“It’s just more M5,” an executive from Munich explains over tapas in the sun-drenched region of Andalusia, Spain, where a coterie of journalists have gathered to flog BMW’s latest supersports sedan on both road and track.
Our German host has every reason to sound defensive. He’s been endlessly grilled on the big idea behind BMW’s latest performance flagship, a touchy subject among Bimmer cognoscenti. Past generations of the famously fast sedan have run the gamut of sportiness, inspiring die-hards to wax poetic about body codes that delineate epochal eras in the car’s history.
For instance, the boxy E28 generation (1984-1987) was characterized by a mechanically satisfying inline six cylinder engine. Would-be hot-rodders waxed poetic over the burble produced by the V8 under the E39’s hood (1998-2003), while the previous-gen E60 (2004-2010) inspired shock, awe, and a certain amount of frustration from its herky-jerky automated manual gearbox and high-strung, Formula 1-inspired V10.
We’re entering a new era of M5, with a palatably penned body based on a bigger, more 7-series-like platform.
We’re entering a new era of M5, with a palatably penned body based on a bigger, more 7-series-like platform. The porkier proportions are rife for dissent from the peanut gallery, as is the way the new V8 derives its power: turbocharging.
To ditch bulk, more aluminum was used and heavy bits like axle bushings removed. The 86?d bushings offer the silver lining of a stiffer chassis, since the M5’s axles are now bolted directly onto the body. The resulting vehicle is still 200 pounds heavier than its predecessor and 40 pounds heftier than the current 550i, but the gap is closer than in previous M sedans.
Despite the diet, the turbo remains controversial. Though forced induction has become de rigueur among supertuners like McLaren and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division, that particular manner of power boosting is a prickly subject among BMW fanatics, as the haus of M once proclaimed they’d never endow their track-focused cars with a turbo. Say what you will about the first unnaturally aspirated engine in an M5, but the twin-scroll, twin turbos nestled within the “Vee” of the 4.4 liter eight-banger yield unheralded output (560 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque) and a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy — though that particular stat is about as relevant to this car’s target audience as Amish quilting patterns.
And so I’m on a deserted road in sunny Spain, hands gripped around the thick, leather-swathed steering wheel, ready to lay down some serious rubber without attracting the advances of the country’s notoriously cranky police force. Throttle and steering response, shock stiffness and shift patterns can be adjusted via small buttons on the center console. But at this moment, I’m most concerned with switching off stability control, which enables launch control to be activated with a forward tip of the shift lever. Tilting the stick for a few seconds triggers a “Launch Control active!” message on the dash, which holds revs at 3,000 rpm, well above the 1,500 rpm spot where a thundering 500 ft-lbs of torque starts to plateau. Drop the shifter, and a shock of power transfers through the electronic rear differential to the tires, punching the car forward and laying down a thick trail of vaporized Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber. Allowing revs to drop to roughly 2,000 rpms is the optimum way to shoot this 4,000+ pound sedan to 62 mph in a rather conservatively estimated 4.4 seconds. But I’m trying to manage my angry right foot on public roads, since rumor has it that exceeding these unnaturally low speed limits by only 40 km/h will land you a night in a rustic Iberian penitentiary.
Thankfully, we’re rocketing towards the Ascari Race Resort, a 3.37-mile track that rambles through the idyllic Spanish countryside. And whereas the highway offered a teasing glimpse of how this BMW tames public tarmac with a disarming amount of civility, the track’s 26 turns are a far more stringent place for this sedan to prove its mettle.
Shifts are smooth during normal driving and shotgun quick under aggressive upshifts, while downshifts are rapid, fluid, and perfectly rev-matched — everything that helps the average Joe look like a rock star on the track.
The M5 lurches out of Ascari’s pits with a surprisingly muffled roar that belies its neck-bending acceleration. Snap the car into the first sharp left-hander, and it obeys like a Seal Team 6-trained canine; any subtle hint of understeer is easily corrected with a slightly sharper dab of the right pedal. But while it’s tempting to allow the understated V8 to wind up to its horsepower peak just above 5,500 rpm (after which it wheezes its way to a 7,200 rpm redline), the engine is so torquey that medium-radius turns are better managed with an upshift, in order to keep the tail from kicking out. Steering is a hydraulic setup which replaces the standard 550i’s fuel saving electric arrangement, and the added feel offers a vital part of the go-fast equation.
Though the six-piston brakes aren’t particularly sensitive to pedal input, their huge 400mm front rotors still manage to claw the car down effectively. Carbon ceramic stoppers are expected to be optional when the M5 reaches U.S. shores in Summer 2012, as is a six-speed manual transmission; both were spotted by spy photographers on specimens bound for the states. But here at Ascari, the dual-clutch seven-speed is performing so admirably it will likely satisfy the fanboys who swear by row, row, row your boat manual transmissions. Shifts are smooth during normal driving and shotgun quick under aggressive upshifts, while downshifts are rapid, fluid, and perfectly rev-matched — everything that helps the average Joe look like a rock star on the track.
And speaking of presentation, the M5 has a way of maximizing the driver’s neuromuscular reflexes, as long as that right pedal is treated with respect. After all, 560 horses have a nasty way of unexpectedly unhooking the rear end. When traction is gradually lost in the least intrusive “M Dynamic Mode,” yaw angles become so deliciously sideways they’d make Keiichi Tsuchiya proud. But jam the gas suddenly, and the computer keeps you in check faster than you can make yourself a track day jackass — fine by me, especially since I know there’s the option of switching all electronic aids off and letting the cards fall where they may.
The 2013 BMW M5 is the most capable sports sedan to emerge from Munich: it goes, turns, and brakes like hell, all with casual, unflappable composure.
Experiencing those stratospheric abilities prove that the 2013 BMW M5 is the most capable sports sedan to emerge from Munich: it goes, turns, and brakes like hell, all with casual, unflappable composure.
It’s muscular, but is it dramatic?
To preemptively address that question, BMW engineered a so-called “Active Sound Design” into this five-passenger sedan, routing a digital interpretation of the V8 engine’s roar through the car’s six-speaker stereo upon request. The feature is so peculiarly obsessive, it’s almost Japanese in nature. But try as it may to simulate edginess, the M5 is still a remarkably well-mannered road warrior, in spite of its brutal performance capabilities.
So while the M5’s disarmingly mighty, smooth, and acoustically understated turbocharged engine may not make it the most viscerally expressive M5 in history — digital sound processors be damned — this is the closest BMW has come to building a supercar with four doors. Though the lunatic enthusiast fringe will undoubtedly bitch that this über sedan’s character departs too far from its howling, screaming, naturally-aspirated forbears, this newest offering — especially within the context of ever-tightening global emissions and fuel economy rules — proves that “more M5? sometimes translates to a “better, faster, but different M5.”
WIRED Gut-wrenching performance belies luxobarge look. Quiet cocoon makes 10/10ths powerslides surprisingly soothing.
TIRED Perhaps too well-mannered for an M-car flagship. Cheapo faux chrome engine vents belong on Ford Taurus SHOs, not six-figure German supersedans.
Photos by Basem Wasef/Wired