Long histories are, by and large, eventful ones. The history of the BMW M5, arguably Germany’s founding example of the modern super-saloon, has certainly been both of those things,stretching back fully five model generations and almost 35 years.
It has encompassed race-derived and race-inspired six and 10-cylinder engines, mould-breaking sequential transmissions and plenty of talking points besides. But it has never brought us greater controversy or a bolder departure from established convention than it has just now, in the shape of this week’s road test subject: the sixth-generation BMW M5 (F90).
Partly in response to an identical move by rival Mercedes-AMG but mainly in recognition of consumer demand for greater all-weather usability in North America, M division has switched its firebrand executive four-door from one driven axle to two. In doing so, it has adopted technology that it might have told you not so long ago had no place in a saloon car whose numerical identification was prefixed with ‘M’.
Indeed, despite production winding up only eight years ago, the naturally aspirated V10 of the rear-driven E60-generation M5 now seems a sweet but distant memory, not least because its contemporary successor uses a smaller V8 engine of forced induction and, for the first time in an M5, a driveline that sends torque to all four wheels via a standard torque-converter automatic transmission.
However, as you’ll soon read, it’s a marriage that has yielded an all-weather turn of pace for this car that can, without hyperbole, be described as ludicrous for an object weighing nearly two tonnes. For the many owners who’ll never explore the capabilities of their car beyond what it can do on a straight stretch of road, that sheer pace may be all that’s required to keep the car competitive, and to keep it on their driveway.
Those with longer memories, ones familiar with how BMW M set the super-saloon standard for handling purity and dynamism during an unbroken run lasting decades, will expect more, as do we. So can this generation of go-faster 5 Series reassert the dominance of the super-saloon niche that its uninspiring predecessor surrendered?