Fürstenfeldbruck airfield, a stone’s throw away from the famous Hofbräuhaus.
This article first published in MOTOR Magazine November 2004.
We’re number three in a row of silver M5s, waiting for the flagman’s thumbs up. This is the right place to try launch control, the quickest way to accelerate from standstill to maximum velocity.
To get into LC mode, you need to select S for sequential, dial in the fastest of six shift speeds, deactivate stability control, push the gear lever forward and hold it there. Now floor the throttle, wait until the needle of the rev counter hovers around the 4000rpm mark, release the gear lever - and brace yourself for a truly explosive start.
The BMW lifts its nose, squats its tail and spins the rear tyres in a relatively controlled mix of grip and blue-grey smoke. Before you can breathe out, the computer whips in second gear at 8250rpm sharp, then third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. That’s right: there are seven forward ratios to choose from, a world-first for a manumatic.
About two-thirds down the airstrip, the rev counter overrules the driver’s pedal-to-the-metal effort. Although the new M5 could easily exceed the 306km/h (190mph) mark, the Bavarians decided to stick to the voluntary restriction of 250km/h (155mph). Thanks to an unexpectedly tolerant ECU, v-max equals an indicated 274km/h (170mph)...
Against the stopwatch, the 378kW M5 is in the same league as the 336kW Audi RS6 and the 355kW Mercedes E55. All three cars can storm in 4.7sec from 0-100hm/h, and all three are not allowed to go as fast as they are capable of, in theory.
What the BMW does differently has to do with heartbeat, passion and involvement. Putting the M5 through the its paces is a spine-tingling, goosepimple-producing, pupil-widening experience. This is definitely not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sports sedan. Instead, the Munich power brokers have created a high-performance five-seater which can be fine-tuned to meet individual preferences and individual driving styles. And we’re not just talking about a brisker transmission setting here.
No - the new M5 invites you to calibrate its engine, gearbox, steering, traction control and damper characteristics. The 5.0-litre V10 offers three performance programmes labelled P400, P500, and P500 S, denoting 298kW, 378kW and 378kW in sync with an ultra-sharp throttle action.
That’s the good news. The bad news concerns the accessibility of some of these functions. To crack the system, you first need to get a hang of iDrive, the on-board mouse which will turn into a poisoned rat in the wake of one wrong twist or push.
Right above its control is the even more significant M button. Push it, and the power output will automatically jump to 378kW, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) will switch to M Dynamic Mode (MDM known as track mode in the M3 CSL), Electronic Damper Control (EDC) will stiffen up the dampers, and Drivelogic will set your preferred shift speed.
Although the new top-of-the-line 5-series looks like 545i on steroids, it breaks plenty of new ground beneath its gung-ho skin.
Through the cones, the relatively conventional rack-and-pinion two-stage Servotronic device is not quite as zig-zag-sharp as the variable-rate unit, but it is more fluent and better balanced overall; it feels more positive and less artificial, and it is beautifully progressive in terms of gearing and effort.
The dual-compound radially ventilated and cross-drilled metal discs fitted to the new M5 are also simply beyond reproach. Even when pushed to the limit, all one notices is a whiff of parfum de pad and a pit-stop-like cloud of dark dust that rises from the front wheels as the vehicle comes to a halt.
As soon as DSC takes a rest, the bespoke Z-rated 19in tyres work overtime. In the dry, there is full-throttle wheelspin in first (unlimited), second (plenty) and third gear (enough to change the colour of your hair in the middle of a fast bend).
Where grip greets gravel, the second-generation Conti Sport Contacts which have been developed especially for this car blend a narrow slip angle - vital for precise turn-ins - with a creamy breakaway behaviour - good for those long second-gear slides.
Like the M3, its bigger brother is fitted with the progressive M diff lock which automatically diverts the lion’s share of the torque to the wheel that can make the most of it. In extreme conditions, the locking ratio increases to 100 percent. Up to 550Nm of torque are relayed to the M differential via a new seven-speed sequential transmission.
Why did BMW stick to the SMG principle when just about everybody else switches to DKG twin-clutch arrangements?
Gerd Richter, technical director of BMW’s M division, has the answer: “An M model should always combine efficiency with emotion. That’s why there are six shift speeds to choose from, from velvet glove to racing glove. That’s why we cut the torque cake into seven slices.”
But even the singing-and-dancing seven-speeder SMG falls short in some departments. The most controversial issue concerns the shift paddles, which are attached to the steering wheel, not the steering column. This may be an advantage on race tracks, but it does not work so well in real life, which is dotted with 90-degree corners and hairpin bends.
After two days and over 500kms in the new M5, I would vote for a pair of large fixed actuators. I would also encourage Gerd Richter and his team to further hone the automatic mode.
This is the first M car which drives reasonably smoothly in D - but only as long as you stick to a rhythm which is familiar to the SMG brain. Unfortunately, the chips are still struggling to cope with out-of-the-normal manoeuvres, like sudden kickdowns or aborted overtaking attempts. For best results, choose a medium shift speed. Slow is valiumesque lethargic, fast is jerkingly abrupt.
Under the hood, only two pounds heavier than the now-defunct V8, the new V10 is in many respects a remarkable engine. Its only inherent oddity is that it comes in two kW configurations. When you turn the key, you activate P400 which stands for 400bhp (298kW).
Not enough grunt? Then press Power or hit the M button. Now there are precisely 507bhp (378kW) on tap. While both modes achieve the same top speed, there is a distinct difference in acceleration: 0.7sec from 0-100km/h (5.4 instead of 4.7sec) and 3.6sec from 0-78 km/h (125mph – in 18.0, instead of 14.4sec).
Could the real reason for P400 be the need to ensure better reliability and durability?
“Absolutely not!” protests Richter. “Every conceivable development programme was successfully absolved in P500. But in today’s busy traffic, you just don’t need 500bhp (373kW) all the time. I drove to the ‘Ring in P400 the other day, averaging over 100mph and 13.9l/100km.“
The man has a point. Our test car, which was pushed hard in P500 over nine-tenths of the way, returned a sobering 23.5l/100km.
Like all M engines, the V10 is a normally-aspirated, high-revving unit. Although redlined at 8250rpm, it will briefly tolerate 8500rpm during full-throttle upshifts. As far as the peak twist action of 520Nm is concerned, the V10 does at a glance no better than last year’s V8. But look closer, and you will see that 80 percent of the maximum torque is available over a wide range of 5500 revolutions.
By extending the rev limit from 6600 to 8250rpm, the M5 engine has longer legs; by adding a seventh gear, it can spread its power more evenly; by putting the emphasis on high revs and low weight, there was no need to beef up the rest of its driveline in the way it is mandatory to complement an even brawnier turbocharged or supercharged unit.
Tipping the scales at 1755kg/3861lb, the 2005 M5 is not one pound heavier than the model it replaces. Particularly prominent are the trademark design elements such as ten-spoke alloy wheels, the four chromed tailpipes, the ellipsoid low-drag door mirrors and the sculptured ground-effect front and rear aprons which minimize axle lift.
Inside, we find a pair of expertly executed metal-rimmed round instruments, a not-so-pretty steering wheel with voluminous spokes, a made-to-measure transmission tunnel and power-operated, leather-trimmed sports seats with adjustable cushions, lumbar supports and side bolsters.
A neat detail touch is the well positioned head-up display. Like in a BMW Williams F1 racer, the driver faces a colour-keyed sectored analogue rev counter (green, orange, red), a gear indicator and a digital speedometer. When the satnav is on duty, the HUD shows instead a visual guidance by arrows and street names/numbers.
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Priced around $150,000, the new M5 is quite well equipped, but they still make you pay extra for a hole in the roof, for the useful adaptive cornering lights and for the infotainment pack with navigation, digital TV, phone and CD changer.
Amazingly enough, you don’t have to rev the engine hard to enjoy it. Ninety seven km/h (60mph) in seventh is a perfectly acceptable combination for flowing with traffic, and when you put the hoof down at 1800rpm in top gear there won’t be any gulps, hiccups or excuses.
While most comparable powerplants emphasise either power or torque, the 5.0-litre unit from the Bavarian Motor Works can play both instruments, and it plays them exceptionally well. As a result, its sweet spot ranges almost from standstill to top speed. There are virtually no dents in the torque curve and no deflections in the rpm ladder, there is no ratio too short or too long, and there is relentless dynamic and acoustic stimulation.
Sounds like the quadrature of the circle? It is, as long as you can ignore its fuel-consumption penalty and are prepared to leave the gear lever in S.
The new BMW M5 is all about involving performance and inituitive action. It is as stable as its rivals in a straight line, but it does not penalise you with an inert and lifeless steering. It is as fast through corners, but the handling balance is always transparent and unambiguous. It is as strong on the brake and as energetic on the throttle, but it never forgets to generate feel and feedback.
Although the same could be said about the outgoing M5, its replacement introduces a new dimension of power and an even better-balanced chassis. Take, for instance, its ride, which is sufficiently compliant even on critical surfaces. Consider the steering action which is even more accurate and communicative.
Check out the composure at the limit, which is immensely confidence inspiring. Gone are the initial understeer, the body roll and the hardening of the steering during brisk changes of direction.
Just about the only car which can rival it in terms of A-to-B speed, smiles per miles and everyday usability is the latest 911 Carrera S.
The Porsche costs roughly the same money and it may rank even higher on a street-cred scale, but the BMW offers five seats, a family-size trunk and a less challenging attitude when pushed.
I’m afraid I want one: this car is the most sensible anti-depressant you can buy, and one does not even require a prescription to obtain it.