Few sports saloons can rival the BMW M5 for high-performance pedigree. The original made its debut nearly 30 years ago, and the famous four-door has been setting the class standard ever since.
This latest, fifth-generation model promises to be the best ever. Not only is it more powerful and even faster than before, it’s also cleaner and more fuel efficient. At the heart of the barnstorming M5 is a muscular 552bhp twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, which replaces the Formula One-inspired 5.0-litre V10. Better still, the old car’s clunky semi-automatic gearbox has made way for an updated version of BMW’s clever seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
And that’s not all, because the chassis has a host of hi-tech additions aimed at delivering a razor-sharp driving experience. Adaptive dampers, a clever electronic limited-slip differential and specially tuned Servotronic steering all feature on the latest M5.
However, the car does a good job of hiding its incredible high-performance potential. Eagle-eyed enthusiasts will spot the subtle bodykit, quad exhausts and small M-badged air vents, plus the multispoke 19-inch alloys that hide huge cross-drilled and vented disc brakes. But otherwise, the big BMW looks like any other model in the 5 Series line-up.
It’s a similar story inside, where owners will be treated to the same spacious and beautifully constructed interior as the standard car. The dashboard is clearly laid-out and attractively styled, while the switchgear operates precisely.
Look carefully, though, and you’ll spot some clues to the car’s top-of-the-range status. There are small M logos on the dials, a pair of heavily bolstered front seats, plus distinctive red and blue stitching on the thick-rimmed leather steering wheel.
What’s more, located next to the stubby gearlever is a trio of buttons that allows you to fine-tune the steering, suspension, throttle and stability control system. Drivers can pick from Comfort, Sport and Sport+ settings to suit either the road conditions or their mood – although the Sport+ damper setting results in a rock-hard ride.
Regardless of what mode you’ve selected, the M5’s engine always delivers explosive acceleration and a muted V8 rumble. At our damp test track the excellent traction control system allowed the car to scorch from 0-60mph in only 4.4 seconds – that’s a full six-tenths faster than the XFR. Mid-range pace is equally devastating, enabling you to overtake slow-moving traffic in the blink of an eye.
The M5’s seven-speed gearbox is a masterpiece, too. In auto mode it delivers smooth and relaxing shifts, while the wheel-mounted paddles provide rapid-fire manual changes when you’re attacking your favourite back road. Only a slight jerkiness around town lets this transmission down.
Despite its huge dimensions, the M5 feels remarkably agile. Direct steering, excellent body control and limpet-like grip inspire real confidence through corners. Yet switch off the traction control and the BMW will indulge in huge, showboating tailslides. And when you want the fun to stop, the brakes are powerful and progressive.
There is a catch, though. The BMW’s limits are so staggeringly high that in everyday use it feels a little detached and clinical. To really enjoy this car you’ll need the wide-open spaces of a private test track, where you can explore the BMW’s awesome performance and poise.
Still, on the road the M5 can be turned into a refined and relaxing family express at the touch of a button. Select Comfort+ mode and you’ll be rewarded with an amazingly supple ride and little noise. Sadly, there’s a price to pay for the M5’s incredible abilities – and it’s a big one. The car is a hefty £7,690 more expensive than the XFR, at £73,040.
Will this eye-watering price tag count against the BMW in the final reckoning? Or can its remarkable talents shine through and allow the car to reassert its place at the top?
Chart position: 2
WHY: This is the 5 Series we’ve all been waiting for. Low-emission EfficientDynamics models are all very well, but the new M5 will get petrolheads hot under the collar.