BMW M5 (2012) long-term test review

By the CAR road test team

Long Term Tests

18 January 2013 09:00

Month 11 running a BMW M5: we say farwell to out longterm M5

After 11 months and 16,000 miles – 11,000 of them in CAR’s hands – our M5 has finally departed. It arrived with the spoils of victory from a Jag XFR/Merc CLS 63/Panamera V8 group test and bowed out after a five-week sojourn at the dealer. That, however, was one large blot in an otherwise near-perfect copybook.

My long-termer was one of BMW’s press cars, with a spec that added £10k to the £73k asking price. I've outlined my dream M5 spec below: it comes to £81,810. I’d ditch the £5k Merino leather, stick with our standard, sweeter-riding, cheaper-to-wrap-in-rubber 19in wheels and put aside £665 for the Comfort Access pack – I always felt it strange that while I didn’t need the key to start the car, I had to blip it to open the doors.

The F10 M5 had a tough act to follow, what with the old E60 packing a naturally aspirated, F1-inspired V10 engine. The new, downsized 4.4-litre V8 bi-turbo is seriously good, with masses more torque than the outgoing engine, while the excellent throttle response and high-rev capability are at odds with what we expect from lazier turbo lumps. The turbos were necessary to improve mpg and CO2 and we managed 21.5mpg, into which we need to factor regular 90mph cruises, a couple of 170mph runs on the autobahn and an absence of city driving. It also used oil at a rate of nearly a litre every 3000-4000 miles. Meanwhile, the dual-clutch ’box – also new – is far smoother and faster than the old clutchless manual.

The first problem arose a month after the M5 landed, when a powertrain warning light bonged up and restricted power. BMW said the car needed to go in for a ‘campaign’. Seems the maximum boost pressure can be temporarily exceeded if the car was driven in anger. I’d stumbled on this problem while driving around Cambridgeshire, yet BMW presumably hadn’t while driving around the Nürburgring.

Then, in late October, came the five-week sickie. It started when the M5 refused to go above 40mph. Sycamore BMW were very good at keeping me informed but no one had a clue what was wrong. The BMW press office intervened and said it was software related and the car was as good as gold from its return until the end of its stay. I’d have been furious if it was my £80k car that was parked up depreciating while I ran about in a 520d courtesy car, though.

Some call the M5 sterile, but they’ve always been Jekyll and Hyde. Early versions felt placid pootling around, waking up past 5000rpm. This M5 is the same. Day-to-day it wouldn’t scare your grandma, but prod it and you’ll find it has a serious personality disorder. The engine revs manically, gear changes punch home relentlessly and the chassis soaks up abuse despite 501lb ft going through the rear axle.

If I could afford it, I’d have ours in a shot, despite the gremlins. Alas, someone else gets that honour. Perhaps one day we’ll be reunited

by Ben Barry


Month 10 running a BMW M5: Ben B's M5 vs Ben P's Panamera...

M5 or Panamera? It’s BMW all the way for me. Here’s why:

PRACTICALITY
Yes, these are performance cars, but they’re performance cars that people buy because they can’t fit their lives in a 911. They need rear doors and a boot, and it’s the M5 that serves them better: it has three rear seats to the Panamera’s two, and the M5’s boot is bigger: 445 litres plays 520 litres.

PERFORMANCE
On figures alone the M5 walks it, whether you choose performance or economy. M5? 552bhp, 501lb ft, 4.3sec to 62mph, 28.5mpg, 232g/km. Panamera? 424bhp, 383lb ft, 4.5sec to 62mph and 256g/km. You need to get into the £105k Panamera Turbo to compete.

PRICE
The Panamera lags behind the M5 for performance, but it’s much more expensive: £91k plays £73k. You could have an M5 with a pretty choice spec for £80k and still be £11k away from a bare-bones GTS. The benefit of the Porsche is that it’s very much a top-end car, prices spanning £60k-£124k, and the badge and the interior reflect that. To the petrolhead, the M5 looks distinctively mean, but the layman could confuse it for a £30k 520d – a car with which the M5 shares its basic architecture, hence the rather plain dash.

THE LOOKS
Yes, the Panamera is a Porsche, but it hasn’t exactly grown into its skin all these years on. The M5 oozes a subtle, understated menace, even if I could do without the crass flashes of chrome on the wings.

THE DRIVE
Here’s where the M5 seals the deal: drive hard and it comes alive, the torque punching you at the horizon, the trick Michelins soaking up the twin-turbo thrust, the engine revving manically to beyond 7000rpm – not as stratospheric as the old V10, but high for a blown motor and clear of the GTS – and the dual-clutch gearbox responding in double-quick time. Take a brave pill, turn the traction control off and really provoke the M5 and it goes berserk; a proper Jekyll and Hyde machine.

The Porsche does have a sweeter-sounding engine and the steering is more tactile, but to me it’s a one-trick pony: fast, competent, but lacking that final bit of delicacy and fun. There’s also a strange, lateral wobbliness to the way it goes down a road.

As Ben P highlights, though, the M5 isn’t perfect: when you’re cruising, it doesn’t feel very special, its feedback too mute and sterile to convey the depth of its talents. But that’s a case for Merc’s CLS63 AMG, not the Panamera.

by Ben Barry


Month 9 running a BMW M5: a month at the mechanics

Our long-term M5 is pulling a monumental sickie: it’s been away for a month now and nobody has any idea what’s wrong with it. It started when Ben Pulman filled it with superplus and handed me the keys four miles later, complaining of a wobbly throttle. By the time I drove it, things had deteriorated: I couldn’t top 40mph, and quickly pulled over.

I called BMW dealer Sycamore in Peterborough, who promptly recovered the car. At first, suspicion fell on the fuel, especially as early diagnostics checks suggested the problem was moving around the engine, and a few days were lost – a few days! – while a new fuel filter was sourced from Germany and the tank replenished. Eventually the fuel supply was ruled out and the mystery deepened; Sycamore investigated further while liaising with BMW’s equally dumbstruck German HQ. A month later, the M5 is back at BMW’s Bracknell base with its manifold off and fuel injectors out and we’re still none the wiser. Hopefully we’ll be able to get it back to work soon.

By Ben Barry


Month 9 running a BMW M5: our M5 demands an oil top-up

Back in the not-so-distant old days, you’d check your M car’s oil with a dipstick. These days, you check the oil not by dipping a dipstick, but by dipping into a submenu on the iDrive computer.

There you’ll see a virtual dipstick that works just like the old real ones did: the gap between the line at the top and the line at the bottom of the dipstick equates to a litre of oil. If it’s on the lower marking, you need to add another litre, pronto.

Anyway, I was off in Chernobyl with Land Rover during the team’s trip to Wales with all our longtermers, and the rogues I’d left back home with my keys had apparently treated the M so disrespectfully that an ‘add oil at the soonest possible opportunity’ bonged up during the trip at around 9000 miles, 4000 miles after the M5 joined our longterm fleet with a full fluid top-up.

The CAR team dutifully topped it up in my absence, but I got the message again – yes, I know, I should use the computer to check it more often… – just recently, with just under 13,000 miles on the clock, and so another litre went in.

The M5’s oil was also topped up when it went back to BMW to get its winter rubber swapped at the end of Feb (approx. 8000 miles), so we’re looking at a litre of oil every 3000-4000 miles or so. That’s a reasonably healthy appetite, if nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

By Ben Barry


Month 8 running a BMW M5: just what is the perfect M5 spec?

A quick read through this longterm logbook reveals that I have, like so many politicans, been a little remiss at declaring all my expenses. So I started to make a list of all the options fitted to the BMW M5, but then I got carried away. Which is why I’ve also added an explanation of what the options are where needed, plus whether or not I’d specify this option again (the Yes or No bit). Further below, I take a look at the options we haven’t got, the stuff that comes as standard, and how I’d spec my own M5. So, first up, the options we’ve got…

1. Silverstone full Merino leather, £5445. It’s a beautifully trimmed interior, but can it really be £3.5k more beautiful than the BMW Individual leather at £1885? No.
2. Reversing assist camera, £330. It’s a big car, and using this dash-mounted screen quickly becomes second nature. Yes.
3. Climate comfort windscreen, £215. An infrared reflective laminate keeps the interior cabin cooler in direct sunlight. Yes.
4. M multi-function seats, front, £875. I’ve not tried the standard seats, but these optional extras are fantastic. Yes.
5. Through-loading ski-bag, £75. I don’t ski, I don’t need it. No.
6. Split-folding rear seats, £375. Should be standard. Yes.
7. High-beam assistant, £130. Turns off full beam as traffic approaches. Never used it. No.
8. Lane-departure warning system, £400. Activated via a button to the right of the steering wheel. Once travelling at speeds in excess of 40 mph, a camera mounted beneath the rear-view mirror detects lane markings. If the car deviates from the lane without the use of indicators, the steering wheel vibrates as an alert. Never used it. No.
9. Lane-change warning system. Again activated via a button to the right of the steering wheel. Once travelling at speeds in excess of 30 mph, a radar-based system monitors blind spots to the rear and side of the car. Warnings are displayed on the side-view mirrors and the steering wheel vibrates if you’re still determined to have an accident. £470. Never used it, so it’s a no from me.
10. Surround view, £530. Cameras in the side of the front bumper relay images back to the dash-mounted screen, the left-hand half of the screen showing the left-hand side of the car and vice versa. I find it a bit confusing to look at and have only ever used it out of curiosity. No.
11. Mobile application preparation, £130. I just pair my phone up with the standard Bluetooth. No.
12. Internet, £95. My car has the internet. Really? I suppose I should try to use it. A reserved yes.
13. Loudspeaker system, BMW Professional, £330. Great stereo. Yes.
14. Sun protection glass, £295. I’ve got kids who sleep with their faces pressed up against the glass and those stick-on sunblinds are a pain. Yes.
15. Speed-limit display, £250. Never relied on it, but spotted a couple of times when it’s been wrong. No.
16. Headlining, anthracite Alcantara, £795. It does add a lot of class. Yes.

TOTAL COST OF OPTIONS: £10,740
TOTAL COST OF CAR: £73,040 + £10,740 = £83,780

 

The options NOT fitted to our M5 are listed below. Again, I’ve explained them where necessary, and stated whether or not I’d like them.

1. Rear-seat entertainment, BMW Professional, £2130. TV screens in the rear headrests. It’s pricey and you can get aftermarket stuff far cheaper, but it keeps the kids happy. Let’s be indulgent. Yes.
2. Powered bootlid, £430. No.
3. Electric tow-bar, £805. No.
4. Rear-seat reading lights, £305. No
5. Oscillating seat-base function, £595. Indulgent, but the massage seats worked brilliantly in my E63 AMG Merc. Yes.
6. Heated rear seats, £305. The kids are still in child seats, and £305 goes a long way to my massage seats. Sorry kids. No.
7. Ventillated front seats, £510. No.
8. Soft-close doors, £435. Funny how many times I fail to close the M5’s doors fully, where soft-close doors finish the job for you. I’d like them, but probably not enough to invest that much. No.
9. Steering wheel heating, £185. Lovely on those winter mornings. Yes.
10. Electric rear sunblind, £300. I’ve already got the tints. No.
11. Alcantara headlining, BMW Individual, £1060. No.
12. Night-vision, with pedestrian recognition, £1510. I’ve only tried Merc’s system before, but it seemed an absolute waste of time. No.
13. Comfort access, £665. Unlocks doors when you approach with key in your pocket (ie you don’t have to press a button), and enables touch-free opening of bootlid. Yes.
14. BMW Individual Merino leather, £1885 (replaced by our car’s £5445 leather). Yes.
15. Optional paint finishes (Amazonite Silver, Azurite Black, Champagne Quartz, Citrine Black, Moonstone), £1045. No.
16. 20-inch double-spoke alloys wheels, £2080. They do look better, but I’m not ashamed of my 19s, and they’ll probably be the best compromise. No.
17. Model designation deletion, NO COST. You have to be pretty cool to take the badge of your M5. I’ll pretend I’m cool. Yes.
18. Rear-spoiler deletion NO COST. It’s hardly an in-your-face wing, and surely it’s useful at high speed. No.
19. Exterior trim, matt aluminium, NO COST. I think the gloss-black trim on my car is a bit tacky. A cautious yes, but I’d like to see another car with this option first.
20. 12v power sockets, £45. No.
21. TV function, £870. No.
22. Interior trims (Auburn Sycamore wood trim,  Honey Brown Satin walnut wood trim, Piano Black), £460. No.

TOTAL COST OF REMAINING OPTIONS: £16,550
MAXIMUM AMOUNT POSSIBLE TO SPEND ON M5 OPTIONS: £27,290

 

The stuff that comes as standard with our M5:
1. Monte Carlo Blue metallic paint
2. Aluminium trace interior trim
3. Lumbar support for driver and front passenger
4. Telephone USB audio interface
5. Headling, anthracite (replaced by our car’s £795 anthracite Alcantara)
6. Extended Merino leather (replaced by our car’s £5445 leather)
7. 19-inch double-spoke alloys
8. Loudspeaker system, BMW Business (replaced by our car’s Professional system, £330)
9. Voice control
10. DAB radio
11. Sat-nav, BMW Professional multi-media
12. Bluetooth phone prep
13. Folding, auto-dimming side mirrors
14. Electric glass sunroof
15. Exterior trim, high-gloss shadowline
16. Ambient lighting, Includes lighting elements to all door openings, front footwell lights in underside of instrument panel, door handle recess and door pocket lighting front and rear. Includes chrome strips on exterior door handles.
17. Velour floor mats
18. Auto dimming rear-view mirror
19. Heated front seats
20. Four-zone air-con
21. Adaptive headlights
22. First aid kit and triangle
23. Tyre pressure monitor
24. Thatcham 1-approved alarm
25. Xenon headlights
26. Parking sensors, front and rear
27. Headlight wash
28. USB audio interface
29. Electronic damper control
30. Seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox

And that leaves us with how I would spec my perfect M5…
1. Reversing assist camera, £330.
2. Climate comfort windscreen, £215.
3. M multi-function seats, front, £875.
4. Split-folding rear seats, £375.
5. Internet, £95.
6. Loudspeaker system, BMW Professional, £330.
7. Sun protection glass, £295.
8. Rear-seat entertainment, BMW Professional, £2130.
9. Oscillating seat-base function, £595.
10. Steering wheel heating, £185.
11. Headlining, anthracite Alcantara, £795.
12. Comfort access, £665.
13. BMW Individual Merino leather, £1885
14. Model designation deletion, NO COST.
15. Exterior trim, matt aluminium, NO COST.

TOTAL COST OF MY IDEAL OPTIONS LIST: £8770
TOTAL COST INCLUDING CAR: £73,040 + £8770 = £81,810

By Ben Barry


Month 7 running a BMW M5: our M5's brakes start to clog up

Had a quick peek at the M5’s cross-drilled brake discs the other day and noticed they were clogged with carbon deposits. Every hole on the front discs is full, while the rear discs are slowly filling up. I actually ended up inspecting them after feeling that the brakes weren’t performing as well as they had: the pedal feel is too soft for my liking, and I’m not convinced that they’re totally up to stopping a car of this power and weight in give-or-take situations. 

I’ve found myself triggering the ABS on a few occasions now, and I know that would have culminated in a lock-up and, perhaps, a crash if the ABS safety net wasn’t there.

That’s a shame, because M has a reputation for equipping its cars with marginal brakes, and I’d hoped that the new F10 with its six-pot stoppers would put an end to that. Anyway, I’ll give them a clean and see what happens.

By Ben Barry


Month 7 running a BMW M5 - CAR's Staff Reporter Ollie Kew rides shotgun in Ben's M5

I suppose that, if one were lucky enough to run a 552bhp super saloon every day, familiarity would gradually erode the shock-and-awe of the BMW’s performance and all-round ability. Handily, my passenger ride  this month should have more than rekindled regular custodian Ben Barry’s first impressions of this family-friendly supercar. Provoking a snort of laughter from your passenger simply through the performance of the vehicle you’re driving will tend to do that.

'I’m downstairs in the car park – do you want to come and jump into the M5?' came the message. That’s an offer that doesn’t come along with much regularity, and certainly isn’t one to be refused. One minute I’m in CAR's offices, the next I’m belted in to an interior swathed in £5445 worth of (rather family-unfriendly) Silverstone Merino leather and Alcantara, about to be driven around the best roads on offer within 10 miles of CAR Towers by a man familiar with the F10 M5 like few others and known for having a severe distain for cold, unworn rear rubber.

My bank of comparative experiences is fairly lean – I suppose a passenger ride in a current-gen Cayenne Turbo comes closest. A beautifully appointed cabin and twin-turbo V8 are commonalities which straddle the two, but otherwise, as you might not be too surprised to learn, the abiding impressions of riding shotgun is quite different.

For a start, the BMW is quite remarkably muted at low revs. With the gearbox automatically shuffling through to its longest ratio, a distant rumble not remotely fruity in tone, and a hint of turbo whoosh do a pretty good impression of a 535d. And no, try as I might, I couldn’t isolate the synthetic V8 burble pumped through the car’s hi-fi either.

Of course, such good behaviour is only a temporary stay of execution while the powerplant is coaxed up to temperature. If actions do indeed speak louder than words, then kissing a sonorous 7000rpm moments after the oik in the passenger seat asks if turbos have robbed the M5 of a decent top-end is surely a fine example. While the V8 does indeed bellow an impressive voice as the tachometer points to the exciting side of the dial, by this point the noise becomes a sideshow to the pace of scenery blurring past the window like a demented fast-forward button.

Readers of more mature vintage than my 20-something years will have seen cars getting larger and heftier for a lot longer than I have, but even to a veritable spring chicken, the sensation of linking up corners in Mr Barry’s exuberant driving style felt faintly ridiculous in something the size of the 1945kg M5. You hear the tyres complaining in the distance, but the Pilot Super Sports sound like they’re tucked away a good 30 feet behind your headrest somewhere.

There’s some truth in that – we left a good deal of the black stuff many miles behind us as it turned out.

That’s not to say the M5 is ungainly or feels out-of-control when it’s pushed. The body control was exemplary given the typically lumpy road surface, substantial mass and 19-inch alloys, only becoming unsettled as the weight transferred under braking on some particularly pockmarked asphalt.

As I said, the M5 is one of those cars whose dynamic abilities are so ludicrous it can produce spontaneous, involuntary laughter, but it also requires quiet reflection to absorb the first encounter. Ben broke the palpable silence as we nosed back into CAR HQ with this assessment: 'The thing is, you have to be absolutely driving the nuts off this thing to really appreciate the very best of it.' I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing a certain word in that sentence review.

In that case, when you next catch a glimpse of an M5 barrelling along at a considerable rate of knots, simply remind yourself that the driver is seeking only to unlock the hidden depths of dynamic talent from his considerable investment. 

By Ollie Kew


Month 6 running a BMW M5: our super-saloon develops a boost problem

A month or so after I first got the M5, a powertrain warning light bonged up on the dash. Performance wasn’t affected, but I took it easy, then pulled over when I could and – in the classic IT department style – turned the car off and switched it on again. The light stayed on, so I decided to complete the final few miles to work at a gentle pace. When I re-started the M5 later that day, the light had vanished, but I gave BMW a call anyway. Keep an eye on it, they said.

Everything was fine for a couple of weeks, then I got another warning bong, while power was restricted this time. Mmm, bit more worrying. Soon after I got a call from BMW saying the car needed to go back for a day. It wasn’t a recall, they said, just a ‘campaign’, but the fact remained that there was clearly a problem and one that needed sorting out.

And the problem was? Well, it turns out that the M5 can temporarily exceed the maximum recommended boost pressure if the car is driven in anger. It affects all of the 500 or so M5s sold in the UK to date, so all owners should have been notified.

The M5 was with BMW for a day and I’ve since covered a few thousand miles without that warning bong popping up again. Fingers crossed it'll stay that way.

By Ben Barry


Month 5 running a BMW M5: the stop/start system stops working

I first got my hands on the M5 back in late December, but this weekend was the first time its stop/start system has ever worked. You know what stop/start is, right? It automatically cuts the engine when you’re stationary, then re-starts it as soon as you step off the brake pedal. So why hasn’t mine been working?

Now, to be fair I do live in a fairly rural area and my commute usually involves starting the car, driving 12 miles down the A1, then stopping the car. Of course, there are exceptions to that, where I’ll be stopped at traffic lights or stuck in traffic, and it was during these occasions that I realised that the stop/start wasn’t working. I started to wonder if it was my driving style, or perhaps because I like to have the throttle response in its most aggressive setting. I even parked the car, put all the settings into their most conservative defaults – auto gearbox with the least aggressive shift speeds, traction control on, soggy throttle response, soft suspension, comfort steering – and left it running, and still the V8 kept rumbling.

Then, yesterday, it suddenly started working all the time. The M5’s stop/start cuts in and out pretty smoothly, but I did end up getting away from a busy roundabout slightly more slowly than I would have otherwise done had the engine have already been running. If that kind of thing annoys you, you can turn the M5’s system off, but you always have to remember to turn it off every time you start the car. Overall, I like it, and I like the idea of not wasting fuel while you’re idling in traffic, so I’ll continue to leave mine on.

But why has my system not been working? I reckon it’s a temperature thing: yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, and the M5’s temperature reading nudged up to 17degC at one point.

With generally warmer weather on the way, hopefully the stop/start will help to reduce the fuel consumption a little: mine is down to 18.3mpg according to the fuel computer.

By Ben Barry


Month 4 running a BMW M5: our M5 is back on proper summer tyres

Not long after the snow melted, I took a gamble and switched the M5’s Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres back to the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport 19s. The comments below generally urged me not to, but I wanted the car back to its best. The winter tyres were absolutely phenomenal in the snow, but it now looks highly likely that the little snow that we did have in Peterborough this winter has gone for good, and none of it would have seen me stranded had I had summer tyres anyway.

For the rest of the time, the temperatures have been unseasonably high, and so the Sottozeroes haven’t been able to shine. Instead they’ve reduced traction – I’ve been driving about with the traction control in the mid-way setting to give the rubber some leeway and save the power being constantly cut – and they’ve also introduced an element of sogginess to the M5’s handling. The tyres genuinely spoil the car’s dynamics, and I don’t think that’s right when you’re dealing with something as sporting as an M5.

The Michelins are now back on, the temperatures are getting even higher – my phone’s predicting a balmy 14degC on Thursday – and the handling is sharper and the traction is on a different planet. Clearly, the joke’s on me if it does snow but, come on, how bad can it be…

On another note, I’ve had a couple of drivetrain warning lights bong up on the dash recently, and the man from BMW now says it needs to come in for a ‘campaign’. I think that’s German for recall. All very intriguing. I’ll report back soon.

And, finally, don't miss the BMW M5 group test in the new March 2012 issue of CAR Magazine out now. Our M5 long-termer takes on the Jaguar XF-R, Porsche Panamera S and Mercedes CLS 63 AMG. Lots of sideways slidery ensues...

By Ben Barry


Month 3 running a BMW M5: the M5's winter tyres versus a dusting of snow

Watch just about any news update on the travel chaos caused by snow in the UK and the chances are you’ll see a BMW sitting there spinning its rear tyres and slithering across the carriageway. But my M5 long-termer has been fitted with 19-inch Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres, so I took it out last night and purposely went looking for trouble.

There was still a few inches of snow where I’d parked on a very slight hill, and that’s been enough to completely strand a Jag XF on summer tyres in the past. However, the M5’s rear boots simply dug into the slippery stuff, and out we crunched. From there the roads were pretty clear, so I decided to head off down some country lanes, lanes that were still covered in heavy slush. Combined with heavy fog, this was actually pretty treacherous, and even though I’m familiar with these B-routes, the lack of reference points in the conditions meant the corners and junctions kept taking me by surprise.

I was initially extremely cautious, worrying that I’d understeer into the undergrowth, but every time I turned the wheel, the front tyres bit as if the road was just wet. Traction was assured too, the rear tyres finding purchase despite the slush. Even under heavy acceleration or braking, the rubber still bit into the surface, with an absolute minimum of intervention from the traction control or ABS system.

This was all too easy, so I returned home and headed into a nearby housing estate that was on a hill and hadn’t been touched by an ounce of grit. I drove all the way to the bottom of the hill, and selected reverse. Now, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in reverse in a powerful rear-drive car – in an auto too, with no clutch control – at the bottom of a snowy hill. You can probably guess what happened: I simply reversed out, turned myself around, and drove back up the hill.

I’d previously seen a post on Twitter asking for people with 4x4s to help pull other motorists out of the snow and, to be honest, I felt like going along and lending a hand; surely I had better traction than an SUV on summer tyres.

All of which gives me a dilemma: I have the chance to switch the winter tyres back to summer Michelins later this week. And I’m tempted, because the winters spoil the M5’s normally sharp handling, and because winters won’t help me when everyone else has already blocked the motorway I’m trying to use. But it’s also fair to say that the winters gave me a lot of confidence to go places over the weekend, especially with a young family aboard. What would you do, switch back to summers, or stick with the winters for another month?

By Ben Barry


Month 2 running a BMW M5: just how fast will the M5 go?

How fast can our long-term BMW M5 go? It’s got to be pretty fast, hasn’t it, what with 4.4 litres of twin-turbo V8 goodness and 552bhp and 501lb ft. Fast enough to get yourself a severe telling off, I’d wager. Too fast to talk your way out of it with a ‘Was I really officer? I’m so sorry, it just slips past 150mph so easily, you know? Bloody thing!’

BMW M5 speedoWell, just before midnight last night I decided to find out once and for all on a quiet stretch of (ahem) autobahn. The temperature gauge read -2degC and I was sitting there at about 100mph in fourth with the traction control in its middle setting. Full throttle saw the rev needle spin round the dial, accompanied by some traction control intervention and a strobing yellow light on the dash. Not a particularly nice feeling, that.

There was no let up when I pulled for fifth and the gear snapped home instantly with a nice, direct little thump. There was more flickering from the traction control light, but I didn’t feel any intervention and the speed kept piling on: 130mph, 140mph, 150mph, that amazing engine doing the thick, tight gurgly thing it does as you do as you get towards the top of the rev range.

At some point – and I’m not sure exactly when – I tapped the right-hand paddleshift and moved up into sixth gear. No traction control intervention this time, but we were still accelerating pretty quickly – wind noise intensifying, lampposts blurring, the road warping hypnotically towards me – so much so that the soft rev limiter felt a little premature when it held out its invisible hand at what the clock said was a smidge under 170mph, and probably much less if we’d have had some finely calibrated timing gear strapped on.

There were plenty of revs in reserve, the car felt stable… I’d have happily gone a good bit faster, which made the experience slightly underwhelming. I wanted to chicken out first, wanted the car to dare me to go beyond what was comfortable. We didn't photograph the V-max run, thought my passenger did reach over and shoot a more mundane 130kph cruise on the Continent.

I remember maxing a Z4M in Germany, and that didn’t stop until the clock said 175mph, and it felt absolutely insane, especially because the passenger window wouldn’t close properly. My E36 M3, being a very early one, allegedly has no limiter at all, but I’ve never taken it much beyond 140mph because it just feels so ragged up there. The M5, though? I reckon that’d be fine way up past 180mph.

So, if you’re lucky enough to own a new F10 BMW M5, regularly visit the land of the autobahn and don’t particularly like the idea of a 535d nipping at your quad tailpipes, what can be done? My previous Mercedes E63 AMG longtermer had a de-limit as part of a factory option pack and BMW has a Driver’s Package which raises the – still limited – top speed to 190mph. That’d do the job, wouldn’t it? Well, BMW UK doesn’t offer the Driver’s Package, on the grounds that you can’t go that fast in the UK and they’ve got a social responsibility. But 155mph or so is okay? Hmm, I’m sure it’s a tricky issue for them.

All of this simply leaves the door wide open for aftermarket tuners to crack open the ECU and unleash the extra potential. I expect they’ll be seeing a good number of F10 M5s over the coming years.

By Ben Barry


Month 1 running a BMW M5: how does our M5 cope on winter tyres?

In what will perhaps turn out to be an unusual spec once we start seeing more F10 M5s on the road, my M5 rides on the standard 19-inch alloys, rather than the optional 20s. I don’t think the rims look too small but, conversely given the thinner sidewalls, I don’t remember the ride being any worse on a car I drove last summer with 20s fitted, nor the car feeling any less agile. But if I were speccing a car, I’d probably stick with the 19s too, because they’re standard, and replacement tyres will cost less. And with all that extra torque on tap, you have to imagine the new rear rubber is getting much more of a workout than the old E60 M5’s rear boots ever did. 

As standard, the new M5 comes on 265/40 ZR19 front and 295/35 ZR19 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sports. Shod like this, the M5 has surprisingly high front-end grip and masses of rear-end traction, despite the mid-range wallop afforded by the new twin-turbo V8. The way it retains a consistent and trustworthy grip level once you’re sliding the car is impressive too, meaning you feel confident breaching the car’s high limits and blurring the boundary between grip and slip.

However, after a couple of snowy winters, some press offices have started to fit their test cars with winter tyres, and my M5 is no exception: it’s now on Pirelli Sottozeros. These tyres are supposed to come into their own below 7deg C and in snowy conditions, but the temperature gauge was nailed at an unseasonably warm 10deg C when I took delivery of the car in December, meaning the tyres would actually offer inferior performance.

So, before I’d stuck the kids aboard to head home to Cumbria for Christmas, I gave the M5 a couple of squirts around a roundabout to feel the grip level, and it still felt like I had adhesion to lean against when the car started to slide, unlike the SLS AMG Roadster we’d had in on winters the week before, which seemed to flail a bit. But accelerating up sliproads relatively keenly in third gear, I started to get a hell of a lot of traction control intervention and, to be honest, I wasn’t totally sure how much I could lean on the rubber in these warmer conditions.

The second it snows I wouldn’t want anything but the Sottozeroes, but winter tyres are something of a gamble: are you going to fit them for five months of the year and compromise your performance car in order to safeguard you in the snow, something that typically lasts just a few days, if it happens at all? I’m lucky enough to live somewhere that’s pretty well connected by some fairly major roads, so I wouldn’t fit them, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the Michelins to feel the M5 at its best.

By Ben Barry


Month 1 running a BMW M5: Ben Barry meets his new 552bhp M5

Almost exactly 10 years since I bought my first BMW M car – an E36 M3 – I’ve been lucky enough to take delivery of a new long-termer, the latest F10M-spec M5. With 552bhp and 501lb ft, the M5 has roughly double the power and torque of the old M3 that’s still tucked up in my garage. That’s pretty incredible, considering the E36 still feels like a fairly rapid car. Funnily enough, the M5’s colour combo reminds me of the old Estoril Blue/silver leather pairing that was such a staple of the old E36 Evo too.

I’ve done only a few hundred miles in this car so far, but I haven’t really got to stretch the M5’s legs: instead my first mission was to load it with two kids’ seats, and fill the boot with bags and Christmas presents. Both of which was easy, thanks to easily accessible Isofix points in the back (sometimes they’re fiddly and tucked away, which makes me shout), and a large, deep boot with a wide opening.

Kids and wife aboard, I snuggled into the plump driver’s seat and dropped it down to the floor, then fired the 4395cc twin-turbo V8 and pointed us up the A1 from Lincolnshire to Cumbria. The new M5 lets you tailor its throttle response, steering weight, suspension settings and gearshift modes, but I didn’t mess with any of that: I just left it all in Comfort, and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox in its default mode, the first of its three settings.

I noticed one anorak detail as I pulled away: the auto handbrake automatically disengages, where every other new 5-series insists that you do it manually. I always find this infuriating – why would I want the handbrake to stay on if I’m accelerating away in first gear? – so it’s interesting that the M bucks the trend. Is this a philosophy thing on the part of M Division – where the driver is firmly in control and doesn’t like being nannied by the car – or is it that the unique-to-the-M5 dual-clutch gearbox wouldn’t enjoy straining against the handbrake? I’ll have to ask Munich and risk being labelled a nerd before I can answer that.

If you’ve ever driven the old E60 M5, there are a couple of things you’ll instantly notice when you drive its successor: first is the easy flexibility afforded by that twin-turbo V8, which brings a new-found effortlessness to motorway cruising, the V8 giving a distant, tympanic rumbling that’s very, very different to the old car’s V10. It’s not as engaging as the naturally aspirated V10 when you wind it out, but it’s definitely quicker, and there’s the promise of big economy gains over the old car too. More on that later.

The other big difference is the gearchange: the E60 M5 used a seven-speed clutchless manual transmission with six different shift speeds. Despite – or perhaps because of – these multitudinous options, I never quite found the perfect setting in the old car. And the delay between gear changes was at times agonisingly ponderous, at others ferociously vicious. The new ’box is faster and much smoother, but it also has a pleasingly direct engagement, rather than a slur, and I know what I want in terms of settings: the third, most aggressive one for manual mode, and either mode one or two in auto. The gearbox is one of the new car’s biggest leaps.

As ever with dual-clutch auto M cars, one tap on the paddleshifter is all it takes to switch from auto to manual mode, and that’s definitely a philosophy thing on the part of M Division: the driver is in charge, and he doesn’t want the gearbox to overrule him and default back to auto like so many rivals do. By and large I agree with this, but every now and again on the journey home for Christmas, I found myself leaving the car in auto and pulling the paddles to make an overtake on the motorway, then forgetting I’d now completely transitioned to manual mode. It might be nice to be able to configure that through iDrive, so you can choose an auto mode that defaults back to auto even after you’ve pulled the paddles. After all, pulling the gearstick to the right locks you into manual mode anyway. Or perhaps I’m going soft here.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the ride quality: this M5 still rides magnificently, and it’s such a quiet, comfortable, smooth thing to cruise about in that it’s incredibly easy to sneak up past 90mph without even realising it.

However, on our first trip the weather was largely foul and the M62 seemed covered almost entirely in 50mph zones, so while I did hit 90mph or more on a few occasions, my typical cruising speed was a more plod-friendly 70mph or so. I was intrigued to see how much fuel the M5’s new turbocharged engine would use – after all, the smaller turbo motor goes against M’s previous DNA, and has been introduced to make M cars cleaner and more frugal – and I’d zeroed the trip computer before we set off. After a few hours on the motorway with the engine nicely warmed through and the ’box mostly in seventh gear, the dash confirmed we’d averaged 24.6mpg. In similar circumstances, my old Mercedes E63 AMG would have averaged 21-22mpg, so the M5 offers a worthwhile improvement – although it’s worth noting that the new E63 engine is also smaller and turbocharged, and therefore more frugal than my old 6.2 V8 was.

If anything’s going to challenge the M5’s so-far-impressive mpg figures, it’s the next week or so: while I’m back home in Cumbria, I’ll be sneaking the M5 out onto some of my favourite back roads and having a bit more fun.

By Ben Barry

 

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