BMW M5

Super-saloon is tempting choice

Few sports saloons can match the BMW M5’s pedigree. The original car debuted in 1985, and the legendary four-door has been getting faster and more powerful ever since. The latest version packs 500bhp, 10 cylinders, a seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox and a hi-tech chassis. It’s four years old, but the big German is still the class benchmark.

As with the Jag, the BMW looks discreet, with flared wheelarches, quad tailpipes, a bootlid spoiler and M5-badged gills in the front wings setting it apart from the regular car. Climb aboard and you’ll find the cabin is no more extrovert. The biggest clues to the M5’s potential are the chunky sport seats and thick-rimmed steering wheel, with its eye-catching red and blue stitching and prominent gearshift paddles.

You’ll also spot the stubby gear selector, surrounded by buttons to control the three-stage dampers, stability control and gearbox settings. There’s even a button to remap the ECU, switching the V10’s output between 400bhp and 500bhp!

Elsewhere, the interior is near identical to the standard 5-Series – so you get the much improved iDrive control found on all the lastest cars. Build and material quality are first rate, and there’s more rear space than in the Jag. Only the fixed  rear bench limits the BMW’s versatility – although a roomy M5 estate is available. Hit the start button and the 5.0-litre V10 fires with a diesel-like rattle, but once you’re on the move the sound improves. On the track, the M5’s hard-edged howl proved addictive, giving the car a race-bred feel the XFR simply can’t match.

Yet against the clock, the BMW trailed. While it matched the Jag’s 5.7-second 0-60mph time at our wet test track, the M5 doesn’t provide the same brutal mid-range acceleration. It covered 30-70mph in-gear in 5.1 seconds – that’s 1.2 seconds down on the Jag. This is because its 520Nm of torque – 105Nm less than the XFR – is delivered at an unusually high 6,100rpm. That means the M5’s engine needs to be worked hard.

The flawed seven-speed gearbox doesn’t help matters – even in its fastest setting, changes are clunky. There is a full auto mode, but it’s not a patch on the smooth and intuitive Jag transmission, so you’re better off using the paddles.

Fortunately, the M5’s balanced chassis does its best to distract you from this. Turn the steering wheel and the BMW reacts instantly, while exceptional grip makes the car feel incredibly agile in corners. Only the shortage of steering feedback is cause for complaint.

The sporting responses come at the expense of refinement, though. Even with the dampers in their softest setting, the M5 has an uncomfortably firm ride and lacks the Jag’s suppleness. Factor in the £65,000 price tag, and the BMW is in danger of losing its class crown.

Details

WHY: Four years after launch, the BMW M5 is still the king of the super-saloon hill. Can the Jaguar knock it off its perch?

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