Don’t believe the rumour mill: BMW hasn’t softened the 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.
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.