By Marc Lachapelle
ESTORIL, Portugal– If the history of compact sport sedans unerringly points back to the legendary BMW 2002, the Bavarian carmaker’s famed M Gmbh performance division can also be credited for creating the luxury sport sedan, a notch above in size, horsepower and performance, with the M5.
Purists and automotive historians will, in fact, roll back to the M535i, concocted in 1979 by BMW engineers who fitted a more powerful, 3.5-litre, 215-hp inline six cylinder engine, firmer suspension, deeper Recaro seats and wider tires to an E12 5-Series sedan.
The first proper M5 sedan was born when BMW’s fledgeling Motorsport division, as it was then called, stuffed the fabulous 3.5-litre, 286-hp, double overhead cam inline six from the M1 supercar under the hood of an E28 5-Series, in 1984 to sire the first proper M5. It had proportionately tuned suspension, tires and brakes, of course.
Fast forward over the six-cylinder E34, launched in 1988, the V-8-powered E39 in 1997 and V-10-propelled E60, presented in 2005, to the F10M, introduced in 2011 with a twin-turbocharged, 560-hp, 4.4-litre V-8.
Now comes a sixth generation of the M5. This new super sedan, codenamed F90, gets an upgraded, stronger version of its predecessor’s powerplant but also breaks new ground at M Gmbh by becoming the first M car to have its engine coupled with all-wheel drive and a conventional automatic gearbox.
More muscle and stamina
Simply put, the newest M5 has almost three times the horsepower of the very first of its breed, with the claimed 592 hp of its 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V-8, an upgraded version of the fifth generation’s thundering heart. Not to mention 553 lb-ft of twisting force already fully accessible at only 1,800 rpm.
Its two, twin-scroll turbos are new, and both its lubrication and cooling systems have been changed to reliably cope with the extra torque and easily deliver unprecedented levels of performance, even under heavy use. Track days included.
The M5‘s first-ever automatic gearbox is an eight-speed ZF unit with duly reinforced components and also an aluminum pan and external transmission oil cooler to ensure the same consistency, toughness and reliability are fully maintained.
These measures were called for, since the M5 is also the first M car to get all-wheel drive capability, thanks to the new M xDrive system. More traction means higher forces and, thus, greater loads to transfer to driven wheels. The X5 M and X6 M luxury SUVs already had all-wheel drive, of course, but the M5’s version of the xDrive system has the great distinction of offering a two-wheel drive mode that will be the joy of driving purists and drift enthusiasts alike.
Ultimate traction and balance
In the M5’s default 4WD mode, all drive torque goes to the rear wheels until the system detects the slightest trace of wheelspin. This should never take long in a sedan with nearly 600 horsepower that is 8 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, in spite of its new all-wheel drive hardware, thanks to an aluminum hood, a carbon fibre roof and plenty of other bits made from light materials.
The fully-variable multi-plate clutch in the centre-mounted transfer case then feeds just enough torque to the front wheels for maximum traction, without sacrificing agility and cornering balance. Meanwhile, the Active M differential splits drive torque between the left and right rear wheels, at the rear axle, to quell understeer.
As a driving introduction to the M5, a road loop on Portuguese highways and byways showed that it is also a commendably smooth, quiet and comfortable luxury sedan that can also carry all the accessories and safety systems of the new 5-Series. Also that it can carve a twisty, narrow, undulating backroad with surgical precision and exquisite ferocity.
With absolute poise, the M5 never lets the driver feel its mass, thanks to suspension geometry and damping that seem just about perfect. Adjustable too, just like steering effort and exhaust note. Although I would gladly take a touch more of that V-8’s growl.
On a stretch of deserted Portuguese highway, the M5 attained unmentionable speeds in a handful of seconds. It is utterly table at such velocity but I would like more on-centre feel through the nicely-shaped, leather-draped rim of its steering wheel. And also, more range for the angle adjustment of the seat cushion. Comfort and support are otherwise impeccable, even on a race track.
Warp speed of sorts
After two already quick laps of Circuito Estoril in 4WD mode, the M5 showing superb balance and effectiveness, you switch to 4WD Sport by touching a button on the centre console or, better still, by pressing one of the nifty, red and fully-programmable M1 and M2 levers mounted atop the horizontal branch of the steering wheel.
The rear wheels get more torque while stability control is reduced substantially. The M5 turns into corners swiftly and you can make it pivot at once, carving out smooth four-wheel drifts joyfully controlled, at will, by modulating the steering angle and throttle. I just want one for Christmas!
And I have not yet even mentioned the forceful, constant push and glorious roar of that twin-turbo V-8. It is backed by an exceptional automatic gearbox that delivers upshifts and downshifts as neatly and quickly as the best dual-clutch units, within a couple of milliseconds you frankly won’t feel or miss, in exchange for its smoother demeanour at all speeds.
This duo, combined with all-wheel drive, should deliver 0-100 km/h sprints in 3.4 seconds, thanks to a launch control mode with release rpm you can adjust from the steering wheel.
The M5 we drove in Portugal ran on 20-inch wheels fitted with new Pirelli P Zero tires in size 275/35ZR20 at the front and 275/35ZR20 at the rear axle. They were smooth and quiet on the road and offered great traction, with very linear and progressive behaviour on the race track. All cars also carried the optional carbon-ceramic brakes that come with discs larger than the standard ‘M compound’ units, front and rear.
These brakes will reduce overall unsprung weight by 23 kilograms but also add $9,500 to your bill. I nevertheless recommend them highly. After several laps at full tilt, including maximum braking effort at more than 250 km/h, at the end of on Estoril’s longest straightaway, while chasing Canadian racing star Bruno Spengler, BMW works driver and 2012 champion in the vaunted DTM series, the pedal remained unerringly firm and there was nary a trace of brake fade.
BMW Canada is taking orders now for the M5, at a base price of $113,300, with deliveries set to begin in March 2018. It’s too late for the swanky First Edition, dressed in satiny matt red paint. All 400 are sold already. Trust me, though, any other colour will do just fine on this fabulous car.
- Model: 2018 BMW M5
- Price: $113,300 transport dealer preparation: $2,850 administration: $565
- Engine: 4.4-litre V-8 with twin turbochargers
- Peak output: 592 hp at 5,700 rpm
- Peak torque: 553 lb-ft at 1,800 – 5,700 rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Length: 4,966 mm
- Width: 1,903 mm
- Height: 1,473 mm
- Wheelbase: 2,982 mm
- Curb weight: 1,855 kg
- Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 3.4 seconds (claimed)
- Fuel Consumption (city/highway/combined): 14.5 / 8.2 / 10.5 L/100 km (European norm)
- Top speed: 250 km/h (M Driver’s package: 305 km/h)