BMW M5 UK drive

24 Nov, 2011 2:36pm Mat Watson

We drive the new M5 on UK roads for the first time - how does it fare?

Verdict

5
The new BMW M5 is a stunning piece of kit, and the switch to turbocharging is justified by the flexibility of the power delivery and a 45 per cent improvement in economy over the old car. Handling is improved too, yet so is comfort. The only real downside is the £73,000 price. For that money you could have a 520d for everyday use and a 1 Series M Coupe for the weekends. But that would be missing the point of the M5, which is potentially all the car you’ll ever need.
A car as special as the new BMW M5 requires a test drive with a difference. So for our first time behind the wheel of the UK version of the 552bhp supersaloon, we drove it 1,000 miles from the Pyrenees in northern Spain all the way to Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire.

The first thing that strikes you about the M5 is how subtle it looks. It has a beefier bodykit and wider wheelarches than the standard model, plus exclusive 19-inch alloy wheels, but it doesn’t really shout about its performance potential. Specify your M5 in a dark colour, and it can easily blend into the background. 
 
As soon as you fire up the new 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, you’re left in no doubt about the M5’s potential. This is the first time that the M5 has used turbocharging, but BMW purists need not worry. With 552bhp on tap, it delivers relentless acceleration which doesn’t fade even when the speedometer is showing triple figures. It’s the 680Nm of torque that’s most telling. Not only is that more than a Lamborghini Aventador has, but it’s all available from below 2,500rpm. 
 
Thankfully, the clever M differential does a good job of putting all that power down onto the road, while the well judged stability control never feels overly intrusive. If there is one problem with the engine, it’s the noise. Inside the cabin it’s somewhat muted, especially when you compare it to the thunderous naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 in the Mercedes E63 AMG.
 
As recompense, the M5’s new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is light years ahead of anything you will find in the competition. Shifts are fast, efficient and – in Comfort setting – seamless. And that brings us on to the M5’s adjustability.

As well as being able to alter the speed of the gearshifts, you can also adjust the steering weight, throttle response and suspension stiffness between three different settings. Factor in three different settings on the traction control – On, Sport and Off – and you have 243 possible different combinations.
 
On the winding Spanish mountain roads at the start of our journey, the M5 proved itself to be a highly entertaining sports car. The sharp steering, impressive body control and confidence-inspiring grip allow you to cover ground remarkably quickly.

In reality, most of the time the car is best left in Comfort mode, as it’s surprising just what a relaxing car the M5 can be. It’s quiet, comfortable, and, with the suspension in its softest setting, rides like a luxury limousine, even on badly broken British tarmac.
 
This makes it great for long journeys. Even the economy isn’t as bad as you might expect - cruising at 70mph for two hours on the Autoroute we saw an average of 28.8mpg on the trip computer.
 
Drive the car in anger though, and you’ll get nowhere near this, as we discovered at Cadwell Park. The tight circuit also highlighted the M5’s main weakness – its 1,800kg bulk. This soon took its toll on the brakes, and after just a few laps they had faded quite badly.

But how many people will drive their M5 on track? Not many. And as a fast road the car the BMW makes quite a compelling package, not only due to its blistering pace, but also its incredible comfort.

Key specs

* Price: £73,040
* Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, 552bhp
* Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, RWD
* 0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
* Top speed: 155mph (limited)
* Economy: 28.5mpg
* CO2: 232g/km
* Equipment: Adaptive dampers, leather sports seats, sat-nav, climate control, keyless entry, 19-inch alloys
* On sale: Now
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