All-wheel drive, au­to­matic trans­mis­sion sound like heresy, but make M5 even faster

Regina Leader-Post - - DRIVING - COSTA MOUZOURIS Driving.ca

Look through the mar­ket­ing lit­er­a­ture for the 2018 BMW M5 and you’ll see sev­eral images of the hy­per-sporty Ger­man sedan slid­ing side­ways with the rear tires smoking. Same goes for the pro­mo­tional videos, where you’ll see driv­ers such as Bruno Spen­gler drift­ing the M5 at high speed, en­gine scream­ing, and trail­ing a gi­ant cloud of blue smoke. There’s noth­ing un­usual about this brash but fit­ting por­trayal of what has be­come a leg­endary high-per­for­mance rear-drive sedan. What is un­usual is that this sixth-gen­er­a­tion M5 is no longer a rear driver.

But be­fore driving purists cry foul on BMW drop­ping rear-drive propul­sion from the driver-fo­cused M5, note that al­though the new M5 uses the same me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents of BMW’s xDrive AWD sys­tem, this car’s M xDrive is dif­fer­ent in its op­er­a­tion, and it can be switched to 2WD mode. And de­spite the ad­di­tion of the AWD com­po­nents, the M5 hasn’t gained any weight, and in fact un­der­cuts the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion car by 15 kilo­grams, at 1,855 kg.

One last thing that might ruf­fle a few purists’ feath­ers: the M5 now has a true, torque-con­verter au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with eight speeds; gone is the sev­en­speed dual-clutch gear­box.

Of course, with any suc­ceed­ing M5 gen­er­a­tion comes more power, so al­though you’ll find the same 4.4-litre, twin-turbo

V-8 un­der the hood, it has been re­tuned to pump out 40 more horse­power, now at 600 hp, and 53 pound-feet more torque, at 553.

The main pow­er­train dif­fer­ence is the new M xDrive, and what dis­tin­guishes it from BMW’s stan­dard xDrive is that it can be switched to drive only the rear wheels. It can only be done with the DSC off, which should ap­pease the naysay­ers by pro­vid­ing a more en­gag­ing, if slower, track-driving ex­pe­ri­ence. BMW added 4WD for the sim­ple pur­pose of drop­ping lap times, as it pro­vides more trac­tion at cor­ner exit.

The car is mostly driven by the rear wheels, with the front wheels only pro­vid­ing a mea­sure of pulling power if the rear tires are over­whelmed and lose trac­tion, un­less you’re in 2WD mode, in which case you’d bet­ter have quick hands and a swift right foot.

How much more trac­tion do you get with four driving wheels? The new M5 is al­most a sec­ond quicker than the pre­vi­ous model from zero to 100 km/h, at 3.4 sec­onds, and a 40-hp in­crease alone can’t ac­count for that much of a change.

The front sus­pen­sion has stiffer mounts on the toe links, the lower wish­bones and anti-roll bars are stiffer, and the rear-axle chas­sis link­ages are re­in­forced with an ad­di­tional X-brace and trans­verse strut. While 19-inch wheels are stan­dard in other mar­kets, Cana­dian M5s get 20-inch­ers mounted with 275/35 front and 285/35 rear Pirelli P-Zero tires that pro­vide tena­cious grip on the track. Op­tional car­bon­ce­ramic brakes, iden­ti­fied by their gold-coloured calipers (our test cars were equipped with them), re­duce weight by 23 kg.

Sus­pen­sion, steer­ing ef­fort and throt­tle re­sponse modes can be set in­di­vid­u­ally to Com­fort, Sport or Sport Plus via three but­tons on the cen­tre con­sole, so you can eas­ily cus­tom­ize your pref­er­ences while driving. You can also save your per­son­al­ized modes and ac­cess them im­me­di­ately through two bright red M but­tons at the steer­ing wheel. Ac­tu­ally, be­tween 2WD, 4WD and all the avail­able drive modes there are just too many vari­a­tions to list here, but you can go from near cushy ur­ban-friend­li­ness to all-out track-at­tack mode in sec­onds.

In prac­tice the M xDrive sys­tem works re­mark­ably well on the track, es­pe­cially in M Dy­namic (MDM) 4WD Sport mode. This rear-bi­ased AWD mode re­duces elec­tronic in­ter­ven­tion enough to let you drive be­yond the lim­its of trac­tion, al­low­ing the rear end to break out a bit when throt­tling hard out of cor­ners, while pro­vid­ing a more force­ful drive than if the rear wheels alone were driving.

There’s ac­tu­ally still a fair amount of elec­tronic in­ter­ven­tion in MDM, and if you in­duce un­der­steer you’ll find your­self push­ing down on the gas pedal with not much hap­pen­ing un­til the car re­cov­ers from the fron­tend push. But that’s more an in­di­ca­tion that you over­drove the car go­ing into the cor­ner, and that the in­ter­ven­tion most likely saved you a trip onto the run-off area. Hit the right bal­ance of throt­tle and speed at cor­ner exit, how­ever, and you’re fly­ing. On the track the car ac­cel­er­ates hard enough to nail you to the seat be­tween cor­ners, and han­dling is pre­dictable and very for­giv­ing, which is sur­pris­ing given the car’s size.

The eight-speed trans­mis­sion is a mar­vel on the track

(and I don’t even have to add

“for an au­to­matic”) and its shift times are only mil­lisec­onds slower than a well-tuned du­al­clutch, barely no­tice­able on the track, while pay­ing div­i­dends in smooth­ness on the road.

The torque-con­verter lock-up en­gages once you get go­ing, so there’s re­ally no lag be­tween what you ask of the trans­mis­sion and what it does.

On the road with the drive and sus­pen­sion modes ad­justed to their soft­est set­tings, the M5 is re­mark­ably com­posed and quiet, be­hav­ing like a well-man­nered lux­ury au­to­mo­bile and em­pha­siz­ing the car’s dual per­son­al­i­ties: dig­ni­fied grand tourer and tu­mul­tuous track-day weapon.

With the ad­di­tional power and two more driving wheels, it’s no sur­prise that the 2018 BMW M5 costs al­most $10,000 more than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, start­ing at $113,300. It will ar­rive at deal­ers in early spring.

The first-gen­er­a­tion M5 was in­tro­duced in 1984. Since then, dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions have been pow­ered by in-line sixes, V-8s and V-10s, and a va­ri­ety of gear­boxes have been used. How­ever, one thing they’d al­ways re­tained was a rear-drive pow­er­train.

That changes with the 2018 BMW M5, and this new M xDrive ver­sion will prob­a­bly usher in a new era of high per­for­mance.


The 2018 BMW M5 does zero to 100 km/h, in 3.4 sec­onds and its 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V-8 un­der the hood has been re­tuned to pump out 600 hp.


With drive and sus­pen­sion modes ad­justed to their soft­est set­tings, the M5 is re­mark­ably com­posed and quiet.

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