Tell me I'm wrong: BMW M5

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)
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)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (571) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Harris_I 08 Nov 2014

    Great post, mcerbm. I'm 8 months into M5 ownership and before buying had many of the reservations that others have expressed. Synthetic noise, numb steering, size, weight, lack of involvement.

    Like you, my M5 is a tow car for a Caterham. I have other cars for visceral kicks. This is my daily. I've come to accept that modern cars will never have the tactility and connectedness of old. That's why I will probably never consider a 991 GT3: the earlier cars push all the right buttons for me and require years of skill and experience to master. That's what I want from a sports car.

    But for a daily, I'm less fussy. It's got to carry the family plus luggage in comfort, have toys that make the menial tasks less challenging like reversing camera, HUD, a decent info/entertainment system, comfy seats with lots of adjustment.

    It can do the fast stuff. A couple of weeks back I followed an F430 who dropped the hammer on a NSL dual carriageway and through some roundabouts. The M5 shadowed the Ferrari every inch until the speeds became a little silly and we both backed off. He probably had more fun but he must have been a little shocked (we were 5-up with luggage by the way).

    MDM is surprisingly benign: I'm used to no electronics in high-performance cars which probably explains it. It doesn't require much skill to punt the M5 down a B-road, or kick the tail out and control the slide. Some of the posts on PH led me to believe the car was an animal. It really isn't. A Radical or a Porsche Cup car is an animal. This is dead easy to drive really fast. Which is good for some and bad for others.

    Oh, and the fuel economy. Having previously owned the V10-engined M6, this is a revelation (once the engine loosens up after a few thousand miles). I get around 28mpg on the motorway, average low 20s including the school run.

    As for the noise - TBH if no-one had told me, I'd never have noticed it's synthesised. It really is a non-issue.

    Edited by Harris_I on Saturday 8th November 12:21

  • mcerbm 08 Nov 2014

    As a previous E39 M5 owner I have been reading these comments with interest. I sold me E39 M5 in early July, and I have been a bit lost ever since. I owned it for 7 years and I think I did it justice for suitable use over those years.

    I live in the north east of Scotland and we are lucky enough to have quite roads in the mountains within 30mins of where I live, I used the car as a daily commuter all year (winter tyres as required) and I have had a few trips to the continent in it. Most notable highlights were travelling to le mans in the car with a convoy with a scout car sent ahead to look for police then radio'ing back if the coast was clear for a stretching of the cars legs. A round trip to the Nurburgring where the car clocked over 150 miles around the Nordschleife both in the dry and also in the wet. On the way the car reached its limited top speed on the Autobahn's 4 up at least 5 times. (167mph indicated / 163mph on the sat nav before the limiter was hit. 155mph restrictor didn't seem to be very accurate...). I also had a great run chasing a friend on an Aprilla V twin motorbike on the iconic B500 in the black forest. The engine note seemed to complement the M5 car perfectly. I have taken the car around some of the best roads in Scotland and in Wales over the years and learnt how to drift around secluded roundabouts in it when there are no prying eyes.

    Its been a very reliable motor over the 60,000 miles I used it only ever requiring consumables, nothing ever went wrong with it mechanically. It even had its original clutch when I sold it at 115,000 miles! The only changes I made to the car were upgrading the brakes (AP racing 6 pot fronts with paid RS14 pads, a common and in my experience a required upgrade) and adding a parrot cleverly concealed in the ashtray out of the way to allow bluetooth calls through the steering wheel buttons.

    I was only thinking of selling it because there were slight signs of rust starting to appear through the paintwork at a few points. I didn't really mean to sell it, I swapped it with a colleague from work for a week for a VW amarok so I could tow my caterham to the nurburgring / Spa. He enjoyed the M5 so much he persuaded me to sell it to him, it really does have that affect on people. Incredibly capable car for the money.

    I only bring this up as the last 4 months I have been using my knackered old 14 year old, 140,000mile skoda octavia estate tow car for day to day driving, after a while you start to a acclimatise to the soft comfy floaty suspension and last week I even started to think the 90bhp tune 1.9 tdi started to feel a bit quick. Thats was a warning sign, so 7 days later I am writing this waiting for my 2012 F10 M5 to be turned around by the bmws dealer having test driven one last weekend.

    I didn't really intend to buy one, I was actually going in to test the F30 335d drive estate to be my do it all car (caterham tow car / daily driver / fast enough to be exciting). After test driving it I was left quite under whelmed, it was competent, and reasonably quick (308bhp diesel) but not my cup of tea. The dealer had a M5 in that day that hadn't been advertised for more than a few hours. I took it for a drive and shook the mans hand.

    I only had the car for about 45mins and it was damp so I don't really have a full appreciation for what the car is like yet. It is quick, the steering is a bit numb, most modern cars are and the E39 wasn't know for great steering feel at the time either. It is a bit bigger than my old car but I had it down B roads on the test drive and I didn't find it an issue, as has been mentioned in comments on here. I don't need it to have the agility / steering feel / responses of a caterham in a saloon car, I have a caterham for that. I didn't think I when the F10 came out that I would end up purchasing one, but I'm going to give this one a go and see how I get on. Its very hard to find an alternative to an M5 after you have owned one and have sold it. As it turned out I couldn't, hence i'm giving the current generation a go. I'll give a review once I get the car and have put some miles under it.

  • scorchio 12 Feb 2014

    Well after driving one last weekend I must say I am smitten . Driven on a combination of roads this car feels like it easily copes with all that was flung at it, mind you it did have the 19" wheels so the 20" wheels may be a bit worse.

    cruising it felt nice and relaxed but when called upon the grunt was there in bucket loads as was the glorious noise, albeit with the noise being piped through the speakers, box was nice and smooth but with all the different driver configs it could take a while to get fully dialed in.

    I love the fact that it just slips into the crowd and would look awesome on my drive, but I will agree with the other comments on dealer service, it truly is shocking

  • johnfm 12 Feb 2014

    johnfm said:
    Amirhussain said:
    +1, the guy just chats pure st. rolleyes
    How many M5s have you owned?
    Is that none, yeah...

  • johnfm 07 Feb 2014

    Amirhussain said:
    +1, the guy just chats pure st. rolleyes
    How many M5s have you owned?

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