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Tuesday 21st February 2012


TELL ME I'M WRONG: BMW M5

Left cold by the M5, Dan drives to Wales and back to prove himself wrong


A train of thought that I 'wasn't sure' about the new M5 got a pretty stern response. After all, everyone else seems to have been and launch drives saw many hacks using up a year's supply of superlatives in the first paragraph. Any possible criticisms about the near two-tonne kerbweight or shift to turbos seemed lost in the tyre smoke of a hundred dab-of-oppo lead photos.

Looks the business, scale possibly out
Looks the business, scale possibly out
So I approached the M5, admittedly in the less forgiving depths of the English winter, with a fair expectation that I was going to love it. That I didn't came as a shock. Here's why.

The size is an immediate issue. Around 'regular' cars, the F10 looms like an X6, everything about it exaggerated to the point of parody. And yet, like a true M5, it's still a relatively subtle-looking thing and capable of slipping in with the masses of M Sport 520ds when required.

Artificial high
It's full of surprise and delight though, the cabin beautifully finished. That slight wobble in the stitching on the dash though - a true 'error' or, like the engine note, carefully contrived in an attempt to prove the Germans can also do 'charisma'?

Epic scenery, epic car ... what's missing?
Epic scenery, epic car ... what's missing?
Maybe the quarter-turn of corrective lock required the first time I dip a toe into the turbo V8 is also a finely calibrated 'character' feature too. It's certainly a healthy reminder that 560hp through the rear wheels is something to be respected, even in this electronically regulated age. And the kind of thing that gives the M5 a more macho, hooligan edge over its more civilised rivals from AMG and Jaguar's R range. Just what we want, right?

It's certainly true that the M5 wears its performance heart on its sleeve. But as the M1 (keep up, talking motorways now!) gives way to the A5 and North Wales I get a nagging doubt that perhaps this is the car's major downfall.

Hey, fat boy
The bulk that makes it cumbersome and out of sorts in town doesn't diminish out in the wilds either. And in sheer size terms it feels more like an S63 or XJ Supersport. And yet it still wants to go like an M5. Which isn't an entirely comfortable combination as the dry stone walls close in and the turns tighten under the tree-covered run up to Betws-y-Coed.

If it works it'll work here
If it works it'll work here
With the nearside wheels buzzing the rumble strip and the offside ones tha-dum, tha-dum, tha-dumming along the cats' eyes any sense of line choice on roads with anything other than a perfect sightline is forgotten. And this is at the core of the frustration with the M5. You never doubt its abilities. The size and speed differential over 'civilian traffic' on regular roads just makes opportunities to appreciate them fleeting at best, ruled out completely too often.

I am trying though! With two M hotkeys to play with I've got M2 in an everything up to 11 ('Super Sports' for throttle, steering, gearbox and suspension with stability control in M Dynamic Mode) and a more nuanced combination for M1 with a middling throttle, snappy gearchanges and comfort ride.

M2 is, in this configuration, frankly horrible. Turn-in has you fighting a springy, artificial weighting at the wheel, the throttle snaps from off-boost to on (lots of 'on') with binary subtlety and the fat tyres tramline on the wet Welsh tarmac.

No complaints from in here
No complaints from in here
There's an app for that
My M1 combination is much, much better. And here BMW proves the worth of myriad driver-selectable preferences. When it works, like this, you really can 'tune' the car, the surprisingly supple but controlled ride in Comfort among the impressive attributes you can throw into the mix.

Nothing, but nothing, dilutes how full-on the M5 is though. Tug the left paddle (nicely tactile) on the approach to a corner and that downshift WILL thump through, instantly. Confirm your consent and MDM and 501lb ft of torque from just 1,500rpm means the rear wheels aren't shy of dictating your line and there really is a sense of 1 M lairiness despite the size and bulk. But, again, you only get a taste of this in territory where mere points would be a mere dream and a ban or prison sentence are more likely. So you back off. And again the frustration sets in.

Turbo V8 does the business, no mistake
Turbo V8 does the business, no mistake
Imbalance of power
The M5 isn't the only car with this imbalance of performance over acceptability of course. But perhaps that lunatic, four-door Nissan GT-Rstyle thrust stands out more for the sheer incongruity of it. M5s used to be about covert, useable performance. The new one takes it to extremes but the extremes seem to be all it's interested in.

It's like the F10 is the 911 Turbo to the E60's GT3. Great naturally aspirated engines like those in the latter two treat you to new thrills and sensations with every number on the rev counter. New-school turbo engines like the M5's forced induction V8 just swap small numbers on the speedo for big ones - really big ones - with no sense of transition. Are you out to enjoy the journey or the destination? The way the M5 deploys its power it's all about the latter, reducing further those opportunities to enjoy even a cheeky taste now and then.

M5 doesn't put a foot wrong, and yet...
M5 doesn't put a foot wrong, and yet...
Where to go?
None of this is BMW's fault - this isn't some j'accuse, 'here's where you went wrong guys' missive. Because the new M5 addresses every complaint ever levelled at its predecessor. Peaky! Too extreme! Rubbish gearbox! BMW has looked at each issue and dealt with it. And that engine is incredible. It outguns the E63 with supermini's worth less displacement and yet, even after a week that included several hundred miles of Welsh hoonage and a day in the hands of our man Harris, the trip computer was showing an overall average of 19mpg.

The M5 is the way it is because BMW couldn't have done anything different. It's a product of our times, the need to evolve from what went before. Bigger, faster, more goes the cry and the M5 has responded.

On that basis criticising it seems unfair. Quantifiably a great, great car and a technically impressive achievement the M5's abilities run the risk of irrelevance. That the opportunities to enjoy them are so, so limited are not its fault either. Aloofness and failure to engage at more everyday speeds are though. But tell me I'm wrong.


BMW M5 (F10)
Engine:
4,395cc V8, twin-turbo, direct-injection
Power (hp): 560@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 501@1,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.4 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited, 189mph with optional M Driver's Package)
Weight: 1,945kg (EU)
MPG: 28.5mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 232g/km
Price: £74,040 (list price, £85,065 as tested)








Author: Dan Trent