M5 begin to feel a little bit rough and ready like this.
A 15-minute test on Miramas’ wet grip test track underlines the clear impression that the big M car is at its best in ‘4WD Sport’ mode: adjustable and entertaining but composed, precise, tractive and fast with it.