Knott’s Berry Farm started as a family restaurant and morphed into a sizable theme park, complete with Wild West shows, roller coasters and assorted “spin and hurl” rides. My college girlfriend was the lead operator on an attraction that would send its screaming passengers to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, terminating with a 90-degree incline that briefly headed skyward until coasting back to the start. Although the entire sequence took 20 seconds, folks would wait half an hour under the hot SoCal sun to become the equivalent of human slingshot ammo.
Fast-forward 20 years and I’m seated in a machine capable of breaching 60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds. Better yet, I’m doing it in air-conditioned comfort in a ride lasting for hours. Oh, and I can turn too.
Welcome to the new M5, Munich’s latest thrill ride.
BMW’s M5 has always been the benchmark for midsize sport sedans. Spawned in the hot rod garages of M-Technik, its engineers pulled every ounce of performance from its normally aspirated powerplants. Unlike Audi, BMW believed force-feeding an engine was something of a last resort. BMW didn’t need to rely on such blunt little tools for its M line.
Being a tuner-friendly mag and all, we noticed that the majority of tuned BMWs began with an M car, the thought being it was better to start with the best and build from there. Uprated brakes, tighter suspension, sporty cabins—in essence, the M cars were pre-tuned. Over the last 20 years we’ve featured more than a few turbocharged and supercharged M cars that developed significantly more power and performance than their factory brethren. Tuners like Dinan, Alpina, Active Autowerke, VF Engineering, G-Power and quite a few others have been force-feeding BMW M cars for decades with proven results.
BMW has decided it’s time to use some of the same mojo.
Although purists might take issue with BMW’s use of forced induction, there’s no doubt this is the finest, most refined M5 ever. While its previous V10 iteration was memorable, it was also on the edge of civility. Yes, it was a fun ride, but sometimes you just want to drive a car rather than tame it.
On the street, the new M5 is the embodiment of smoothness, the type of ride that brings an unconscious smile. BMW has done great things in the suspension department, instilling the chassis with a superb blend of firmness and comfort. The M5 features a simplified damper control system allowing the choice of three, easy-to-dial settings. At its softest, the M5 simply floats over nasty tarmac while the most aggressive treats drivers to near race car-like stiffness. Right in the middle is where the M5 feels best, communicating its movements with near telepathic feedback.
The transmission borders on sentience as well. There are no less than six settings for the new M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, ranging from an economy-minded auto mode to a stick-banging manual setup. The M5 features BMW’s brand-new fully active M differential, which utilizes a multitude of sensors around the car that divvy the torque across the rear axle for maximum bite. Unlike the previous SMG transmission, M DCT leaves the M5 with shifts so smooth they are almost unrecognizable. Sure, you can still do the work yourself with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but chances are the M5 will do a better job, especially on the downshifts. The system seems to stay one step ahead of the car’s next move. You’re never wanting for a gear change.
The M5 can be programmed with its full array of electronic stability systems on high alert, meaning any misstep is corrected in milliseconds. Or the entire thing can be switched off to play “Johnny Drifter,” a game the M5 does very well. In truth, the new chassis is so well-balanced even moderately skilled drivers can toss it around without its electronic aids… to a point. But tapping into 560 hp is something that demands respect. I did not mind a little “help.” On a moderate slip setting, I found myself rocketing into a high-speed sweeper way too fast. It was an “oh shit” moment—your brain shifts to hyperdrive, computing run-off paths, damage control, airbag deployment, reputation wounds. A thousand little things in a few seconds. And then something wonderful happened. The rear end caught itself and dug in. Rather than flying off the top of the berm, the M5 was actually winding itself through the turn. A bit more throttle and I was in a controlled powerslide. I owe a case of beer to the DTC and ESP programmers. The brake crew deserves a case as well. Despite its 4,123 pounds, the car’s new six-pot fixed calipers appear capable of stopping a battle frigate.
The new M5 is ridiculously fast, the type of fast that finds triple digits quicker than it takes to read this sentence. Although we really liked the thrust of the previous V10-powered car, this new M5 will make it a dim memory. It tears away from stoplights with such force simply keeping your head straight is nearly impossible. The car never lacks for breath and will ping the rev limiter with tire-chirping upshifts. Fortunately, the seats are beautifully contoured for high-g activity. Even the rear passengers are treated to significant bolstering. And while the M5 is most definitely a driver’s car, the back seat is a very nice place.
Clad in new, understated aerodynamics, the M5 looks all business. Aesthetic changes include an M3-style front bumper with three sizable air intakes, chrome-rimmed gills set into the front fenders, a small trunk lid spoiler and, of course, those four trademark exhaust pipes.
Perhaps the most pressing question is how the new F10-chassis M5 rates to the outgoing E60. We must admit the V10 was a piece of art. Its sound alone was worth the admission price. Moreover, it seems unlikely we will see such grand engine architecture in the future. That said, the E60 M5 is destined to become a trophy car. However, the new M5 and its more powerful twin-turbo V8 is every bit as tractable, and its chassis and brakes are flat-out superior. Unlike its older, higher-strung sibling, the new M5 is more user-friendly, the type of vehicle capable of picking kids up from soccer practice or kicking ass on the racetrack. And there’s no line for the next ride.