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Review

First Drive: BMW M5 car review

30/11/11

THE NUMBER of people out there who have the means, or even the inclination, to spend in excess of £70,000 on a high performance saloon has to be pretty limited. It would therefore make sense then that the amount of interest in BMW’s latest generation M5 would be equally limited, right?

Far from it. There are rival products to BMW’s M-series cars, but the Munich masterpieces have an incredible knack of creating a loyal following of enthusiasts who revere the cars wearing the M Division tag.

This latest generation M5 also has something of a historical hurdle to negotiate. Breaking with tradition that goes all the way back to the first M5, the latest version does away with a naturally aspirated engine and instead uses a new twin-turbocharged V8. For the M5 purists this came of something of a shock, but any fears of the 4.4-litre V8 being an anodyne, diesel-like powerplant can be dispelled immediately.

For starters, BMW has managed to nestle the two turbochargers between the two banks of cylinders to give better throttle response. And thanks to some impressive engineering, it provides the kind of aural accompaniment you would hope for from a non-turbo V8. Yet the reason for the switch to turbocharging is to boost efficiency – hence the outgoing 5.0-litre V10, hugely characterful but far from thirsty, had to go in the bin.

The M5 should be easy to spot. It manages to provide some visual muscle without being too obvious: the standard 19-inch wheels are good but the optional 20-inch versions will be an almost default choice. The subtle bodykit toughens up the shape, while the wing vents and quad exhaust pipes are familiar M signifiers.

Slide behind the wheel, hit the starter button and there is a keen rasp from the exhaust, the big V8 already hinting that it is far from a sanitised compromise. The M5 comes as standard with electronic adjustment of the damper settings, engine response and gearshift speed for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Naturally it starts in the most conservative modes, and as such the M5 is deceptively ordinary. Save for the instant acceleration should you squeeze the throttle a little too hard, the M5 is no more demanding than a regular 5. Whether trundling through town or covering long distances on the motorway, the M5 is quiet, unobtrusive and rides very well indeed. The gentler throttle response also helps you to eke out more miles from each litre of fuel.

So comfortable is the M5 in fact that you could easily forget what it is capable of: you could run your family around in it all year and they’d have no idea of what it was really capable of. But that would be a terrible waste.

All that performance is only a throttle squeeze away, but to really get the full picture you need to switch the steering, dampers and engine into Sport Plus mode. Even on a straight and flat piece of road you can feel the M5 tense up, riding more firmly, the steering offering greater resistance and the revs rising more instantly to throttle inputs.

Take control of the gearshifting yourself with the wheel-mounted paddles, then punch the accelerator and the response is instant and emphatic. There’s a sudden burst of controlled noise as the V8 begins to sing, and the combined efforts of the turbochargers delivers a sudden and mighty slug of torque. 501lb.ft is on offer from just 1,500rpm, and with the gearbox delivering rapid shifts the acceleration is truly remarkable. Despite weighing a bag of cement less than two tons the M5 is demonstrably faster than the old one, and piles on the speed in an alarming easy fashion. It only takes a relatively short piece of road before it is banging up against the 155mph limited maximum speed.

The brakes are suitably massive and shed even very high speeds with ease, although if you fancy taking your £80k super saloon out for a track day the carbon ceramic brake option that will surely follow would be worth choosing. And although taking a car this size out on track might seem like complete madness, with all the systems turned up to maximum it delivers an incredible performance which is all the more remarkable given how comfortable it is too.

A few hot laps around a test track sees all notion of this being a big, heavy saloon forgotten in an instant as it dives neatly into bends, responds rapidly to inputs on the wheel and the throttle and has impressive traction even with a heavy right foot. You can switch the dynamic stability control into a track mode or off altogether, and like the best M cars it will drift and slide like a hooligan’s dream or track precisely around a circuit with impressive tenacity.

But the real joy is being able to have this much fun in a car that will still carry you and your family around in luxurious comfort, use less fuel than before and in all likelihood cost you less to run. It’s a sports saloon for every season, and as such has more than earned the right to wear the famous M badge.

FACTS AT A GLANCE BMW M5, £73,040 Engine: 4.4-litre petrol V8 producing 552bhp and 501lb.ft of torque Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch gearbox driving the rear wheels Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds Economy: 28.5mpg combined Emissions: 232g/km of CO2

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups1 (very high costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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