Blasting down the Autobahn at 150 mph for an extended period of time tends to be the kind of experience you don’t forget in a hurry. This is especially true if you are behind the wheel of the king of super saloons, a BMW M5. It’s been well over two years since we headed to Germany and sampled the E60 M5 in its natural habitat, and I think it’s only in Germany that a 5L V10 4-door sedan really makes sense. I had driven M5s in Japan prior to that epic drive and while the 500 HP the screaming V10 provided was undeniably fun to play with, I couldn’t help but think the car was pretty unusable in cramped Japanese cities, not to mention on highways where the speed limit is 60 mph. Add to that its atrocious thirst for premium gas and the M5 seemed nothing but an expensive toy that would never be able to deliver its true potential in Japan.
But things have changed now. When BMW announced that the F10 M5 would drop a high revving naturally aspirated engine in favor of a more compact force-induced power plant, a lot of purists complained. Understandably so. An M-car has always been synonymous with screaming, high revving NA engines, motors that shined for their instant throttle response and tickled the senses in so many ways. So for BMW to throw away all of this history, well let’s just say it was a brave move.
Think of the F10 M5 not as an evolution of the cars that have preceded it, but more of a shift, a move towards a new way M cars will be from now on. This was evident from the first press of the Start/Stop button on the dash; the twin-turbo 4.4L V8 sparked into life with a subdued but menacing growl, a sound that is almost strange to hear coming from a car with an M5 badge on the trunk, but oozing so much character it begged to be explored.
And here it is in all its glory.
552 HP and 502 lb/ft of torque, delivered through a dual clutch 7-speed transmission and then on to a torque-vectoring M-differential. It is a curious engine to look at, packed with technology such as direct injection, fully variable valve control and even an automatic engine start/stop function. The twin-scroll turbos sit “on top” of the engine, in-between the two banks of cylinders; you can actually see them in the picture above right under the plastic engine cover. This keeps all the piping extremely short, their outlets connected directly to the two big charge coolers and then on to each of the intake manifolds. The result is a zero-lag set up…
…the kind of throttle response you would expect to find in an NA car. The move to this boosted 4.4L V8 has helped BMW make the M5 30% more fuel efficient than the outgoing V10 E60, with far lower CO2 emissions.
There is absolutely nothing negative to say about this engine. As soon as you get on the gas it hits you with so much torque you can’t help but laugh. It’s also great to see that BMW have simplified the way you control the car in its various settings…
…which can be selected on the fly via the “steering,” “dampers” and “engine” buttons next to the shift lever. To make life easier I set up the M1 and M2 buttons on the thick rimmed M steering wheel via the main menu…
…and iDrive, programming the most “boring” settings on M2 and the most extreme on M1. And this is precisely what for me made the M5 so special, the ability to literally transform itself from a comfortable cruiser to a screaming beast. It’s like you are driving two cars in one!
There are three settings for each of the steering, dampers and engine buttons as well as the shift speed of the dual clutch transmission, allowing you to customize your driving experience. It probably sounds more complicated than it really is, and I think that most people after programming their favorite set-up into the M1 & M2 buttons will probably not play around with them any more. In town, with everything set to comfort, the M5 effortlessly glides over bumps, the electrically assisted steering light and the engine quiet as the valves in the silencers keep the V8 growl muted. The better fuel consumption is instantly evident via the accurate feedback the trip computer gives you, and if you are really good at restraining yourself, you can extract some pretty impressive numbers. The automatic engine stop helps a lot here so you don’t idle and burn pointless fuel when the car is stationary at a set of lights or in a traffic jam. On a calm drive up to Nikko circuit I managed to get 27 mpg!
Hit that M1 button however, and every setting automatically shifts to Sport Plus and the car comes alive in your hands. The dampers firm up, the steering becomes more weighted and direct while the engine makes itself really heard. Stomp on the more responsive throttle and you are catapulted forward; the first time I did this I had to back off as I literally wasn’t expecting such a shove…and this resulted in the loudest backfire this side of a Ferrari F40. I’m not sure what curious valving the silencers have, but what ever system it is I love it as you can count on a massive bang every time you lift of the throttle. I was actually scaring innocent pedestrians in Tokyo! To further explore the M5’s capabilities I took it for an afternoon drive in the hills around Mobara circuit in Chiba, and I came away loving this thing even more. While there is no hiding the weight of the car, 90 kg up on the E60 at just under 2 tons, it tackles corners with the kind of accuracy you would expect an M-car to have, and that engine…it just never fails to deliver towering acceleration. Switch the traction control off and the M5 becomes a bit of a handful. Big power, lots of torque and no lag means this is one tail happy beast able to break traction well into triple figures.
And on top of the performance and satisfying driving experience there is so much more to the F10 M5. Its design for example; like the four cars that have preceded it, the F10 stands out….well, for not standing out. It is the sleeper the M5 has always been, a performance car for the gentleman driver, for those that have no intention of showing the world that they have purchased a special car. Only those in the know will recognize it for what it is…
…looking for details like the side vents on the front fenders…
…and the small spoiler on the trunk lid.
While the metallic blue of the press car I drove around for a week may not be the preferred choice for those trying to blend in, it does show off the aggression of the gently blistered front and rear wheels arches.
And then there are the wheels. The optional forged 20-inch split 5-spokes are shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, measuring 265/35 up front and 295/30 at the rear.
While up until a few years ago BMW were still relying on rather horrible looking slide-type calipers, they have now taken braking performance very seriously and the front set-up on the M5 boasts massive 400 mm discs and equally massive 6-pot calipers. The rear has slightly smaller 6-pots and 396 mm discs. The middle pedal has the typical BMW precision, feedback and adjustability but in a few instances I did find the brakes struggling with the weight of the car, especially down fast and demanding mountain roads.
Lets take a step inside and admire the luxurious and great environment that BMW have put together.
The M5 logo on the sills reminds you what car you are getting in and out of.
I sometimes feel like I am a giant in Japan, and especially so when I drive a lot of Japanese cars which just don’t cater for bigger frames. Because of this it is always so refreshing to step into a BMW, which have always led the way in allowing its occupants to find a comfortable seating position, no matter if you are below or above the 99 percentile average body size! Just look at all those seat adjustments! Half of the driving experience of a car is being able to feel comfortable and the M5 allowed me to sit in the car rather than on it.
There may seem to be a multitude of buttons around the dashboard and cabin but everything is so neatly and intuitively laid out you soon feel right at home.
The thick-rimmed and deeply contoured steering wheel was spot on too; again this is a personal choice and people with hands smaller than my bear-claws might find it a bit too thick. Notice the triple-color M stitching.
Your hands hardly need to move from the steering wheel, you have most of the car’s main controls at your finger tips like the up & down shift paddles and the controls to the audio/phone/trip computer as well as those important M1 & M2 buttons.
BMW leads the way in the integration of digital displays into the regular analogue instrument meters.
The lower slice of the speedometer and rev counter is part of the big digital display and can be customized to view a variety of information from fuel consumption reading, range, steering/suspension/engine settings and so on. Add all of this functionality to extremely simple and neatly laid out gauges and you have a very easy to understand and not too confusing interface for the driver. The heads-up display worked wonderfully well too.
The fit and finish and choice of materials are top class making the M5 a very comfortable and nice place to be in.
The extremely wide LCD screen is where all the other functions of the car are displayed and accessed. From here you can play with the HDD navigation system, watch crisp surround-sound digital TV programs or DVDs and surf through your iPod’s music collection either via Bluetooth or by docking it to the USB input under the armrest.
Another detail of the simple and elegant trim…
…highlighted by this metal-like finish on the dashboard and top parts of the doors.
Rear seat passengers are not forgotten, they have tons of space to relax in as well as their own controls for the air conditioning.
This evolutionary shift has given way to a very modern and unexpectedly satisfying new take on the M5. M-cars can indeed be turbo charged and what they may lack in the high-rpm NA noise department, they make up for it in so many other ways. And as for my initial option that M5s may not be suited to Japan, I take it back; there may not be unrestricted Autobahns to enjoy here, but there are plenty of nice driving roads where the M5 proved to be a blast. The improved fuel economy even makes it a not so crazy proposition as a very wealthy man’s daily driver.
Speedhunters would like to thank BMW Japan for making this test drive possible.
-Dino Dalle Carbonare