We take the wheel of disguised pre-production supersaloon to see if it lives up to the M car legend.
We won’t be able to give a definitive verdict on the M5 until we can drive it on the road, but this early prototype shows a huge amount of promise. The V8 twin-turbo is not only more efficient than the old V10, it also transforms the M5 into a genuine everyday car, as it delivers more torque lower in the rev range. In addition, the new chassis and powertrain settings allow drivers to adjust the car to their taste more than ever. As far as we can tell, the sole downside is that BMW isn’t planning to release a tyre-smoking estate version.
They say you should never change a winning formula – and with BMW’s M5 hailed as the ultimate supersaloon for the past 20 years, there’s no better example of the rule. However, the latest model is not only the first turbocharged variant, it’s also the first to come with a dual-clutch gearbox. The formula has changed, then – so is the newest M5 just as good?
It certainly looks the part. The car we drove was wearing camouflage, but BMW has already unveiled its M5 concept, which reveals a range of subtle styling tweaks that will mark out the newcomer’s performance credentials. These include a more aggressive front bumper, small bootlid spoiler and quad exhaust pipes.
Inside, the changes are just as restrained. Trademark blue and red M stitching adorns the steering wheel, plus M badging features on the dials, gearstick and door sills.
Under the bonnet is a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, similar to the unit found in the X5M and X6M, albeit updated with revised induction and exhausts. In those cars it produces 547bhp, but in the M5, power has risen slightly to 552bhp. By contrast, the previous generation offered 500bhp.
Any concerns about the turbo will be forgotten once you start driving. Throttle response isn’t quite as sharp as that of the old V10 – although it’s still pretty close – yet the benefits elsewhere are huge. Everyday usability is improved, and the range-topper is now much more relaxing to drive around town.
When you do begin to push the limits, the new engine has more than enough shove. And while it doesn’t surge for the red line quite like the old M5, it’s noticeably quicker, and should be able to sprint from 0-62mph in around 4.5 seconds.
So what of that dual-clutch box? Again, it’s a huge improvement over the old car, which featured a jerky SMG automated manual. Smooth and lightning-fast shifts allow not only for blistering acceleration but relaxing low-speed cruising, too.
A new seventh ratio – as well as EfficientDynamics tweaks such as stop-start and brake energy recuperation – help boost economy by about 25 per cent, which should mean around 25mpg combined. Interestingly, the M5’s fuel tank is larger than in the regular 5-Series, and BMW says a 400-mile motorway range is possible.
To enhance its credentials as an all-rounder, the M5 comes with three settings – Comfort, Sport or Sport+ – for the steering, powertrain and dampers. In Comfort, the steering is too light – although all modes offer more feedback than the previous M5 – plus, the throttle response is dulled slightly and there’s a more supple ride. Sport seems to be the best all-round option, providing the right blend of sharp throttle response and keen direction changes without being too firm and twitchy. Sport+ mode is best reserved for race tracks.
We were allowed to drive the M5 only on ice, so it’s difficult to make any concrete assertions about grip. However, engineers assured us understeer is resisted very well for a car that’s so large. And even without any on-road driving, it’s easy to see that rather than changing the legendary M5 formula completely, BMW has simply enhanced it – to make this latest model one of the best all-round M cars yet.
Rival: Mercedes E63 AMGTHE latest E63 – which was unveiled at the New York Motor Show – has a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, instead of the previous car’s naturally aspirated 6.3-litre. It trails the BMW on power, with 541bhp, but still covers 0-62mph in only 4.2 seconds.