When: September 2011
Where: Urtrera, Spain
What: 2012 BMW M5
Occasion: International test drive
Overall rating: 5/5
BMW's new M5 is much faster, more luxurious, more efficient and even more laden down with gadgets than before. Does it lose sight of the M-car philosophy in the process? Not a bit of it.
Pricing: Estimated at €132,040
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Audi RS 6 (2012), Jaguar XFR, Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG
CO2 emissions: 232g/km (Band G, €2,100 per annum)
Combined economy: 9.9 litres/100km (28.5mpg)
Top speed: 250km/h (or 305km/h with M Driver's Package)
0-100km/h: 4.4 seconds
Power: 560hp at 6,000 - 7,000rpm
Torque: 680Nm at 1,500 - 5,750rpm
Kerb weight: 1,945kg
In the Metal:
While thousands of owners of M Sport cars may not agree with us, we reckon that the M-car look has been diluted by the very existence of the sporty trim level. However, as is often the case, pictures do not do the new M5 justice. It's just butch enough to stand out, yet in a subdued colour should remain restrained enough to use without attracting too much attention. The usual M-car characteristics are present, including gaping front intakes, air outlets in the wider front wings, 19-inch alloys, a modest boot spoiler, rear diffuser and last, but not least, the quad exhaust set-up.
The interior continues where the previous BMW M5 left off. Think of it as a luxury car with sporting overtones rather than a stripped-out track special. There are loads of lovely details specific to the M5, but it's the level of gadgetry that'll strike you on first getting in. More on that in a tick.
There are a lot of buttons surrounding the curvy little gear lever in the new BMW M5 and though some people won't like the potentially bewildering array of driving options, they define this car. Deep breath: you can vary the settings for the level of stability and traction control, power steering assistance, throttle sensitivity, damping, gear-shift speed and strategy and what's shown on the head-up display. While it'll take a little getting used to the effect all these options have on the driving experience it's possible to pre-programme two groups of settings and access them from the 'M1' and 'M2' buttons on the steering wheel.
We don't have time to go into detail here on all the settings, but a couple of hours in the car was enough to appreciate the extremities of its abilities. In default mode it's remarkably comfortable - much more so than the previous (E60) M5. The gear-changes are smooth and unhurried and you're essentially driving a luxury car. At the other end of the scale, the most hardcore settings turn it into a proper M-car. The ride is firmer, better to control the body movements; the steering weights up to make you feel closer to the action; gear up-shifts are lightning quick and aggressive; down-shifts are accompanied by a gratuitous flare of revs; throttle response is electric; and it's easy to instigate a controllable rear slide with a judicious push of the accelerator.
Suddenly the M5 feels much like the old one. Though it's noticeably quicker. Along with a 10 per cent hike in power the torque peaks at 30 per cent higher. More importantly, while the E60's maximum torque was at 6,100rpm, the new car's is available all the way from 1,500 - 5,750rpm. This means ballistic pace at pretty much any engine speed. Fans of the V10 engine of old may miss its scream, though the new twin-turbo V8 makes a unique range of sounds of its own, from the rumble at idle to a full-bore bellow at speed. It sounds nothing like AMG's rival 6.2-litre V8 and it's certainly worthy of the M badge.
What you get for your Money:
Despite its elevated price tag, the previous M5 was still a bit of a bargain - certainly when you took into consideration its list of standard equipment. This new version builds on that with Merino leather, four-zone climate control, an M-specific Head-Up Display, Bluetooth and USB, a glass sunroof, voice control, tyre pressure monitoring and a new instrument cluster. Satnav is also standard, as part of the excellent BMW Professional Multimedia system.
The BMW compares incredibly favourably to the Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG saloon. It's over €20,000 cheaper, but it has more power and torque, much lower emissions and better fuel economy. We're expecting something special for the next Audi RS 6, which is likely to feature a twin-turbo V8 as well. The Jaguar XFR is significantly cheaper, but not quite in the same league as the Germans.
Rumours are rife that BMW's M division is considering making its first ever diesel-powered car. The 5 Series seems the logical basis and a breathed upon version of the 535d's twin-turbo engine would fit the bill. This may be heresy to die-hard petrol-heads, but there's a lot to be said for the massive torque achievable. After all, most high-performance petrol engines are now turbo- or supercharged so we're getting used to doing without high revs to get our thrills. Despite all that, we were clearly told that it's not being considered at the moment.
Will BMW introduce a manual gearbox to the M5? Yes, in a word, though we have no idea if it'll be sold in Europe. American buyers really want a manual gearbox in the M5 and they buy a lot of them so what they want they generally get.
What about an M5 Touring? Afraid not. The previous generation M5 estate sold in minuscule numbers so it won't be making a reappearance any time soon.
We did wonder if BMW could pull off a double act with the new M5. It has. One moment it's a well-specified luxury car, and at the press of a button it's a hardcore sports saloon that manages to engage and excite its driver while remaining composed. If you're considering a Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG you really should try the M5 out for size first; it's a bit special.