Still the benchmark

Now offering supercar performance without sacrifices in comfort and luxury, the BMW M5 shows Botchi Santos it can still reign over a competitive supersedan segment
Feb 11, 2009

THE BMW M5 defined the über-German sports sedan - the original brute in a suit. All M5s have proudly been the standard by which all other sports sedans have been judged. Mercedes-Benz and Audi have tried but neither has matched the M5's repertoire of balance, utility, power and sheer fun factor. Sure, there are other more powerful sports sedans that can lay waste to precious rubber at will. There are some that are too clever by half, leaving out the precious tactile interface that so binds the sports sedan's soul with that of true thoroughbred sports cars. And that is why the M5 has excelled. It feels like a proper car - not something powered by ultra-fast and clever silicon bits and pieces. It is organic, it feels alive, and more importantly, it encourages you, the driver, to drive harder, brake later, corner quicker.

Suffice it to say that the M in the M5 means a lot of things: ‘magnificent', ‘marvelous', ‘mena-cing' to other cars on the road, even ‘majestic' as it occupies a space in every enthusiast's heart. Whether you love it or loathe it, you treat it with great respect - as a passenger, as a pedestrian and ultimately as the driver. It doesn't take fools lightly. You run out of superlatives to describe this outrageous car.

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Well, I thought of another meaning for M while I had the car. It's ‘matakaw'. As in matakaw sa gas. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the M5 should be banned. In the few days that I had it, the M5 guzzled gas at a rate of a thousand pesos a day! Un-friggin'-believable! Another unbelievable thing is that it consumed almost half a liter of oil in the few days I had it, although the tech people at Autohaus BMW (and some M5 owners I talked to) said that it's normal for the engine to consume some oil when it's below 10,000 kilometers or so.

OK, I've taken that out of my head, shoulders, heart and conscience. Let's go back to the really marvelous stuff that makes me want to buy one. Besides, focusing on gas consumption in a car such as the mighty M5 is missing the point completely. Want something frugal? Get a BMW 530d instead.

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First off, it's a full five-seat executive luxury sedan. To the untrained eye, the M5 looks just like a regular 5-Series, especially in simple colors like white. Only enthusiasts will notice the quad exhaust pipes, the reprofiled front bumper with huge ducts to feed cold air into the engine, and the staggered front and rear Continental rubber on gorgeous multispoke 19-inch wheels. This particular model had the wheels of a BMW M6 mounted - a simpler twin five-spoke design finished in smoked gray that's gorgeous and unique.

Getting inside, the powered seats adjust in every conceivable direction. You can actually get lost trying to find the optimal seating position, and steering wheel reach-and-rake adjustment further complicates things. But patience is a virtue. Take the time to settle in, find the best and most comfortable position, and let the excitement build up. Think automotive foreplay at its best. Besides, all that leather and the iDrive add to the anticipation. Well, with the iDrive, you can pre-program the suspension settings from mild to wild, and the shift speed of the seven-speed SMG from relaxed to telepathic.

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Stick the key into the slot, press the start button, and be amazed as 10 cylinders, four camshafts and 40 valves start their mechanical symphony, which sounds like a diesel engine on a cold start. Really. OK, maybe she didn't have 36Cs but she makes up for it in many other ways.

The gear lever is quite confusing for a newbie M5 driver. There are three parallel gates - one for reverse, one for automatic mode, and another for neutral occupying the middle slot. Sticking it all the way to the right means it's literally hammering time. Be careful not to rip out the shifter. Better yet, use the paddle shifters behind the three-spoke tiller. Trust me, it's easier to control the steering motions on a fast, cambered multi-apex sweeper with both hands on the wheel.

Surprisingly, on my first drive, the M5 felt a wee bit, er, frigid? Sure, the suspension was perfect even for the pockmarked highway that is EDSA, and there's enough compromise of control and comfort programmed into the adaptive electronic dampers. Even the run-flats felt fine, as they normally feel queasy compared to regular rubber. Then I discovered the M-button. Doh!

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Like a little kid who stole some chocolates from the candy store, I pressed the M button and held onto the steering wheel for what promised to be the ride of my life.

Well, not exactly the ride of my life, but with three other people inside, it sure was theirs! Flat-out on Libis, the M5's Continental tires were roasting on an open barbecue. The 285s were just not wide enough to control 507hp on a fully-laden M5 going full-throttle.

Thankfully, the car remained on top of things, thanks to dynamic traction and stability control. The M5 allows some degree of slip before intervention occurs, just like a proper sports sedan should behave. None of that electronic nannying spoiling a make-out session even before it's begun.

It felt fast with a full load, but how would it feel with just lil' ol' me inside? That's when things started getting lairy. The run-flats kill the ride once you go crazy on the speedo, and they unsettle your confidence to keep your foot planted. The steering could also weigh up better at higher speeds, but then again, the M5 should also be easier to drive on a daily basis.

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So how does the M5 match up with its rivals? Well, it's still the benchmark for the sports sedan segment. But its key rivals have been watching BMW closely and have raised their own respective games. The M5 still trumps every-one, but by a smaller margin.

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