The all-new sixth-generation BMW M5 is the fastest M car ever built by the German skunkworks. And it's also, arguably, the greatest BMW ever.
“This is the fastest BMW M car ever built.”
So goes the spiel at the local launch of the sixth-generation 2018 BMW M5.
What’s that, I hear you say? An understated four-door sedan the fastest BMW M ever? How can that be? It doesn’t even look that fast?
And it’s true. It doesn’t.
Where its rivals – heck, where even its own M Division siblings – add plenty of exterior bling to leave you in no doubt whatsoever of the enormous power lurking underneath, the new M5 instead offers a more mature, understated visage. Yes, there are hints at its enormous potential, but to the average person on the street, this just about looks like another regular, run-of-the-mill 5 Series. And that’s no bad thing.
So let’s dig underneath that somewhat sleepy-town exterior and find out why this is the fastest, and quite possibly the best BMW ever built.
It all starts under the bonnet, where lurks a reworked (read, more powerful) version of the outgoing F10 M5’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. Power is up to 441kW (up from 423kW) while torque receives a 50Nm boost and is now rated at 750Nm, available from 1800rpm all the way through to 5600rpm.
That lashing of power is sent to all four wheels (the new M5 is AWD, the first M car to receive such underpinnings) via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Yep, BMW has ditched its DCT in favour of a more conventional auto transmission, partly to aid with fuel economy (BMW claims 10.5L/100km) and partly because the eight-speed auto is a better fit with the M5’s all-wheel drive system, according to M Division’s engineers.
Performance numbers? Out of this world, batshit crazy, since you ask. Try 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds (a full, and warp factor, second quicker than the previous gen M5), and 0-200km/h in 11.1s with an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h, or, if you prefer, an untethered and optional 305km/h. Whichever way you look at it, the M5 is bloody fast.
That level of performance doesn’t come cheap though, with the M5 Launch Edition (limited to 50 units) getting underway locally at $199,900 before on-road costs. A lot of money, yes but bear in mind that’s over $30k cheaper than the F10 model it replaces, which would have set you back $230,615 in its day. Also consider it’s around $10k cheaper than its nearest rival, Mercedes-AMG’s E63, which rolls out at $209,611 (plus ORC).
Like its Merc rival, the M5 cuts an understated figure. M cues abound, but they are discreet. Sure, the standard carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof is a giveaway which, if you don’t like it, you can eliminate by opting for the no-cost glass sunroof. Similarly, too many M badges for your liking? BMW will de-badge your M5 at no cost. Discretion assured.
Similarly, the interior is typical 5 Series, less M Division. Sure, there are M-badged nods to its performance heritage, but, with its swathes of standard fit Merino leather, available in a variety of colours and trims, all no-cost options, climbing inside the M5 is akin to stepping into a 7 Series.
No surprises here then, with BMW claiming the interior is indeed inspired by the flagship 7 Series. It’s luxurious, upmarket and stylish. The M5-specific front seats are sumptuously comfortable, while still providing plenty of support and bolstering. Similarly, the back row offers a level of comfort befitting a $200k sedan, even one with the performance chops of the M5.
I could go on about the infotainment system – it has one – and it’s up to BMW’s usual standard (always a benchmark), but to be honest, the focus at launch was on exploiting the M5’s performance, both on-road and on track. We’ll dive deeper when we get an M5 through the CarAdvice garage, and hopefully soon.
Because, this car is more than a life-support system for technological gadgetry designed to keep you informed, entertained, distracted. It is a car to be enjoyed, to engage you, to challenge you and perhaps even frighten you, such are its prodigious capabilities. Even if it does look like something you’d take your Nanna to church in on a Sunday morning. If you’re that way inclined.
And that’s the beauty of the M5, at least to this reviewer’s eyes. There’s no attention-seeking muscular brawn. There are no flared guards, flowing into fat haunches. Instead, all the things that make this such a compelling package lurk underneath your right foot and on the road in front of you.
With such enormous power available, it’s no surprise BMW has opted to introduce an AWD system, to this, the fastest of all M cars. But before you purists decry the lack of rear-wheel drive in a performance sedan, be assured BMW’s xDrive AWD system in this application has you covered.
There are three settings to choose from. The default setting is AWD, although with BMW’s Active M differential constantly in play, there remains a rear-wheel bias, making for a playful experience. Opting for 4WD Sport adds even more rear bias, while still intervening with traction and stability control should you become too eager. The final setting is 2WD Sport and that switches everything off while also sending drive 100 per cent to the rear wheels.
To be honest, with 600 horses (under the old scale) and 750Nm, it would take a brave soul to switch to 2WD Sport anywhere but on a race track. Even then, the M5 would be too much car for most of us.
Out on the open road, the M5 is, unsurprisingly, an effortless cruiser. The ride – unlike some of its stiffer, more track-focussed M brothers – is compliant and comfortable without being overly soft. There is certainly none of the jarring or crashy mannerism so characteristic of the M3 or M4. It’s not limo-like, but neither is it track-only spec.
Happy to purr along at 60km/h (and she does purr, does the M5), it’s when you bury the right foot for a burst of overtake that this car’s brutality shines. Make no mistake, the M5 is fast, with acceleration that takes your breath away. Literally. You feel it in your chest. It’s as if your whole outer body has accelerated with the car, but your internal organs have been left behind in the 60km/h zone and are simply trying to catch up. It leaves you short of breath. And that’s on the road.
There’s a surety underfoot, too. Despite outer Melbourne’s roads being slick with morning moisture, the M5 never faltered. With precise steering and with the Active M diff doing its best to distribute torque as needed, the M5 simply goes where you want it to.
Any fears an eight-speed auto can’t cut the mustard in this high-po-spec sedan are unfounded. Left in auto, the M Steptronic transmission is happy to play along with whatever you need. Cruising on the highway or in traffic, the M5 swaps gears effortlessly and without fuss. Call upon that glorious bent-eight out front for a spot of spirited acceleration and the transmission kicks down nicely to ensure the car matches your right-foot expectations.
You can, of course, opt for manual inputs via the steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters, and this is where the eight-speed auto isn’t as sharp as, say, a DCT. But we’re talking micro-seconds, so it’s not exactly sluggish.
With its road credentials well established, it’s on the track where the M5’s full potential can be exploited. Are many M5s ever likely to see a race track? Probably not, but if they do, there’s unbridled joy to be had.
That acceleration, when unshackled from the confines of speed limits and road rules, is even more brutal. The standard 0-100km/h sprint is over before you’ve had time to properly settle into those comfortable M seats and 200km/h feels like it approaches much quicker than the claimed 11.1 seconds.
It’s here you’re thankful for the carbon ceramic brakes (optional, $16,500) which haul up the 1855kg heft of the M5 with a surety and stability at once confidence inspiring and almost too good. What do I mean by that? Simply, such is the stopping power you find yourself slowing to a crawl before the corner, first time out.
Of course, adjusting your expectations remedies that little quirk, but at a mental cost. Approach Sandown Raceway’s first left-hander at speeds well in excess of 200km/h and your brain starts to scream ‘brake brake brake’ well before you actually need to in the M5. Overcome that inhibition, and you’re in for a world of fun, as I discovered with each successive – and braver – lap.
Acceleration and braking are of course, only two parts of the multi-faceted M5 equation. Cornering – and cornering speeds – simply take your breath away. With its AWD trickery (no, I was not brave enough to switch to 2WD Sport), the M5 can glide through bends and turns with a surety and composure that makes you feel like Daniel Ricciardo.
Better yet, the M5’s xDrive AWD platform allows you to accelerate out of corners way earlier than if you were simply braving it in rear-wheel drive only mode. There’s no slippage, no oversteer, simply a progressive and linear cornering stability that again, makes you feel a better driver than you actually are. Than most of us are.
And isn’t that what cars such as this are all about? Is there any point in having a weapon underneath us that most of us, no matter how good we think we are as drivers, simply cannot enjoy? Or is it better to have clever engineering assisting us to fully enjoy, exploit, a high performance car’s capabilities? For me, it’s the latter, and in that respect, the BMW M5 delivers.
The sixth-generation BMW M5 is, arguably, the best car ever built by the Bayerische Motoren Werke. Sure, there are any number of more iconic cars in the company’s portfolio, cars that are at once evocative and timeless. But with its blend of practicality, every day comfort, and supercar levels of performance, the M5 stands tall in a land of giants.