DIGNIFIED GRAND TOURER IS A TRACK-DAY WEAPON
All-wheel drive, automatic transmission sound like heresy, but make M5 even faster
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.