2013 BMW M5: Twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, 412kW/680Nm, 7-speed double-clutch transmission.
Location: Seville, Spain — Here’s your one-word review for the day: wow. Given the pace of automotive development these days, it’s little wonder that the 2013 BMW M5 is a spectacular car—after all, previous generations of this potent saloon have staked claims to being the best all-around cars of their respective eras. So would anyone expect that a brand new M5 would be anything less?
Allow me to field this one myself: some might, especially when you consider that this latest example dispenses with a 5.0-litre V10 in favour of a “downsized” 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. Never mind that the new engine produces more power and torque than the old one, the idea of dropping two cylinders from a purpose-built sport saloon hardly seems… uhh, sporting.
Sure, every manufacturer wants to strike the politically correct balance between performance and sustainability, but the BMW V10 was one of the most revered engines of recent times. When the Munich-based concern decided to dispense with it in such a cavalier fashion, this had the potential to drive away the “propeller heads” in droves.
But after a closer look at the facts surrounding the fifth-generation M5—and then experiencing the car’s significant performance capabilities firsthand—it’s clear that even the most hardcore of purists will be pleased. (Yes, this means you.)
First, let’s address the key facts: The twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 debuted two years ago in the audacious BMW X5 M and BMW X6 M. In this latest application, the V8 has been tuned to produce even more thunder: specifically, 412 kW and 680 Nm of torque, the latter figure being accessible all the way from 1,500 to 5,750 rpm. Remarkably, this engine is also expected to be 30% more fuel efficient than the old V10.
The twin-turbo is paired with a 7-speed double-clutch transmission, which replaces the largely unloved SMG single-clutch automated manual gearbox of the previous-generation M5. (A 6-speed manual transmission is rumoured for certain markets.) The drive configuration remains classic BMW, though—rear-wheel drive all the way.
More facts: The Munich-based madmen estimate that the M5 will launch from 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Top speed is pegged at 250 km/h, but opting for the M Driver’s Package boosts this number to 305 km/h. But what’s most interesting about the M5 is only marginally related to its tremendous reserves of power and how this power makes its way south.
These days, a number of performance cars offer a certain level of choice when it comes to the driving experience. In most cases, this choice is represented by a single switch—the sport button. The M5 takes the inherent appeal of the sport button—the ability to change the car’s characteristics on a whim—to an entirely new level.
Consider this: In the BMW, there are three driver-selectable settings for the engine, three for the steering, three for the stability control system, three for the electronic dampers, and three each for the manual and automatic modes of the transmission. For the algebraically challenged, these five adjustable elements and 15 total settings create 216 different permutations, each one representing a slight variation on the driving experience.
Once the driver has hit upon the perfect level of adjustment for all five elements, he can then store this data into one of two different memory slots by pressing the M1 or M2 button on the left steering wheel spoke. To complete the picture, the heads-up display on the M5 is also customizable according to content, with an M-specific visual being one of the options.
If mapping out your choice of 216 different permutations seems too much like work, well, it can be a lot of work. For example, scrolling through all the possible variations as you’re preparing to exit pit lane and go out onto a racetrack is no easy matter. Chances are, the average track-day driver might just pick the most aggressive settings all around and call it a day. More to the point: Chances are, the average track-day driver won’t be bringing this M5 to a track.
Still, as part of the international media launch event, an unlimited-speed session was arranged at the Ascari Race Resort, a motorsports country club southeast of Seville. Our friends at BMW have a disconcerting approach to track events, though—I’ve yet to attend a single one where the start/finish straight was available for use. In other words, a BMW press event at a track requires that everyone drive through pit lane—at pit lane levels of speed—every single lap.
This is frustrating, to say the very least. But the corners that were available for use served to highlight the qualities of the M5.
One part of the circuit features two very quick right-hand sweepers that showcased the sedan’s balance quite well. This section is immediately followed by a straight blast towards a slow, second-gear turn; here, speeds eclipse 220 km/h before the need for serious stopping power and agility come into play.
Again, the M5 responded as one would hope a true performance sedan would—no drama, just acres of control. (The active rear differential and braking system with six-piston fixed callipers, in particular, proved mighty.) But the section immediately following, a very aggressive S-bend that is all too easy to get entirely wrong, also revealed that the M5 is no match for, say, the current M3 when it comes to quick transitions.
A few laps later, as all the braking points become braver and the urge to carry more speed through the turns proved irresistible, the BMW did make a case for being considered—you guessed it—the best all-around car in the world.
But for all the pleasures to be gained from driving the M5 on the track, they pale in comparison to driving the M5 on a public road. In these surroundings, you can adjust the dampers to suit the road surface, play with the three levels of steering sharpness, leave the transmission to shift for itself, and just sit back and enjoy the drive. Of course, a big part of that pleasure comes from knowing that world-beating performance is just a few presses of a few buttons away.
The 2013 BMW M5 is priced from €102,700 in Germany; prices have yet to be announced for other markets.