Thirty years ago, BMW's Motorsport division shoved the engine from its M1 supercar into a decidedly sensible four-door 5 Series sedan. What emerged was the 210kW/340Nm 3.5-litre E28 M5 – a true wolf in sheep's clothing.
It was a formula that worked brilliantly. Understated looks, comfort and luxury combined with tyre-shredding performance that set the standard for performance sedans then, and continues to do so today.
However, with each of the four successive BMW M5 generations (E28 > E34 > E39 > E60 > F10) came an increase in power together with a gradual increase in price.
At $185,000, the 2015 BMW M5 Pure Edition marks the first sub-$200,000 M5 since 2003’s E39 V8 ($195,800). To make a simple dollar-per-kilowatt calculation, the 412kW F10 Pure is over 60 per cent better performance value than 1990’s 235kW E34 M5 ($168,900) – the first variant of the super sedan sold in Australia.
So how does this new ‘affordable’ M5 perform?
We headed toMelbourne's Sandown Raceway where BMW arranged a few laps in the Pure, alongside the new M5 Nighthawk Edition – a car fitted with the Competition Pack, affording it an extra 11kW as well as an enhanced exhaust system and revised steering and suspension tune.
Sandown is a 3.1-kilometre circuit with 13 turns and two straights. It’s a well-maintained, international quality race track, but it is not without imperfections and has a number of bumpy patches and surface changes. Not unlike most Australian roads.
It is a good testing ground for a big car like the M5. The corner complex at the end of the main straight is a series of four right-angle turns – left, right, left, left – where the requirement to maintain pace, while shifting a 1900kg sedan, can really highlight response gaps and handling concerns.
To keep things safe and under control, BMW’s lead driver trainer takes the role of ‘hare’ in an M4 Coupe. He doesn’t hold back either, as catching the rabbit isn’t part of the plan.
First up, the M5 Pure.
Running in full Sport-plus M-Mode and with the M-Dynamic traction system on, the M5 still eases effortlessly onto the circuit. It isn’t as violent and edgy as the M3/M4, and power can be wound on smoothly as you build up speed.
Heading through turns one to four at a moderate speed, the big sedan sits flat and is very comfortable. There is good feel from the steering and brakes, the car doing exactly what it is told.
However, when the M4 in front exits turn four wide and shoots away. It’s go time.
Under full throttle, the M5 pulls hard. With its standard head-up display showing the colourful tachometer and digital speed readout, the numbers jump by four and five at a time, the system struggling to keep up with the rapid acceleration of the car.
Cresting the hill at the top of fifth gear, 220-something the last number I dared look at, the M4’s ESS (Emergency Stop Signal) fires, indicating heavy braking. I match the move and the M5 washes off speed, down into fourth and through the chicane, down to third then around the tight Dandenong Road left-hander before I’m back on the gas.
There’s no neck-snapping boost rush from the 680Nm twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, just a smooth freight train of power. The sheer size of the car does a great job to lessening the sensation of speed, though it never dulls the excitement of the M5.
Powering on early out of turn 12, the M5 gives a slight hint of oversteer, the MDM light flickering slightly, but traction wins out and the BMW heads after the M4 down the front straight.
190… 200… 210… Hard on the brakes again into turn one, the left-hander requiring no lower than third gear to keep the car balanced and poised to again chase after the M4. The Pirelli tyres provide tremendous grip, and there’s barely a squeal of protest as we exit turn four for another double-tonne run up the hill.
Lap after lap, the M5 takes it all in its stride. This isn’t what the car will face in normal day-to-day driving, but it’s strangely good to know it could.
But with the deletion of the Competition Pack, has the Pure lost some of its edge?
We head out again, this time in the Nighthawk, to repeat the process. Same settings, same pace car, just 11 extra kilowatts, Michelin tyres and a more hard-edged tune.
Easing into things again, the ‘seat of the pants’ meter can’t feel any real difference. There’s a hint more noise from the different exhaust, but that is masked (ruined?) by the fake dynamic sound pumped into the cabin on both cars anyway.
Powering onto the back straight, though, those 20 extra horses come into play. The M4 that seemed to tease the Pure by being just out of reach is getting closer and closer. I’m off the throttle heading over the crest so as to maintain a safe gap, whereas at the same point the Pure was still flat out.
Catching the M4 becomes all too easy and even leaving a larger gap seems to tempt the M5 to reel it in even faster.
In the BMW’s plush and spacious cabin, you don’t really notice the extra punch or power, but it certainly there.
What you do notice, though, is the firmer ride from the Competition Pack suspension tune. Powering through turn 13 and onto the front straight highlights some bumps in the Sandown surface that the Pure didn’t pick up. It’s great for holding the car flat and true on a glassy, perfect surface but Sandown, and Australian roads in general, are neither. The car would be better suited in Sport, not Sport Plus – thus diminishing the value of the Competition tune.
The ‘standard’ M5 with the Competition Pack is the faster car. You get a few more ‘personal’ luxury appointments and in the Black/White Special Editions, a treat of exclusivity.
But the M5 Pure is the smarter buy.
It has all the kit you want and all the power you need. At $185,000 it’s about $40,000 more than a BMW M3, which for finance buyers is only a make up gap of a couple of hundred dollars a week. That’s a tempting proposition given the M5 is a bigger, bolder statement.
Looking sensational in its Frozen Blue satin paint (standard on the Pure and normally a $4300 option), the F10 BMW M5 Pure is still every part the benchmark, muscular super-sedan.
The sheep’s clothing may have all but gone – but its still a wolf underneath, and now most importantly, better value than ever.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 BMW M5 images by James Ward.