BMW M5: don’t fight the power of this big family supercar
Here’s proof that technology needn’t get in the way of traditional driving pleasure
Date Reviewed: April 26, 2018
So, what’s in your dream garage? At some stage in your motoring life – usually when the EuroMillions jackpot tops €100 million – you’ll daydream about the fleet of cars you would house in your pristine, air-conditioned garage. And for decades most petrolheads would have included a BMW M5 in the ranks, parked next to an early-1990s E30 M3.
Is that still the case or has the intoxicating, weaponised Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG stolen it’s parking place?
The BMW M5 is an engineering marvel. As we face into the age of autonomous driving and electric powertrains, purists like the elite engineers at BMW’s prestigious M Division had two options: vainly try to hold back the tech tide, or try to embrace it in their work. Wisely they opted for the latter. And it makes perfect sense. The origins of M Division is in motorsport (hence the M in its name) and the racing arena has always been quick to adopt the latest technology.
Purists may moan about how the electronics control so much of the driving these days, but the reality is that at the level of supercar family saloons like this M5, its role is more akin to a professional co-driver and guardian angel.
And anyone with an ounce of common sense will appreciate the need for both when you consider that we are now in an age where 600bhp is new norm for power output on these stealth supercars. To put that in some context, that’s on a par with the Ferrari 458 Speciale, or the McLaren MP4-12C. A Lamborghini Huracan is putting out 602bhp, while the poster boy of outlandish supercars, the Pagani Zonda, is a slouch with just 555bhp.
The very idea of putting that level of performance through a five-seater family car would have been regarded as suicidal just a decade ago. And it would have been were it not for the advances in software and tech.
Laws of physics
Of course, all that software needs a big engine and the M5’s boasts the ability to take in all the feedback on your driving, road conditions and the laws of physics and come up with the best assistance. It’s got your back.
However, the driver does get a bamboozling number of personalisation options. You can adjust the dampers, the gearshift (courtesy of a smart little toggle switch on the top of the gearstick), not to mention steering feel. Just a few words about the steering: while the wheel itself is too chunky for its own good, the end result of inputs is light and pinpoint-precise. The car is still a big family saloon but at least the steering feel makes it feel like a smaller, more nimble package.
Then there is BMW’s decision to move the M5 to four-wheel drive. It comes with three driving modes and an active differential in the back to prevent wheelspin. And when you are laying down this sort of power an active diff is essential.
To the uninitiated it’s just a good-looking 5 Series with big wheels and a loud grumble. To those in the know, it’s a superstar car
Staying in the mechanical world, you have an eight-speed torque converter, the only transmission on offer. Up front is a 4.4-litre V8, the same block fitted to the last generation M5 and one that proved the doubters wrong last time out. New turbochargers add part of the fury.
Of course laying down raw power is not equal to great driving pleasure; if it did the Americans would build the best cars, which they most certainly don’t. The M5 delivers that ideal mix of power, practicality and passion, but you simply can’t defy the laws of physics, regardless of how many systems are in place. This is a big car and when you take it on the tight and twisting stretches of road, all that power must give way to the fact that this car has a sizeable footprint and requires a certain amount of tarmac.
And what if you abandon the tech co-driver and drive the car with the systems off? Well, we had the joy of driving the M5 on track and it proved that beneath the electronics beats a truly well-engineered and balanced supercar. The electronics are an overlay to the car’s engineering, not a substitute.
M Sport detailing
The pros and cons of the M5 styling and cabin configuration have been discussed and debated in several reviews in The Irish Times already, but suffice to say the M5 adds a little M Sport detailing, such as the backlit M5 symbols in the sports seats and the three-colour stitching in the seatbelts. But the beauty of these cars – and why they top my list over more obvious sports cars – is that they are more subtle in their supercar approach. They can leave many sleeker, louder and more garish sports cars standing on the starting line, but to the uninitiated or disinterested passerby it’s just a good-looking 5 Series with big wheels and a loud grumble. To those in the know, it’s a superstar car.
And yet, for all-out pants-on-fire fun, the Mercedes E63 AMG takes top prize. It’s more loud and lairy than the BMW, and far more aggressive in its ride and stance, but then that’s probably what many are looking for in such a car. The M5, on the other hand, is more subtle and in that regard probably easier to live with – if you are lucky enough to live in a world where you have €200,000 to drop on a new car. And if any jealous motorist gives you grief, perhaps remind them that you have done your civic duty, having handed nearly €55,000 in VRT to the Revenue, not to mention the €2,350 in motor tax every year, due to emissions of 241g/km. And not to mention the tax on fuel you are paying, with an official consumption of 10.5l/100km (22.5mpg).
We live in a golden age of motoring. On the cusp of an era of autonomous electric cars, automotive’s big guns are not abandoning driving pleasure. The M5 represents the marriage of new tech with traditional driving pleasure. But it does beg the question for Irish buyers: will you ever really get to appreciate its true potential aside from a trip to Mondello or the German autobahn?
Lowdown: BMW M5
Engine: 4,395cc V8 turbocharged petrol engine putting out 600bhp @ 5,600rpm and 750Nm of torque from 1,800rpm
0-100kmh: 3.4 seconds
Official L/100km (mpg): 10.5 (22.5)
Emissions (motor tax): 241 g/km (€2,350)
Our rating: 4/5
Verdict: 600bhp supercar disguised as a family saloon