2012 BMW M5 road test
The new M5 or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Technology
Here's the thing about the new M5: people care about it. For a car that only a handful of individuals — Bay Street bankers, CEOs and others on the outermost fringes of the one per cent — will part with the money for it, everyone who loves performance cars cares. Which is why for the second time in two generations, it's on everyone's lips. No one flinched when arch-nemesis Benz switched the E63's naturally aspirated 6.2 V8 downsized to a mere 5.5 litres and gained a pair of turbos. Not so here.
And there's plenty of reason to take interest. It was the old M5's V10 that set it apart from everything else on the road. The sky-high redline, the shrieks, the responsiveness, the magical 500 horsepower figure — it was the definitive super-sedan engine. Down two cylinders and more than a half-litre in displacement, the new M5 placates the power hungry and the governing bodies of health and safety. With an idle-stop that silences the engine at rest and direct injection to precisely measure out premium unleaded, it can now travel further on less fuel. And yet, with a pair of turbochargers nestled between banks of four cylinders, it can serve out a 560-hp knuckle sandwich on a moment's notice.
Calmer, quieter ... sort of
You would be hard pressed, though, to tell that this is a vehicle of such great ability. In true M5 style, it is a sleeper, picked out from the crowd only by those who know it. To the uneducated, it doesn't shout its performance heritage. In black, silver, or this inconspicuous Space Grey, it could be another 5 Series. The only real clues are the quad exhaust pipes, the flash of those beautiful blue brake calipers, and a front valance with three openings to cool an assortment of 10 radiators and oil coolers. Incidentally, they're the right size to hoover up a forest's worth of small fuzzy animals.
Even the interior is really not different than that of a standard 5 Series. Short of a couple of bright interior colours — orange, white, anyone? — it's business as usual. Beautifully crafted, wrapped in leather and lined with Alcantara and with a curious woven aluminum dash trim, it's welcoming and spacious.
Virtually everything on offer to a 7 Series buyer, from massaging seats to a full-colour head-up display, parking cameras (yes, plural), and even night vision can be had here. Those in the back are treated to dual entertainment screens with iDrive accessible via remote control, dual-zone climate control and heated seats. This latest M5 is almost as much about being the world's most technologically advanced sedan, as it is about being the world's best sports sedan.
Fire it up and set off, and what you'll find is a car that is quiet and comfortable; those wider buckets immediately lull you into thinking it's a soft cruiser. Road and tire noise are well contained, but disappointingly, the expected full-bodied rumble of the V8 is missing. You might even come to ask yourself what the fuss is all about.
With two turbochargers on board, it's simply a matter of how much you're willing to press your right foot down, and what settings you've called up. The new car uses what is essentially the same engine as that offered in the X5 and X6 M, but it's been tweaked with a higher compression ratio, Valvetronic, and larger turbos that can dole out more boost. Torque is the key operative here, as we're now at 500 lb.-ft. That's more than 120 lb.-ft. on the old car — all of it ready to roll from as little as 1,500 rpm guaranteeing an eyeball-flattening pace. BMW says the M5 takes less than 4.4 seconds to 100 km/h, but a torque band that's three times as wide as its predecessor will make you blurt out words that'd have your mother washing your mouth out with soap at any speed.
Despite being fairly conventional (twin-turbo V8), the engine has a character all its own. Although the mid-range shove makes it impossibly quick regardless of what gear you're in, it doesn't behave like a typical turbo. Excitement builds as the engine revs rise. At 5,000 rpm the fireworks start going off, the engine's pace and tone angers, surging on a second wind. It's only here that the raw, guttural soundtrack comes alive, and only with the throttle setup in its most aggressive of three parameters. It's a shame that the fireworks cut out at 7,200 rpm — the old V10 had another 1,050 rpm to give. But ease off, and it will happily cruise along out of the picture. Even at 120 km/h, the engine is scarcely ticking over at 2,000 rpm.