Eight awesome months with the BMW M5

What’s it like living with a stupendously fast super-sedan? Hint: It’s wonderful
by Ollie Marriage | Jan 1, 2019
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First up: A bit of drag-strip action

We recently did a drag race between the M5, the Merc-AMG E63 S, and the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. If you want a surprise, watch the film online before you read any further.

Done that? Good. The M5 walloped ’em. Least powerful but lightest, it also possesses the most phenomenal launch control—when it works. Sometimes it will engage, sometimes it won’t. I suspect the system gets hot after a few runs, then removes the temptation from you. So fast was it that we redid the figures, and nope, the result wasn’t a fluke—it managed a two-way average of 2.99sec to 60mph. So that’s a full-size five-seater sedan with a 505-liter trunk, massage seats, and a kick-ass stereo getting to 60mph in under three seconds. That’s nuts. The fastest super-sedan ever, surely?

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And then we remembered the Tesla P100D. It’s not a sports car—it’s pretty dull to drive, in fact—but this thing is outrageously fast. You can compare the figures here. Only at high speed does the M5 regain the upper hand.

(mph) M5 (sec) Tesla (sec)
10 0.41 0.45
20 0.85 0.83
30 1.31 1.21
40 1.82 1.59
50 2.37 2.06
60 2.99 2.68
70 3.74 3.40
80 4.63 4.22
90 5.67 5.19
100 6.77 6.46
110 8.06 8.01
120 9.49 9.97
1/4 mile 11.1 11.08

And under braking. The £7,495 (P499,780) ceramics might be way too grabby in daily driving, but they stop the car from 160kph in just 81.23 meters—that’s less distance than a 911 Turbo S (81.88 meters). The Tesla takes longer to stop than a Mercedes G-Class. Not even kidding: 96.23 meters plays 95.39 meters.

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Anyhow, the M5’s brakes deliver massive confidence, and for that I’ll forgive the fact that if you so much as think of the pedal in town, the M5 attempts a nose stand.

The engine is a masterpiece

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The more time I’ve spent with the M5—over 19,300km now—the more I’ve become convinced the powertrain is a masterpiece. Yes, it had the fuel-pump issue earlier on, and even after a gentle highway run home, the heat it needs to get rid of is astonishing. The fans run for ages, and if you’re carrying a passenger, they are subjected to a blast of heat soak from underneath when they open the door. Blame the need to get the cats super-hot to reduce emissions and meet regulations (still, it’s not something other super-sedans do).

Also, the first gearshift of the morning can be a bit sudden, and the Merc E63 makes a better noise. Sad to say, but it does—more volume, more intensity, more raucousness.

However, for effortless speed, rampant torque, and peerless gearbox integration, the M5’s combo of a 4.4-liter twin-turbo gasoline engine and an eight-speed auto is unbeatable. It makes the whole car feel massively forceful. It digs deep at 1,000rpm, makes a mockery of turbo lag, and simply hurls itself onwards. If only it were a bit noisier inside.

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It also takes the sting out of driving. It’s so undemanding in town that it could be a 520d, and, if you go gently, you’ll top 12.75km/L on a long haul. Perhaps 11.5km/L is a better indication, and overall mixed driving yields around 9km/L. Or 5km/L if you get carried away.

BMW M5 or Alpina B5?

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But is it the best fast BMW? After all, what do you actually want, if you’re buying a super-sedan—speed alone, or speed and handling? This is a question you’d do well to ask yourself before deciding the BMW M5 is the car for you.

Personally, I think BMW has got the M5 spot-on this time. I like the underlying positivity of the ride as a reminder that this is no run-of-the-mill motor, but I’d understand if you wanted something more...effortless.

At which point I’ll introduce the Alpina B5. At £89,000 (P5.93 million), it’s pretty much identical money to the M5, and although its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 has humbler originals (it’s not a modified S63 M5 engine, but a tuned N63 unit), Alpina has wound it up to a point where it actually develops 9hp and 50Nm more than the M5. It’s 160kg heavier, so not quite such an impressive sprinter (60mph in 3.39sec, 100mph in 7.48sec), but it does get to play the derestricted trump card: a 330kph top end.

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Surreptitious speed is the B5’s thing—it’s always trying to snaffle a few extra kph on to the speedo. And you don’t notice because the ride is so serene, the air passing over the bodywork so quietly dealt with. It doesn’t do anything so uncouth as popping and banging on the overrun, and although there’s a big difference if you switch from Comfort to Sport, body control isn’t in the M5 league.

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While the Alpina pampers you, the M5 nudges you, reminding you that it’s actually quite super and would like to be doing super things. Its seats give you a tighter squeeze, the red M buttons are directly in your eyeline, the suspension communicates, the throttle bites. It’s a more overt sports car than the B5—or the comparatively portly previous M5, for that matter.

I’d have M5 over B5. Not everyone would, some preferring the Alpina’s more understated, exclusive approach. For me, though, there’s one crucial reason you might have the B5 instead: It’s also available as a wagon.

What about rear-wheel-drive mode?

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Getting to this setting involves maximizing the schportiness of every control and disabling the stability system completely. But that’s not the reason I haven’t used it that much, not least because you can—and I did—have it set up on the steering as a default M-button mode for a while.

But I don’t any more because it was just bananas. Now, I love rear-drive cars, but let’s be pragmatic for a second. When you’re talking about a 600hp, two-ton super-sedan, 4WD is transformative. Yes, I love the indulgence of having a secret rear-drive mode. But for one thing: Why can you only have throttle-steer mode with everything off? I’m guessing BMW sees it as a drift mode, to be indulged when you’re at that empty airfield you’re always going to. But I like to use rear-drive on the road, to see how it feels, what difference it makes. And I’d rather do that with some form of traction control on.

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Sometimes I let it off the leash, anyway, but as you can see here, it’s a wild ride. The M5 feels very big, very quickly when it lets go. Which it does abruptly, and for sustained periods. Once those back wheels overcome their adhesion, 699Nm ensures it’s not regained for long enough to be very unsettling. Owners: Bet you’ve tried it once and never again, right? I’ve used it far less than those who know me well might imagine.

A few other things...

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Nitpicking time. I’m not a fan of head-up displays. Give me a set of proper clear clocks any time. But the M5’s dash has too much going on to be easily read (it’s a common issue these days), so I need the head-up display for speed, gear, and revs. Too bad the rev bar sits too high in the screen, and that centimeter of extra height makes a big difference to forward visibility. And if I drop the display down, the speed disappears off the bottom.

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Also, the front seats are superb...if you’re sitting in them. If you’re behind them, however, they do a thorough job of dominating your view forward, replacing light with black plastic. Those in the back often complain about how they feel hemmed in and how dark it seems. And this in a car with pale gray Silverstone leather.

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There’s a BMW phone app, too, that has been a source of constant amusement in the office. Using the on-board surround-view cameras, it lets you have a look around the car in real time. So, if one of your colleagues has borrowed the car for the weekend, you can freak them out by sending them pictures, criticizing their parking and so on. Highly helpful.

What else do you do if you have an M5?

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The chaps from Kurupt FM popped down to the TG test track recently. The M5 was roped in for Decoy to drive, filled with enough cameras to make seeing where he was going very difficult indeed. He normally drives a Mk3 Golf GTI...and 600hp took a bit of getting used to.

So we got our own handy driver to show them how it was done.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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