BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track | CAR Magazine

BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track

Published: 09 July 2024
BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • At a glance
  • 0 out of 5
  • 0 out of 5
  • 0 out of 5
  • 0 out of 5
  • 0 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant

► Our first taste of the new G60-generation BMW M5
► A plug-in hybrid M car developing 717bhp and 738lb ft
► We thrash it on track at the Salzburgring

Soon after our on-track excursion in the M5 saloon, CAR was able to drive a second prototype over some challenging Welsh roads. Here it’s not the circa 500kg increase in mass I notice first, it’s the width – with a front track width up 75mm and the rear 48mm wider over an already wide predecessor, there are moments when the M5 is breathe-in-and-close-your-eyes wide over some of these routes.

This is a shame because the G90 actually it hides its (yes, ridiculous) 2.4-tonne heft very well indeed. And on roads that it fits comfortably down, it drives like a monstrous ’bahn stormer that’s been to finishing school on the ’Ring – which, of course, it has.

Partly it’s the deftly integrated rear-wheel steering, which injects some welcome energy into direction changes, absolutely making itself known in the way it shrinks the car, but never feeling unnaturally edgy. It’s also in the plush ride, which filters out all the distortion from the road to leave compliance, excellent body control and a welcome (if subtle) tang of feel from the surface.

The steering is pretty isolated, but it’s quick, accurate and – precisely because it’s isolated – incredibly calm even when you really stress the front tyres. You place it where you want it, and even when you push on hard the M5 never feels close to unravelling.

In fact, the front axle that felt a little unconvincing on track bites hard here, allowing you to flow indecent amounts of speed into a turn, then ease into the throttle and let the rear tyres slingshot you out.

Power-to-weight is actually down over the previous model, but the G90 feels every bit the 100bhp or so stronger than before, not least because the e-motor fills in the V8 motor’s turbo lag and there’s performance flooding from simply everywhere, whether you’re leaning on the torque at low speed or wringing its neck at peak rpms. But it’s the mid-range punch that truly makes the difference.

The hybrid bits are expertly integrated too, and the brakes nicely modulated for any car, never mind the re-gen work this brake-by-wire pedal is tasked with juggling.

Pointed down our benchmark flowing B-road, the M5 is a devastating piece of kit. Ticking down an arrow-straight A-road, it’s a deeply satisfying cruiser. This is the stretch that defines all the best M5s. It’s just a pity this one is so bloody wide.

By Ben Barry


BMW M5 prototype vs the Salzburgring

It’s a brave shout, no doubt. Our first drive of the new, plug-in-hybrid M5 in prototype guise – 717bhp, 738lb and 2435kg are the headline numbers, together with 0-62mph in 3.5sec and 189.5mph – will be not on a nice, sweeping rural road but on a racetrack, our stints sandwiched between drives in the far more track-happy M3 and M4 CS… With two long straights, just a handful of corners and a couple of monster braking zones, the Salzburgring isn’t a cuddly racetrack, either.

What are we hoping to find? Well, a strong front end would be nice. Front axles you can trust with your life have, together with M xDrive, come to define the M cars of the Frank van Meel era. In the M2, M3 and M4 you make a steering input and the car unfailingly responds, opening up a number of equally attractive options, from clean, neat corner speed to easy oversteer. If the M5 can do the same, well, that’d help settle my nerves.

At least we know M xDrive works, instantly removing any trepidation around unleashing the new car’s significant power and torque outputs. And if BMW M was able to prove the doubters wrong about all-wheel-drive – which it was, in some style – perhaps we shouldn’t be worried about the hybrid.

Out on track, the combination of the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system in cahoots with the powertrain’s monumental any-rev drive is awesome, not least because it allows you to climb all over the throttle pedal right from the very bowels of each corner, effectively lengthening the already long straights. Fully rear-drive is an option, of course, if you crave chaos in your life, but we’re in 4WD Sport.

More speed, and almost instantly, would always appear to an option. BMW talks of a best-of-both-worlds combination of EV thump and V8 emotion, but in truth the S58 unit isn’t the kind of engine that makes your soul sing with its voice. It does it with the violent distortion of time and space.

And there’s more good news: the brakes and the suspension. The by-wire brake pedal, an infamously tricky engineering challenging when regen and actual braking must bleed together seamlessly, is pretty much perfect, and the ceramics demonstrate impressive stamina given the hiding they receive, at least for the duration of our four-lap stints.

The suspension, which comprises coil springs, adaptive dampers and old-school anti-roll bars, is also sweetly judged – so much so that I barely give it a moment’s thought during my two brief sessions. There are no bumps to speak of, of course, but the car’s poise under duress is evident. And the composure it’s able to retain even as you hurl it over kerbs bodes well for fast miles on less than perfect roads.

But all that extra weight can’t stay hidden forever. The M5 doesn’t have that M front-end X factor – at least it doesn’t on track with me at the wheel. For most of the lap I’m happy, the fat-rimmed wheel bringing about crisp and accurate changes of trajectory. And for what is a very big, very heavy car it feels remarkably at home running pedal-to-the-boards through the Salzburgring’s daunting sweeps, though overlapping initial brake application with any steering lock is a job best done gently and cautiously, for fear or upsetting all that hard-charging mass. 

But through the endless, medium-speed corners at each end of the circuit the front end just can’t stay with me, washing into understeer that is at least clearly telegraphed. A change in approach helps; slower in, faster out. You can also lean on the M5’s myriad set-up options; the car’s certainly sharper with xDrive set to the rear-biased 4WD Sport. (Our racier set-up today is Sport Plus drivetrain and shift speeds, Sport steering, Sport brakes and mid-level regen – the system can harvest up to 60kWh under deceleration.)

But ultimately the M5 – despite the untold hours spent optimising its tyres and tweaking its geometry, spring rates and rear-steer calibration – can’t summon the confidence-inspiring conviction of its lighter, smaller stablemates and predecessor. Does that matter? Probably not. The M5’s long been a road car first and foremost, and the new G90 may yet prove the big saloon’s most accomplished iteration yet. We’ll find out for sure later this year.

By Ben Miller

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 4.0-litre V8 plus e-motor, 717bhp, 738lb ft
Transmission:
Performance: 3.5sec 0-62mph, 189mph
Weight / material: 2435kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track
  • BMW M5 prototype review: heavyweight PHEV saloon driven on road and track

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant

Comments