Just a stone's throw from the Munich Airport lies BMW's recently built Driver Training Center (DTC). Consisting of several acres of concrete, including sections polished to a glass-like sheen, BMW's DTC is designed to introduce drivers to a variety of road hazards which may be encountered in real life.
Despite a phalanx of new M5s lined up on the pavement, the biting cold kept a large group of the student contingent inside where they were nice and warm, sipping cappuccino and reminiscing about sun-filled days touring the south of France.
The new M5s sitting idle in the gray of Munich's autumn seemed a supreme waste--and the temptation proved too great. I leaped into the nearest car and proceeded to rip through the course until smoke boiled off the fat rear tires. The mouthwatering smell of Nappa leather mingled with the pungent aroma of roasted Dunlops, and the tuned M5 motor seemed to scream louder than the jets landing at Munich's flughaven. Great fun? You bet.
BMW's DTC also proved to be a stellar photo location: There was nothing to hit, no berms to scrape, no pedestrians to terrify. A crossed-up, opposite-lock maneuver seemed in the bag until the safety police came around and crushed our groove.
"Gentlemen," chastised the stolid German. "Please stop! This is not the type of representation we feel is suitable for the M5."
I stared at him dumbfounded. What kind of portrayal could be more appropriate? I asked him how he would like the M5 to be remembered.
He paused for a moment and stated, "The M5 is an executive transport. It is designed to get businessmen from point A to point B in the shortest time possible."
Oh, so an M5 is something like a ground-based Lear jet. And all this time Editor Brown had been hailing it as the most supremely developed sports sedan in the world, a five-passenger supercar capable of beating the pants off track vehicles and autobahn stormers alike.
I watched as Albert Biermann, the young head of the M-Technic suspension development team, bowed his head and shook it slowly from side to side. Biermann's colleague noticed his displeasure and quickly changed his mind. "Okay, you can do this for 15 more minutes," said Herr Policeman. "But then, please go somewhere else, somewhere you won't get arrested for this type of behavior."
Fair enough. I got the pics and was soon heading on the A8 Autobahn toward Regensberg some 80 miles away. Unfortunately, I was traveling so fast I passed the exit to the BMW factory before the navigation system began demanding a U-turn. Though the nav system's sultry voice was hard to ignore, the song emanating from the upper limits of the M5's powertrain was a far more seductive siren.
Getting up to top speed was accomplished with superior grace and strength. There are six gears in the beefed-up ZF box, which operates with the precision of a well-cut gem. This motor has so much stump-pullin' torque, however, that, once the car is underway, the driver can just leave it in sixth and achieve the car's electronically limited max speed of 155 mph with frightening brevity. The pronounced aerodynamics in the nose and the slightly lowered stance of the chassis were designed for this type of driving--flat out.
Germany's roads are among the finest in the world, but, as one approaches a long sweeper at 150 mph, it begins to resemble a formidably tight corner and small, nearly imperceptible undulations in the pavement are compounded exponentially. I cannot even begin to imagine the stresses on the suspension and the tires; the chassis was loaded well beyond its original 3,784-lb curb weight. However, the M5 handled this stress with far more calm than did my circulatory system, which had to maintain pace with my rapidly beating heart.
BMW's use of custom-tailored steel blanks and high-tech laser welding creates a frame with the integrity of a rally car. Extreme torsional rigidity works in concert with the increasing use of aluminum suspension components (both the rear and front subframes), which has the additional advantage of reducing unsprung weight. Ultimately this means the M5 remains pointed (more like glued) in the direction you choose. And should you breach the laws of physics, BMW's DSC (Driver Stability Control) will help put things back in line.
Alas, the safety police were still watching over me--but this time it was in the form of the "computer cops" responsible for limiting BMW's cars to 155 mph (not a bad clip in any case). But reaching 155 mph is no big deal, and once there the M5 hits an invisible wall. Though the motor is willing, the computer cuts off the juice.
Although I'm not executive material (at least that what Editor Brown keeps saying), I would gladly don a coat and tie every day if the M5 were to be my company conveyance. And not just for its incredible performance. The M-treatment makes the 5 Series feel as though your brains and muscles are wired directly into its chassis, motor and brakes. There's a partial truth here, as there are more than half a dozen computers scattered throughout the M5's frame that constantly monitor everything from yaw/slip angle to traction to throttle position. However, none of these silicon enhancements intrudes on the driving fun. "Intense driver input is an essential part of the M-experience," said Biermann. And I couldn't agree more.
Acceleration onto the sweeping onramps is rewarded with such pronounced g-force (1.2 g has been recorded on the skidpad), those with weak hearts may suffer as the body's blood gathers to one side. However, the superbly bolstered seats reduce the lateral shock the same way a Russian flight suit does, keeping occupants from flying about the cabin.
If there is a moral to the story, it's how easy it is to be so very bad (bad in a good way) in an M5. You're king of the autobahn, prince of the corners and lord of the brakes. The M5 is no less than a personal rocketship crammed full of BMW's best go-fast stuff. If it happens to come suavely wrapped in a silk suit, so much the better.