We go flat-out at Phillip Island Raceway in the new BMW M5 to find out if it\'s still one of the world\'s great four-door performance sedans.
If climate change was a myth and fossil fuels were in abundant supply and produced no nasty CO2 emissions, you might now be reading about the new V12-powered BMW M5.
Instead, 27 years after the executive express emerged as game changer in 1985 thanks to impetus and the powertrain from the legendary M1 supercar, the BMW M5 has gone backwards.
Gone is the high-revving V10 of the last-generation (E60) M5, and in its place is a V8 with a pair of turbochargers. (The next BMW M3 will in turn drop from a V8 to a multi-turbo six-cylinder.)
With the M5 inevitably piling on extra kilos for its latest iteration, the lesser displacement could make worrying reading for the businessman who certainly know how to mix pleasure with work.
But today’s power game – played out most notably by Audi’s Quattro GmbH subsidiary (behind the RS models), Mercedes-Benz’s AMG and BMW’s M division – is all about downsizing.
Not downsizing in power, however. While the new M5 can boast about markedly improved fuel efficiency and emissions, it’s still the lucky recipient of the most powerful series production engine ever to be shoehorned into a BMW M car.
BMW might have dropped two-cylinders for the latest M5 powertrain, but they have added two twin-scroll turbochargers to that equation. There’s also direct fuel injection, variable valve control and a cross bank exhaust manifold to help eliminate turbo lag.
The M5 has always been a rather understated beast, and the latest version again adds subtle muscularity to the body of the BMW 5 Series that looks far more elegant than its Chris Bangled predecessor.
The new ‘F10’ model does its best to uphold the family tradition. Naturally, there are the M trademark quad exhaust pipes and some very special 20-inch alloys that provide a clear view of the M-embossed metallic blue brake calipers. The rest of the exterior, apart from the bespoke aerodynamic kit and M badging, is pretty much your standard 5-Series look, albeit lowered.
A quick driver briefing by BMW’s Driving Training Director and former Le Mans winner Geoff Brabham is mandatory before we fire up one of the world’s most potent four-door sedans at its launch venue of Victoria’s Phillip Island.
Sitting in the M5 trackside while trying to get my head around the multitude of dynamic settings available to drivers, and there’s not a lot of time to properly take in the successful fusion of driver-centric cabin with premium class luxury. Only that it immediately feels like a big step up from the E60 M5, and that’s just the merino leather seats.
Does it sound like a boosted V8? Well, yes, but even at idle there’s something different about this engine. It seems more refined, less boisterous than I expected. That is, until the moment you boot the throttle out of pit lane and blast onto the circuit.
Turbo lag? There’s zilch. And it’s not just the instantaneous throttle response, or the extra power, over its V10 predecessor that sets this engine apart, it’s the fact that all 680 Newton-metres of tarmac-splitting torque are available from just 1500 rpm - and it doesn’t let up until the needle hits 5750rpm.
For the record, that’s sufficient enough grunt for the new M5 to clock 248km/h down the Island’s main straight. (Of course this isn’t going to allow you to match the M5’s new official fuel consumption of 9.9L/100km.)
There are huge reserves of thrust offered from almost anywhere in the rev range, yet power is transferred to the rear wheels in a seamless and linear fashion via BMW’s seven-speed double-clutch transmission that is more a revolution than an evolution.
Even moving slowly forward in pit lane is now a smooth affair, in contrast to the annoyingly jerky motion that partly spoiled the experience of the previous M5.
At full tilt down the straight in M Dynamic Mode, the most aggressive of the available driver settings, the upshifts in the new M5 are racecar-quick, with little or no loss of power. The actual shift time is fewer than 100 milliseconds.
Dial up the intensity across the full gamut of dynamic settings in this car, and the M5 can carry huge speeds through quick corners without feeling unsettled.
That’s despite gaining 115 kilograms over the previous model and tipping the scales at 1870 kilograms.
Turn in is equally impressive, with the big M5 displaying none of the understeer issues that we experienced in the previous model during an extended test route throughout Germany some years ago, and the M5 changes direction quickly and precisely.
The M5 makes do with speed-sensitive hydraulic power steering, and while it provides a decent level of feedback through the steering wheel, there’s also plenty of weight from the dead centre position to keep the car well composed at high speed in a straight line.
While the new car has a range of high-tech systems such as the active M differential that clearly performs a fine job in masking the M5’s newfound bulk, the tighter bends in conjunction with some very warm tyres, eventually exposes the limitations of the car’s considerable mass.
But it must be said, these are extreme test conditions on track and the M5 is a production series road car being asked to perform as a track car, and it’s doing a remarkable job – on road tyres.
The ability to shed speed, of course, is equally important and the M5 provides some extra special equipment in the braking department.
The M5’s massive compound brake rotors up front measure 400mm - just 7mm shy of those found on board the Bugatti Veyron – with the six-pot calipers biting evenly and providing progressive brake pedal pressure for flawless stopping performance.
We’ll have to wait until we can get the car on our local roads before providing a complete opinion on the new M5 – and assess how the stiffer M-specific suspension, including its electronically controlled variable dampers – cope with typical Australian surfaces.
So far, at least, though, the new M5 suggests climate change isn’t too much of a doomsday scenario for driving enthusiasts.