The new October 2011 issue of CAR Magazine stars the new F10-era BMW M5 on the cover - and we gathered together the greatest M cars ever made to find out where the new 2011 M5 fits in the canon. Don't miss the 20-page M5 special. And read on for our first drive review of the turbocharged BMW M5.
We test the new BMW M5 Competition
Turbochargers? On a BMW M5? What next, an amphibious Ferrari that runs on hamster dung?
Well of course you might prefer to have no M5 at all. The fact is the old BMW M5's V10 was thirstier than Oliver Reed after a sauna and that’s just not compatible with current fuel prices, not to mention BMW’s increasingly ecologically minded philosophy. So the new F10-spec BMW M5 gets a turbocharged V8 that’s even more powerful than the old V10, but 30% more fuel efficient too.
Is this the same blown eight that’s fitted to the M-cars that dare not speak their name?
You mean the X5M and X6M? It’s based on the same V8, but modified with a compression boost from 9.3 to 10.0:1, a 0.3bar increase in boost pressure (now 1.5 bar) and BMW’s clever Valvetronic valvegear system that does away with a conventional throttle valve.
It’s also mounted to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, rather than the six-speed auto in the SUVs. Power climbs fractionally, from 547bhp at 6000rpm in the X6 to 552bhp at the same revs in the saloon. And of course that means it makes 52bhp more than the old V10, plus a third as much torque again. The old M5 rustled up 384lb ft at 6100rpm but the new one churns out 500lb ft from just 1500rpm…
500lb ft of torque! Sounds more like a 550d than an M5. What’s this new engine like?
Technically, you can’t fault it. Drive like a nun facing a totting-up ban and it’ll deliver near 30mpg economy, but summon the full 552bhp and it’ll hit 62mph in 4.4sec, down from the 4.7sec the V10 needed. With so much torque available, it’s now so much easier to go fast. There’s no need to go anywhere near the disappointingly low 7200rpm redline, yet an extra kick at 6000rpm means you’ll still want to, presuming you’ve got enough space.
On the downside it neither feels nor sounds anywhere near as special as the old V10. Think of the Bullit car chase, when the in-car action flicks from the gravelly roar of McQueen’s Mustang to the subdued rumble of Bill Hickman’s Charger. That’s what jumping from ’04 to ’11 M5s feels like.
But any disappointment is tempered by the vastly better gearbox. The DCT tranny is much quicker and infinitely smoother than the clunky old seven-speed single-clutch SMG transmission fitted to the V10 M5, which paused between changes like Ron Dennis being interviewed via satellite link-up. The old car’s ludicrous 11 gearshift modes have been trimmed too. This time there are just three manual and three auto modes, and a full-bore upchange in the quickest setting is no longer accompanied by a sound like the car has just eaten itself.
And what about the chassis? Is the new M5 a hooligan or a refined GT?
It’s whatever you want it to be. The adaptive dampers and non-runflat rubber (19s standard, 20s optional) deliver incredible ride comfort on all but the stiffest of the three settings, yet the steering (old fashioned hydraulic, rather than electric as on lesser Fives) is far more feelsome than the regular saloon’s or even the old M5’s.
The kerbweight has actually risen by 115kg, but you’d be hard pressed to tell from the way you can pick off corners. The front end is so accurate for such a big car and the body control is superb. And this time there are two M buttons on the steering wheel allowing you to store two different combinations of throttle response, gearshift mapping and damper calibration. Point to point, there’s no doubt that new M5 would leave the old one choking on its exhaust fumes - or at least it would be choking if CO2 emissions hadn’t been slashed from 344g/km to 232g/km.
Oh yeah, and the hooligan bit. The combination of all that torque and a brand new fully active M differential mean it’ll still do the big drift as long as you’ve got the turbos spooled up. But traction is so spectacularly good, the tail is never going to swing round unless you’ve sent out an RSVP. And this time there are some proper brakes too. The old M5’s sliding caliper set-up was prone to massive fade if subjected to a couple of big autobahn stops, but the new six-pots hugging the front discs should hopefully solve that one. We didn’t get the chance to mash them from 150mph, but they certainly feel useful at more sensible speeds, with good pedal feel too.
And how will everyone know it’s a new BMW M5 parked on my drive and not just a 550i?
They’ll probably never guess unless you park it arse-out. Do that and your neighbours will be treated to the now trademark quad pipes, modest M badge and even more modest bootlid lip spoiler. Other hints include wing vents (now featuring a rather nasty chrome outline) and an M-sport front spoiler. But the M5 has never been about showing off, and that low-key appearance means you can get away with using more of the performance, more of the time.
Having said that, they could have made more of an effort with the cabin. The ergonomics and build quality are fine, the optional multi-adjustable seats are superb and it’s just as practical as any other 5-series, although there’s no Touring estate version planned. But AMG and Audi always seem to make their hotter models feel more special inside.
BMW M5: the CAR verdict
There’s no getting away from the fact that some of the wickedness of the old V10-powered M5 has been lost. Sadly, huge, screaming naturally aspirated engines are simply out of step with modern times.
The good news is that in every other sense, the new M5 is very much a better car than the one it replaces. It’s sharper and easier to drive, faster, has a massively better gearbox and, even if you couldn’t care less about fuel costs, you’ll probably appreciate not having to stop every 200 miles to fill the thing up. It’s one step back, two steps forwards.