The BMW M5 is crushingly capable, but some of the charm of old M5s is gone

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Since its debut at the 1984 Amsterdam motor show, the BMW M5 has become the yardstick against which all other supersaloons are judged. The F10 generation, then, has much to live up to.

The idea of regression may be disagreeable, but it applies to the F10-generation BMW M5 whether its maker likes it or not. Never before has its Motorsport division replaced a go-faster saloon with one packing fewer cylinders than its direct antecedent.

BMW has 'downsized' the engine of its go-faster saloon

And never before has it shunned a bigger, clean-revving, normally aspirated lump for ‘downsized’ turbocharging in one of its ‘blue chip’ performance saloons. Until now.

Because like it or lump it, as much as cars like the M5 represent an inconsequential drain on global resources compared to a big-selling family hatch, BMW has an environmental consciousness. And the days of tyre-shredding V10s are gone. A smaller cylinder count and turbocharging is the future, and we better get used to it.

Even so, one could imaging that BMW had to make the smaller-engined F10 M5 work that little bit harder to appeal to Top Trump-wielding car enthusiasts. And by heck, they’ve done a good job.

It’s not enough to turn the wick up on a turbocharger to deliver the big power and torque figures expected of an M5. It must be as easy to drive as a 520d at low speeds, and as sublimely controlled as a mid-engined sports car. Such a high benchmark is also burdening the 2017 M5, which will be available in both four-wheel and rear-wheel drive configurations.

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And so to the $64,000 – or rather, seventy-odd thousand pound – question: is this BMW M5 good enough? Is it a worthy inheritor of such an impeccable lineage?

The most thorough independent assessment in the business is about to supply some answers.


BMW M5's quad exhaust system
Valance diffuser panel smoothes underbody airflow

Upholding the traditions of so many of BMW Motorsport’s specials, the styling of the BMW M5 is anything but overblown. Its extended side sills and modest bootlid spoiler are typically understated.

Adding a note of visual purpose, trademark quad exhaust pipes poke out from under a deeper rear valance. At the front, larger and wider air ducts feed 10 radiators.

The M5's exterior styling is typically understated

Which brings us to the rather controversial contents of the BMW M5’s engine bay.

Under the bonnet you'll find a 4.4-litre all-aluminium 90deg V8 fed by two twin-scroll Honeywell turbochargers packaged between the cylinder banks. The engine runs direct injection working at up to 200bar of pressure, as well as Valvetronic variable valve lift and double Vanos variable camshaft timing, improving performance and efficiency.

Making 552bhp between 6000rpm and 7000rpm and revving at up to 7200rpm, it offers 10 per cent more power than the model it replaced and – they say – has the high-rev fireworks and throttle response of one of BMW M’s finest, same as the BMW M4 GTS.

This V8 also produces 502lb ft between 1500rpm and 5750rpm – 30 per cent more torque than the last M5, accessible over a band of revs three times as wide. But if that’s not enough, the optional Competition Package grows power by another 15bhp and makes that 502lb ft available over a slightly wider rev range

The F10 M5 is also 30 per cent more fuel efficient than the old V10 and, fed from an 80-litre fuel tank, should contribute to a 50 per cent improvement in cruising range.

What’s particularly interesting – revealing, even – is how few of the regular BMW 5 Series’ active chassis systems have been developed by BMW M for this car. There’s no variable-ratio electro-mechanical power steering system here, no rear-wheel steer, no active anti-roll bars – very little of the gadgetry, in fact, that BMW claims makes the standard 5 Series so much more effective to drive. Make of that what you will.

Instead, the M5 uses electro-hydraulic power steering and a strong, light, robust but simple suspension. Like the standard car’s chassis, it’s made up of double wishbones up front and multi-links at the rear. There’s a wider front track than standard, as well as forged aluminium chassis members, progressive rate springs and adaptive dampers.

Sheer mass is the only minor disappointment on the spec sheet; our test car weighed in at 1975kg with fuel.


BMW M5 interior
Cabin features M5-exclusive textured aluminium trim

Outstanding quality and luxury, genuine everyday usability, long-distance touring comfort for four occupants... these, too, are ways in which a good super-saloon must distinguish itself these days. Class-leading performance and handling will only be enough for the BMW M5 if they come packaged with all of the above.

And the good news is that the BMW M5’s cabin is more impressive than ever. This five-seat express offers legroom and headroom that’s generous by the standards of its peers. As for the equipment list, it is pretty far-reaching. The M5 gets 19in alloys, blue brake calipers, cruise control, quad-exhaust system, glass sunroof, and adaptive xenon headlights, along with the numerous M Division alterations to the suspension, gearbox, bodykit and V8 engine. 

Making split folding rear seats a cost option seems a little tight-fisted

Inside there is a 10in screen iDrive infotainment system with DAB, sat nav, a 20GB hard drive, BMW Connect Services and a USB interface, while there is also a Merino leather interior, sports seats and head-up display chucked in too.

The driving position is excellent, supported by wide sports seats with more adjustment than most will ever need. The cabin’s material quality and richness unerringly convince you that you’re aboard something luxurious, expensive and well built.

All that’s lacking are a few outstanding points of differentiation. Aside from some slightly transformed instruments, embossed leathers and sill plates, there’s little that adds piquancy to the regular 5-series’ business-like ambience.

If a test drive in the M5 comes with a more interesting soundtrack than you were expecting, that may be because part of that mechanical soundscape comes from its audio speakers, not its engine compartment or its exhaust.

The BMW M5’s Active Sound Design system reproduces the sound of the car’s V8 through the car’s audio speakers, at various background volumes and frequencies decided on the basis of engine revs, throttle load and road speed data taken ‘live’, directly from the ECU.

During our tests, it proved impossible to distinguish between real and reproduced engine sound. But if the thought of anything other than a rorty exhaust leaves you cold, there’s one on the options list…


BMW 5 Series-inspired M5
M5 features less chassis gadgetry than regular 5-series

We knew the BMW M5 would offer up a great deal of performance. We just weren’t quite prepared for the incredible reality of its accelerative potential.

The new BMW M5 isn’t an easy car to get away from a standstill with optimum thrust. If you’re too aggressive with the throttle, you’ll activate the DSC stability control and lose a lot of momentum. If you turn the DSC off completely, it’s equally easy to spin almost all of the engine’s power away. And with 502lb ft coursing through them, once those rear tyres lose their hold on the road, it takes more than a feather of the accelerator before they’ll bite again.

The M5 has genuinely brutal, apparently limitless thrust

If you’re a little more gentle with this two-tonne four-door off the line – using about 80 per cent of throttle in first gear and then short-shifting into second, where you can flatten the right-hand pedal – it’ll hook up and surge forward with quite staggering force.

As part of our two-way standing start test, on a slightly damp day, the M5 recorded an average 4.3sec sprint to 60mph and 100mph came up in 9.0sec dead, which is more than a second sooner than it did in the Jaguar XFR we tested in 2009, and almost a second quicker than the Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 . And that was all without the help of BMW M’s launch control system – which, despite repeated efforts, simply refused to engage under test conditions.

It’s fast, then – prodigiously so. BMW quotes an official figure of 4.3sec to 62mph and the optional Competition Package shaves a further 0.1sec from. In both cases, the M5 sticks to that oft-broken gentleman’s agreement limiting the top speed to 155mph.

The seven-speed, dual-clutch M DCT transmission is the M5’s next greatest success story. It endows the car with relaxed usability to match its superb at-pace precision. It will remain in auto mode whichever of the powertrain presets you choose, but nudge one of the standard wheel-mounted paddles and it will shift to manual, in which state it will hold its gears as expected and swap ratios on command with impressive response and precision.

Also, there’s a low-speed assistance mode via which you can make the M5 creep at ideal manoeuvring speed with a quick stab of the accelerator. This will make this M5 significantly easier to live with (read, park) than the last.


BMW M5 cornering
Active differential transmits power to the road effectively

Don’t believe the rumour mill: BMW hasn’t softened the BMW M5 to the detriment of its ability to cope when really driven hard – either on a testing road or a circuit. True, there is surprising comfort, refinement and ease of use to be enjoyed with this car – a great deal more than you’ll find in most 500bhp super-saloons.

That’s the key advantage of BMW M’s multi-mode suspension, steering and powertrain control systems. But thanks to the same systems, there’s also breathtakingly firm damping and a highly responsive engine and gearbox when you select Sport+ mode. And – for anyone who’s wondering – turbo lag isn’t the slightest problem.

When you engage cruise control, the car automatically reverts to Comfort mode

It’s a pity, though, that there isn’t more delicacy or reward to be found in between those two extremes of the M5’s repertoire. Because where a Jaguar XFR feels like a finely honed and deeply satisfying instrument when you’re simply bowling along at everyday speeds, the BMW keeps more of its dynamic majesty in reserve.

Select the suspension’s Comfort mode and, during normal road use, compliance comes without ever putting body control in doubt. There is some patter through the springs and slight fidgeting over very worn asphalt, but it’s hardly a compromise that anybody considering an M5 would find fault with.

Even in Sport mode – our default choice – the M5’s damping is still quite forgiving. At the same time, the car’s two-tonne mass is more restrained and better balanced. Sport+ ramps up the damper settings to a level far beyond the needs of road use, but it also adds cloying, unhelpful weight to the car’s steering without adding road feel.

The Competition Package brings a lower and stiffer suspension setup and slightly more direct steering. The result is, in practice, marginal, but it imbues the M5 with a ever-so-slightly harder edge at maximum attack. Whether its worth its near-£7000 price tag is another matter.

The M5’s active differential transmits the engine’s power to the road very effectively and offers the added involvement of throttle-steering. The DSC’s M Dynamic mode is particularly impressive here, allowing a few degrees of oversteer without withdrawing the electronic safety net altogether. But again, a fundamental shortage of communicative subtlety prevents you from savouring these kinds of moments as you might.

Perhaps the weakest link in the chain are the BMW's standard fit brakes which are prone to fade after a tough workout. The solution is on the options list, in the shape of a set of carbon ceramic brakes. The setup is ferociously costly, but they couple decent pedal feel with reliable stopping power.


The latest BMW M5 gets twin-turbocharged V8 engine

Even with its substantial price tag, the BMW M5 has a breadth of ability that makes it almost impossible to quibble with for sheer value for money. Even if you fork out another 9 per cent of that price for the Competition Package, it’s still remarkable pace for your pound.

The 5.5-litre bi-turbo Mercedes-AMG E63 costs more and offers almost identical vital statistics. The Jaguar XFR is substantially cheaper, but the BMW should retain more of its original showroom price.

The new engine should help the M5 return at least 28mpg

Touring range and fuel economy were both barriers to choosing the previous M5, but they’re not so much for this one.

You’ll get better than 28mpg from the car at a conservative cruise – vastly better than the 22mpg of the old BMW M5 – and an 80-litre fuel tank means a real-world range is now on the right side of 300 miles to a full tank.

There’s little point in quibbling over tax and insurance in a 500-plus-horsepower car, but for the record, the M5 produces 232g/km of CO2.

Like most of its rivals, it's alarmingly easy to take the list price into the stratosphere. Our original test car had an eye-watering £13,695 worth of extras, although you could probably do without the £5000 merino black leather trim and £1500 night vision cameras. Much of the kit will be dead money on the used market too.


4.5 star BMW M5
The BMW M5 offers class-leading performance

This BMW M5 is a towering achievement. On sheer performance, it is the outstanding car in its class.

Even more incredible is this BMW 552bhp saloon’s usability, armed with a comfortable chassis set-up, well mannered gearbox and the potential for close to 30mpg at a conservative cruise.

The Active Sound Design system detracts from the BMW M5's authenticity

Only those with intimate knowledge of its rivals could find fault. But viewed in that context, there are shortfalls. Although capable of heroics on the track, the BMW M5’s dynamic star quality feels dimmed during more typical use.

Everyday driving isn’t suffused with the involvement and fun of a Jaguar XFR, for example.

There's work to be done by BMW - the cabin should look and feel a little bit more special and the launch control should work every time (and be easier to access).

Power and delicacy are hard to combine in perfect proportion and, for many, this BMW’s compromise will be more than convincing enough.

But for us, the M5 is just a little too cold and characterless to be our class favourite, that is why we are holding out hope that the impending BMW M5 is a warmer affair.

BMW M5 2011-2016 First drives