Duplicitous is putting it politely. Which isn’t to imply that the car’s untrustworthy – just that it’s capable of remarkably well-mannered refinement and ease of use one moment, and then absolutely first-order grip, iron body control and incredible performance the next.
‘Comfort’ mode engages on the Drive Performance Control module as a default when you start the engine and move off. That leaves plenty of compliance in the suspension, adds plenty of assistance to the steering, makes the gearbox ease the car away smoothly and shift ratios in very laid-back mode.
The M5’s totally unwearing and absurdly easy-to drive like this. You could cover hundreds of miles, entirely untroubled in the multi-adjustable sports seats, in convincing luxury.
Move upwards into ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport+’ modes on the steering, powertrain, chassis and DSC systems and purposefulness quickly muscles its way into the driving experience. Most notably, the hand wheel goes from heavy to absurdly heavy if you let it, and the ride quality loses that pleasing compliance entirely, riveting the M5’s body to the ground on smooth surfaces, but making it crash and jolt unhelpfully on anything less-than-smooth.
It’s debatable if, even in its firmest state, the M5 allows its driver to connect with it any more meaningfully now than it did at launch. The extra weight in the steering requires effort levels way beyond the realm of delicacy, and it’s not obvious if there’s any more feedback – pertaining either to the state of the front contact patches or the amount of force exerted through the front suspension – available through it.
‘Sport+’ mode on the suspension, meanwhile, is much too hard to work on British roads. The optimum setting for fast road use is achieved by mixing ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes on the M5’s various systems – but it shouldn’t be so hard to dial up. And even when achieved, it doesn’t provide you with quite the kind of body control and handling we’d like the setting to.
The M5 is either abruptly disturbed over bumps that wouldn’t trouble a well-sorted sports saloon, or simply allowed too much vertical freedom to move over them. The fact is, you can have over-firm dampers, or under-firm ones – but never a set-up quite like a properly tuned, expensive-feeling passive damper might deliver.
Directional stability and cornering balance is good where imperfect surfaces don’t come into play. The chassis grips very hard indeed, and can be driven very quickly and smoothly, or as exuberantly sideways as you like with the electronics disabled.
BMW’s new diff settings have added a bit of extra progressiveness to the car’s limit handling, but the original car never seemed unwilling to oblige the hooligan in us either.
Overarching all of that, though, is the sense of incredible outright speed the car delivers at full power. Partly because the engine’s so docile under less throttle, but mostly because there’s just so much grunt, the M5 never fails to amaze when you downshift a couple of times and bury the pedal.
An engine that felt mighty before now feels almost omnipotent: capable, you’d guess, of running with GTRs and 911 Turbos and Ferrari 458s once it’s hit full stride. Magnificent, really.