New BMW M5 marries monster power to air of anachronism

Market has begun to move on from stealthy super saloons costing €160,000

Make: BMW

Model: M5

Year: 2017

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: November 30, 2017

Sun, Dec 3, 2017, 23:01

   

By the fourth corner of the Circuito de Estoril, Tom Blomqvist’s white BMW M5 pace car is becoming a distant dot.

Two weeks before this, the 24-year-old BMW racing driver was party to a 12-car opening lap pile-up in a qualifying race in Macau. On the half-dozen laps of this track there’s little chance of any prang between our cars. It’s more likely I’ll meet him next when being lapped.

What Blomqvist, thankfully, hasn’t witnessed is that on every lap I have completely misjudged the third bend. As a result, my new M5 is continually playing catch-up on the rest of the track. And trying to catch a professional racer and the son of legendary rally driver Stig Blomqvist, even when he’s taking it easy, is an exercise in futility.

Certainly none of the blame falls on the car. It’s not lacking in power. With 600 horsepower at full gallop, down Estoril’s 1km start/finish straight a quick glance at the digital display shows I’m hurtling along at over 280km/h. While the “regular” M5 is limited to 250km/h, opt for the M Driver’s Package and the topline is pushed out to 305km/h.

Off the track, the M5 is as just as boisterous. Getting down to the data: we have the outer styling of the recently launched 5-Series, known in the BMW lingo as the G30 version. Under the bonnet, however, is a V8 4.4-litre pushing out 600bhp up to 6,700rpm, and 750Nm of torque. That latter figure means that even the slightest flick of the right ankle buries passengers into their leather seats in the same way an aircraft does during take-off. It’s the same engine block as the outgoing model, but with an extra 40bhp on tap.

Eight-speed transmission

It’s mated to an eight-speed transmission – no manuals this time – and a re-engineered all-wheel drive system. It’s symbolic of the changes afoot across the motoring world that this is leading to raised eyebrows among afficianados, rather than outright revolution. At a time when BMW is promising “electrification” of all future M models, forgoing the purity of rear-wheel drive on such an iconic BMW no longer seems like heresy.

In fairness, the new M5 has been engineered to give priority to the rear wheels. You can opt for three driving modes, including one that ensures all power goes to the rear. While the additional differential and accoutrements add about 70kg to the car, other savings elsewhere means the net weight is still down 25kg on the outgoing model. And the benefits of having power from every wheel are obvious: laying 600bhp on to the tarmac arguably needs the extra grip if it’s to achieve the pretty phenomenal 0-100km/h time of 3.4 seconds. Remember, at all times this remains a full-sized family car.

It also means that even on the twisting mountain roads we took the car, the annoying yellow light of the stability control system kicks in far less frequently than before.

Before taking to the track we threaded the M5 along some badly-surfaced mountain roads. The surprising positive was the grip; the downside, however, remains the fact that this 5 Series still feels too big for such roads. It’s like a rugby prop doing the 100m hurdles.

It might have shed a few kilos and noticeably improved its grip, but this still seems more about brute power than the incredible poise and jaw-dropping driving fun that once epitomised any car carrying an M badge at the turn of the century. Our first impressions behind the wheel of the M5 need to be tempered with the fact that it’s forever overshadowed by its history and heritage.

Several classic M5s were available to test, a testament perhaps to how far we’ve come as much as how good these cars were. But in fairness they need to be judged in the context of their time. These cars – the perfectly-poised naturally-aspirated V8 powerhouse of the late 1990s to the crazy V10-powered M5 of the early 2000s – were pioneers of the power saloon format.

And what a wonderful format. A five-door family car that could potter around town, ferry children to school and fit a weekly shop, yet keep pace with the latest Porsches on any stretch of unrestricted autobahn. And it was so stealth-like in its styling. To the uninitiated it was just a beefy looking BMW 5-Series.

Back on the racetrack and while the purists will remain perturbed at the M5’s all-wheel drive, it’s consistently keeping me out of the gravel. There’s no escaping the fact there’s a lot of tech at work behind the scenes.

Is this overtaking the classic M-car feel? Perhaps, but much as a smokey power slide suits the M5’s image, I don’t fancy returning the keys of this €160,000-plus test car after it has merged with the metal Armco.

Did your eyes flicker a little longer than expected on that price tag? The new BMW powerhouse officially goes on sale at €163,800. That’s a €25,800 increase on the outgoing model. Or the price of a new Mini Cooper D.

The good news is that BMW is offering a 9 per cent discount to anyone who places an order before March 31st. That brings the price down to a more reasonable – in relative terms – €149,058.

Motor tax

The problem for BMW is the equivalent Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG matches the M5 for acceleration, boasts a dozen more horses under the bonnet and yet arrives on Irish forecourts at €143,995. Part of that is thanks to its lower emissions: despite its raw performance Merc’s stealth supercar comes in with a meagre 225g/km, compared to the BMW’s 241g/km. That means while the owner of the E63S AMG pays an eye-watering €1,200 a year in motor tax, the M5 owner’s annual bill is a nose-bleeding €2,350.

And while the BMW has arguably more street cred than the equivalent Merc among Irish buyers, it’s hard to see how it justifies the extra spend. It’s a great drive. It’s an icon of saloon sports cars. But it’s not the unmatchable poster car, benchmark in its class, that it once was.

Perhaps the age of the stealth five-seater family car-cum-Ferrari chaser isn’t over. After all BMW already has 10 orders in the bank for this new car. But the motoring worm has turned. Those who in the past opted for the stealthy super saloons have become the buyers of blinged-up SUVs or outright supercars.

Having the chance to test the M5 on and off the track, it’s still hard to let reason rule over the motoring romance that surrounds this car. Yet for me, the best BMW M car on the market has been – and remains – the M2. It’s staggeringly fast with a snakebite-sharp chassis and is the closest you get to the 1990s glory days of M Division’s ability to deliver unadulterated furious fun. And it’s half the price of the new M5.