On-Sale Date: Summer 2012
Competitors: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Cadillac CTS-V, Porsche Panamera Turbo
Powertrain: 4.4-liter V8, 560 hp, 500 lb-ft of torque; seven-speed dual-clutch transmission
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): TBD
What’s New: Fans of the restyled 5 Series were up in arms over its heavier, more luxurious underpinnings. So there was plenty to potentially bungle with the all-new M5. But BMW went to great lengths to ensure that its flagship’s sporting sanctity will satisfy rabid enthusiasts. Though still 90 pounds heavier than a comparably equipped 550i, the new M5 got lighter through aluminum components and by ditching the huge rubber subframe bushings. Now that the rear suspension is bolted directly to the chassis, this two-ton ride feels more in tune with the road. A hydraulic steering setup also replaces the standard 5 Series’ electric arrangement and has a crisper feel. Cockpit-adjustable shocks round out a tightly tuned suspension package, and heavier-duty six-piston brakes assure strong stops with the 18- or 19-inch wheels.
BMW once proclaimed that M cars would never be turbocharged. Times have changed: This M5’s bulged hood hides a twin scroll, twin-turbocharged V8 adapted from the X5 M and X6 M. The mill churns 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. The direct-injected powerplant achieves peak torque between 1500 and 5750 rpm and claims 30 percent better fuel economy than its predecessor, thanks in part to an automatic Stop/Start feature (which can be disabled). Replacing the last generation’s SMG automated manual is an M3-sourced seven-speed dual clutch unit that’s been reinforced and outfitted with taller ratios.
Tech Tidbit: Although BMW engineers say the M5’s twin-turbocharged V8 is “at the edge” of global noise limits, the insulated cabin remains rather isolated from the car’s growling exhaust note. But if you’re driving an M5, you want it to sound like an M5. So the Bavarian automaker devised a clever solution: It incorporated a digital signal processor that translates data from the engine management system and reproduces engine noises through the car’s six-speaker audio system. Voilà! A virtual sport exhaust that won’t rattle the neighbors.
Driving Character: The M5’s leather and aluminum-trimmed interior is more purposeful than opulent. But the mellow, nearly subliminal exhaust hum from the turbocharged V8 powerplant suggests silky smooth refinement, which this big sedan exudes when driven calmly. Leave the throttle, steering, suspension and shift modes in “Comfort,” and you might be hard-pressed to believe this is an “M” car. But switch it up and mash the throttle, and this understated sedan transforms into an angry four-door supercar.
The twisting highways just south of Seville, Spain, make the 560-hp engine seem a bit excessive for public roads—all that power sporadically kicks out the tail end, and triple-digit speeds arrive faster than you can say, “Lo siento, policía!” So we breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving at Ascari Race Resort, where 3.37 miles and 26 turns awaited our Monte Carlo Blue metallic monster. Even with a little morning rain, the M5’s Michelin Pilot Super Sports dug into the track’s well-kept surfaces. We nearly forget we were driving more than 4000 pounds of sedan. But what really took us by surprise was how maneuverable the new M5 proved to be, despite its longer wheelbase. Credit the ultraflexible engine, seven cogs to choose from, and a buttoned-down chassis that seems unflappable when pushed near the limit. An active rear differential apportions power to the side that needs it the most, and the hydraulic steering system conveys enough information to inspire confidence.
When the kinks straighten out, the engine power pushes the M5 forward under breathtaking g-forces. The dual clutch transmission’s shifts were lightning fast yet surprisingly smooth, enabling mid-corner cog swaps that didn’t upset the car’s balance. And finally, the M5’s six-piston brakes performed as advertised, though we wouldn’t be surprised if would-be racers choose the pricey carbon-ceramic option if and when it becomes available in the U.S.
Favorite Detail: Compared with its predecessors, the newest M5 is a more understated sedan with a quiet cabin yet stunning performance—a virtual textbook example of what constitutes a compelling Q-ship.
Driver’s Grievance: Maybe it’s too refined. What makes this ultra-high-performance sedan so great also detracts from its desirability. There’s no arguing its extreme capabilities (which we confirmed during hot laps), but the new M5 begs for more edge and a touch more spine-tingling personality.
The Bottom Line: While even die-hard drivers criticized the last generation’s jerky automated manual gearbox and 8250 rpm Formula One–derived V10, this M car offers blistering performance along with enough electronic controls to switch it from track day beast into a compliant daily driver. Boy-racer types may wish for obvious symbols of outward speed, such as a burlier exhaust note or more aggressive bodywork. But for those who savor the subtlety of an understated autobahn stormer, it doesn’t get much more sublime than the 2013 BMW M5.
September 28, 2011