Great moments in M
BMW’s go-fast division is poised to uncork its next generation super sedan, writes John Carey
GREATNESS sometimes skips a generation. The current BMW M5, though it is descended from a line of great high-performance sedans, lacks the born-to-rule authority of its awesome ancestors.
Now BMW’s M Division is preparing a successor it believes can restore the big Bavarian’s regal reputation. This new M5, due late this year, will not be like any of the previous five models to wear the badge.
So different, in fact, that BMW’s M Division believes the world needs a little time to get its collective head around what they’ve done. Unlike every M5 before it, this will be an allwheel drive car … and, like every M5 in history so far, it will be a rear-drive car.
To explain how the new M5 works, BMW took a select group of media inside its highsecurity Miramas testing ground in the south of France to drive precious prototypes.
“When we started with the car, about four years ago, there was a discussion,” recalls Dirk Hacker.
M Division’s engineering chief says rear-drive, fourwheel drive and doing both versions were all considered. Obvious options but, he says, there was one more.
“This is the other idea, the new idea,” Häcker says as he points at a camouflaged car nearby. “The new idea I think is a very special one.”
It’s also simple. Basically, it’s M Division’s version of the BMW xDrive tech used in allwheel-drive models such as the X5 SUV. Naturally enough it’s called M xDrive.
The M5 operates in all- wheel drive until the driver requests rear-drive only, which disconnects drive to the front axle. This isn’t going to happen by accident …
The default start-up mode for the new M5 is 4WD engaged and DSC (BMW’s label for electronic stability control) on. With a short press of the DSC button in the centre console, the car switches to M Dynamic Mode and 4WD Sport, a set-up that sends more power to the rear than the normal 4WD.
It takes a long and deliberate press on the DSC button to switch it off. Once in this mode, the car’s control display allows the driver to choose from 4WD, 4WD Sport or 2WD.
The last should only be selected by skilled drivers. In this mode, it’s very easy to get the rear end of the M5 sliding and smoking.
With a genius like BMW works driver Timo Glock behind the wheel, this big sedan can be made to waltz around Miramas going sideways almost all the time. He makes it look easy but it ain’t …
The car is a little quicker and much easier to manage in 4WD Sport and DSC Off. This mode was designed, with the aid of expert drivers, for speed and fun on dry racetracks.
And the car is great fun to whip around both the dry and wet circuits at Miramas. From the driver’s seat, it’s clear that expert German engineers have taken great care to make the engine, gearbox, all-wheel drive, steering and suspension work well together.
The vital software that orchestrates the way the mechanical parts interact is harmoniously heavenly. This car may be fierce but it’s userfriendly.
Exactly how much power the new M5 will have is something the M Division men won’t tell. Its engine is an updated version of the twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 in the current car.
“We have about 600 horsepowers (450kW) and about 700 Newton metres,” is all engineering chief Hacker is prepared to divulge. It will rip from standstill to 100km/h in under 3.5 seconds, he promises.
Production of the new M5 won’t begin until November, so there’s still time for some finetuning work. But the target numbers mentioned by Hacker make it obvious what the M5 is being bred to beat.
It’s the new Mercedes-AMG E63, another quick and loud $250,000 super sedan from Germany with a 450kW twinturbo V8 and all-wheel drive.
The M Division team seems quietly confident of victory when the inevitable comparisons take place. And rightly so.