2012 BMW M5 – review

M stands for mighty, mental and ‘can I have some MORE please?’

By Shahzad Sheikh

Déjà vu? Not likely. I’m driving a BMW M5 on the road we’ve dubbed the ‘Hatta Squiggle’. It’s a short but tortuous piece of tarmac that twists and turns and bucks its way over the top of a mountain range between Huwaylat and Hatta.

There’s varying gradients, elevations, blind corners and surface changes. It’s best for small sporty numbers, and I don’t usually bring big hairy cars here. The previous E60 M5 (2005-2012) with its screaming 5.0 V10 is one of the reasons why.

And yet I’m here I am in another…

I remember the E60 M5 well – freaky revs, pulverising performance, tremendous noise, but a distinct edginess, not quite total communication, and enough engine/gearbox/suspension settings to confuse Einstein. Ultimately I found myself backing off, and even moved over to make way for a group of Friday morning bikers.

Here’s the contrast, I’ve actually just blasted past four bikers on the same road in the all-new F10 edition of the fabled M5. I’m pushing it harder, going deeper into the corners, powering on earlier, but most importantly, despite the constantly flickering traction control light – telling me that the car’s brain is working hard to keep me intact and on the slim piece of tarmac – this M5 is inspiring a level of confidence that’s urging me to push on. Definitely not Déjà vu – this M5 is a very different animal.

Old Vs New

The fifth generation car has ‘downsized’ to a 4.4-litre V8, but it gets twin turbos (and if you want the full low down: Twin Scroll Twin Turbo technology, cross-bank exhaust manifold, High Precision Direct Petrol Injection and VALVETRONIC fully variable valve control). So it puts out 560bhp (that’s 60bhp up on the old car), and 502lb ft from just 1500rpm (compared to a relatively paltry 383lb ft at a lofty 6100rpm). So whilst the new car is heavier (by about 100kg) that’s more go, from a far more accessible and lower rev-range and, by the way, it’s still all 30% more fuel efficient.

Don’t you just love progress? You’ll love it even more when you hear these figures – 0-100kph in 4.4 seconds (4.7 seconds for the E60), 0-200kph in 13 (half a second quicker than before) and of course a limited top speed of 250kph. However, specify the M Driver’s Pack and that goes up to 305kph!

It also now has a Double Clutch transmission (with 7-speeds) and out goes the rather clunky single clutch system which had 11 modes. The new version thankfully gets a more simplified six – three for auto and three for manual. And unlike the other 5-series in the current model range, it gets Hydraulic power steering, rather than the electric system. And of course there’s a host of clever computery stuff, as we’ve already mentioned, and cool kit like the Active M Differential LSD.

Sleeker style

The new 5 series has returned to understated elegance after the overt gawkiness of the last gen car. And this is one good-looking bruiser. Admittedly it’s not as sexy and sublime as a Jaguar XFR, or as robust-looking as the Mercedes E63, but it looks tough, sleek, and clearly means business.

Frankly there aren’t that many differences over the regular Five – an aggressive front spoiler (which you could get on an M-Sport edition anyway), plus quad tailpipes, bootlid spoiler, M5 badge and the chrome wing vents. Even so, it somehow maintains a menacing, if discreet, road presence.

Cabin and ride

Inside it’s the same story. It’s a BMW 5-series. Which means it’s very spacious, has a much improved layout, a great look, solid fit and finish, great comfort, and the multi-adjustable seats are supportive and a fine place to keep your bottom planted for many an hour.

It does get the M gearchange for that fancy new gearbox, which doesn’t have Park, and has to be left in gear before turning off the engine, or the car won’t lock. It takes some getting used to, thing is though, the regular shifter isn’t much that better either. Don’t worry, just tap it to the right twice and use the paddles on the steering wheel.

Go, baby, go

Hit the M-Sport button and… er actually there are two buttons, and both can be individually configured. That means you can tweak the steering, the suspension, the gearchange, and the engine response. It can all get a bit overwhelming.

And the same can be said for the performance of this thing. Turn the settings up, mash the loud pedal and slingshot at the horizon, and you just cling on, with your head pinned into the headrest, hoping it’ll all end soon, but still keeping your right foot planted. The only reprieve you get is the slight tug at your chin, every time you fire in another upchange in full-ferocity mode. There’s even a second surge from the Turbos at around 6000rpm.

The only thing missing is the growly roar from the old V10, instead you get more of a whiny drone.

On the other hand, put everything into soft mode and you can potter around as if in a 535i. Even the ride is impressively supple thanks to adaptive dampers.

Back to the squiggle

Traction is left firmly on thanks to the self-preservation instinct as I tackle the Squiggle. But I’m grinning. The sign with the skiddy car is flashing in front me of me persistently, but somehow traditional steering, instead of the electric system on lesser Fives, is feeding back messages of reassurance.

The turn-in is crisp, the response is faithful. It’s remarkably planted, the back feeling a little loose, but the electronics keeping it from getting unruly – admittedly the back tyres were more than a little worn on this press car.

The whole attitude of the car is solid, composed; there’s no understeer to dilute the experience, and grunt is ever-ready depending on how eager you are with the right foot – or how brave.

Verdict

There is no question that this is an awesome successor to the M5 and a truly worthy car to carry that mythical mantle forward. It’s lost some of the raucous edginess , and the blunt-hammer persona of the old car, but replaced it with easier, more accessible performance and dynamics.

It’s so good, it almost makes you want to justify the astronomical price tag – AED615,000 ($167,115). Almost.

At around half the price (AED310,000, $84,250), a 535i M-Sport edition has just over half the power and half the torque, and gets to 100kph from rest 1.4 seconds slower (5.8 seconds) but in the real world do you really need much more performance? Plus it looks as good, and handles almost as well, giving away only the feel and accuracy of the steering.

I would love to set the M5 up against rivals like the E63 (AED444k, $121k) and the XFR (AED409k, $111k), in a back-to-back comparison test to see if it really is worth nearly a couple of hundred grand more. However the M5 does still remains the ultimate template for a super sports saloon, so potentially if you want the best, money no object, then get the M5.

Specs
BMW M5
Price: AED615,000 ($167,115)
Engine: 4.4-Litre V8 – 560bhp at 6000rpm, 502lb ft at 1500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 4.4seconds, 250kph (306kph), 9.9L/100km
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 1870kg

Shahzad’s verdict: The ultimate super sports saloon, if not the best value

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