2012 BMW M5 Review
A luxury sedan and a sports car, all for less than six-figures
Ferraris and Lamborghinis all fill space on many a youngster's bedroom walls, but there is one car that makes for great wallpaper and isn't a low-slung two seat exotic: the BMW M5. Steeped in rich motorsport pedigree, the M5 continues to be the most outrageous German sedan on the market. We've driven it on the winding back roads of rural Spain, and on the twisty tarmac of Ascari race circuit. We invite you to read on and discover the subtleties of M's latest family sized monster.
|1. BMW's new M5 is the first to be turbocharged, offering 30% better fuel economy while producing 560 hp and 501 lb-ft of torque.
2. Standard launch control allows you to reach 60 mph in only 3.7 seconds.
3. Base price starts at $90,695
Unassuming from a distance, the M5 is a covert agent of speed. It does not yell or rumble about to the firing of each piston. When being driven gently, it responds with gentle and polite roadway behavior. The magic of the M5 lies in its duality - its ability to combine comfort and luxury with speed and dynamism. M cars have long had this split personality, but in BMW's latest M5, the contrast is more pronounced. In sleeping giant form, the M5 is as luxurious and comfortable as a 7 Series - but in angry hyena form, it becomes a proper sports car.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
The much-loved naturally aspirated V10 has been abandoned in favor of a smaller, force-fed V8. At first glance this is all bad news - but stick around long enough for a drive and the new twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 will fight hard to win your appreciation.
The biggest single negative leveled against turbocharged engines is turbo lag. Thanks to a boat load of advanced engine tech, including variable valve timing, "Valvetronic" variable valve lift, "Hot V" reverse airflow through the head (air now enters from the outside of the 'V' and feeds turbochargers mounted within the 'V' banks of the engine) and precision high-pressure direct injection, BMW has been able to improve efficiency and reduce emissions by 30 percent, while significantly increasing power and torque figures from the previous engine.
At full song, the internally designated S63tu M engine produces 560 hp from 5750 to 7000 rpm and 501 ft-lbs of torque from 1500 rpm to 5750 rpm. Redline is now set at 7200 rpm, while the previous M5's V10 revved on to 8250 rpm. While we will miss the high-revving, melodious V10 of yore, we won't miss its thirst for premium – and the low torque numbers that made it less responsive when driven lightly. We have no doubt that the new turbo M5 engine is a better all-round power plant that allows for improved everyday usability while giving nothing up on the racetrack. EPA fuel consumption estimates give the M5 a 17 mpg city rating with 22 mpg on the highway.
While the engine is the heart of any M car, it’s far from the only critical component. And like the engine, other parts of the vehicle have been changed just as dramatically. Also of note is the directly bolted rear subframe, which does away with any rubber or plastic bushings. This method of connecting the rear subframe to the frame is usually reserved for race cars, but in order to improve both feel and performance, M have taken the most aggressive chassis design approach possible. We like it. Thanks to advanced suspension design and months of fine-tuning, the M5 is still comfortable when driven in comfort mode despite its race car backbone.
DROP THE HAMMER
All of the above information is well and good, but it doesn't paint the full picture of the M5's performance envelope. Nothing, aside from unleashing the M5 on a racetrack, could ever give you a full perspective of its performance. It is simply too fast to fully unleash on public roads. The bull in a China shop analogy comes to mind. Lurid wheel-spin and opposite-lock drifts would culminate in either jail time, a collision, or a guilty habit that plagues you during every waking moment - prodding you to go out for yet another wild drive.
Thankfully, BMW allowed us plenty of track time on Spain's picturesque Ascari race circuit. With many elevation changes and a compilation of challenging corners copied from other famous racetracks around the world, Ascari proved a worthy litmus test of the M5's performance.
In a nutshell, the M5 behaves as a proper sports car once unleashed on the open circuit. BMW has included two "M" buttons on the steering wheel which enact a plethora of vehicle presets if pressed. I set up "M1" as my track setup, with all electronic nannies switched off and the suspension, transmission, throttle response and steering feel in their most aggressive settings. "M2" was set for relaxed driving will all nannies on, the suspension, throttle response and steering left in their most comfortable, sedate settings.
Private tests have managed 3.7 second 0-60 times in the M5, and after playing with the launch control, I do not doubt this figure. My strain-of-the-neck-o-meter tells me that I may have hit a few sub 4.0 second acceleration runs of my own.
Once on the racetrack the M5 immediately shrinks around you, feeling much more compact. Its considerable heft of 4,300 lbs is felt, but mostly in quick transitions and under braking. Steering feel is good, though, dare I say it, not great. It feels as if much of the satisfying feedback we've grown used to in older M cars has been siphoned away, leaving plenty of feel and feedback to get the job done, but not so much as to feel every pebble through the road surface. We miss this sensory-rich picture of the road surface previously painted by the M5.
A lap in the M5 feels something like this: full throttle down the back straight, you feel your hair swing back towards the trunk (even if you have short hair); you then feel every little hair stand straight up. This level of acceleration will literally give you goose bumps. Up through the gears you'll feel the M5 rifle from one to the next in rapid succession. The shifts are so quick you will barely feel them, acceleration is basically continuous since as one clutch lets go, the second one (in the 7-speed dual clutch tranny) is already biting down on the next gear.
Braking hard for the first corner you will again feel your hair swing 'round - this time to the front of your head. Your eyeballs may bulge slightly as you are hung by your seatbelt under massive G forces. Trail-braking into the corner, the M5 displays excellent front-end grip and minimal understeer. At apex your core will get sore as your abs and back work to fight the sideways forces. The new M5 is equipped with sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires sized 265/40R19 up front, 295/35R19 out back; this sticky rubber plays an important role in extracting every ounce of performance from the M5.
Back on the throttle you will once again feel the massive power of the M5 unleashed - all 560 hp at your service. With Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) switched the tail may swing wide, requiring a quick flick of opposite lock to keep the car on the proper trajectory. Up through the gears, it’s time to repeat the process through every corner until you either run out of brakes, tires, fuel, or stamina. Tracking the M5 is an otherworldly experience and if you're not one to frequent the racetrack, it will forever change your perspective of the M5.
THE DRIVE HOME
After a day at the racetrack you may think terrorizing public roadways is irresistible, but in fact, the opposite is true. I am a huge proponent of track days for this reason, because in some way, unleashing your sports car on the racetrack allows you to "get it out of your system." Now bound for the hotel, I pressed "M2" on the steering wheel and transformed my crazed racing machine into a passive luxury sedan.
Bumps in the road surface are swallowed up by the suspension, and with the engine hushed, the cabin becomes a tranquil place to relax and unwind from the excitement of the day - whether at the office or the track. The plush leather seats are supportive over long drives and the airy, modern interior design is easy on the eyes. All of the latest tech features are available including lane departure warning, heads-up display, and BMW's now brilliant iDrive infotainment system.
The Harman Kardon sound system deserves its own paragraph in this review - it exemplifies high fidelity sound. No matter the genre of music played, the sound system replicates each note with exquisite detail and precision. When the bass drops low the system responds with crisp, powerful sound - free of distortion even at high volume levels. The stereo in this car alone in nearly worth the price of admission.
As for practicality, you are missing nothing from the regular 5 Series sedan. The M5 features the same cavernous trunk space, generously dimensioned rear seats, and practical cubby holes and storage compartments. You can even mount a roof rack should you chose to take the M5 snowboarding.
BMW's M5 delivers on its promise to combine everyday usability with occasional track-day fun. Its muscular, bulging bodywork hints at its performance without appearing juvenile in its mission. The duality offered by the tiny "M" buttons on the steering wheel means that you are essentially buying two cars in one.
With this reasoning still in mind, that breaks the $90,695 price tag down to just over $45,000 per car. Remember this rationale carefully as you approach your significant other to suggest a drive down to your local BMW dealership. Stutter or get it wrong and the M5 may forever remain just a poster on your wall.