Eifel power: to the Nord­schleife in style


WHY WE’RE RUN­NING IT To as­cer­tain if so much power and four­wheel drive are as­sets or un­nec­es­sary ex­cess. And, well, be­cause it’s an M5…

Among the blind­ing green­ery of the Rhineland, there’s an iso­lated rib­bon of Tar­mac that flows between the sleepy spa town of Bad Neue­nahr and the al­to­gether less som­no­lent vil­lage of Nür­burg. It’s well sur­faced for the most part and the set­ting is com­pletely bu­colic. Ideal, say, for an E300 cab: stick the dampers in Com­fort, Bob Seger on the ra­dio. Not a worry in the world.

The funny thing is that above a cer­tain level of com­mit­ment, this same stretch be­comes an ut­terly bru­tal ex­am­i­na­tion of a car’s dy­namic reper­toire. There are sec­ond-, third- and even fourth-gear cor­ners of capri­cious pro­file and cam­ber changes where you wouldn’t Euro­tun­nel nib­bled a wheel. The ’Ring trip was done at 21.4mpg ex­pect. One se­quence isn’t un­like the in­fa­mous Corkscrew at La­guna Seca, for pity’s sake, and there’s a bend whose exit is not only blind but also con­cur­rent with an un­favourable sur­face change and a vi­cious com­pres­sion on the near­side. You’re spat out of it at the top of third gear.

It was mainly along this mar­vel­lous stretch that, in last week’s is­sue, the new BMW M3 CS made a con­vinc­ing case for it­self as the most en­gag­ing de­vice in M di­vi­sion’s cur­rent port­fo­lio. But it was a close-run thing. Why? Be­cause our M5 long-term test car could also be found in that pre­cise neck of the Ade­nauer For­est dur­ing the same week­end of the Nür­bur­gring 24 Hours. For out­right zip, ul­ti­mately it failed to match a car some 400kg lighter and with a sig­nif­i­cantly lower cen­tre of grav­ity, and nor was it quite so con­fi­dence in­spir­ing when the Armco loomed. But it was ar­guably the greater feat of en­gi­neer­ing purely for its as­tound­ing body con­trol and the fact that it was ac­tu­ally en­joy­able to punt along a road that could have been be­spoke-laid for a Lo­tus Ex­ige.

As you may have sur­mised, our long-ter­mer was the steed between home and a gru­elling race week­end dur­ing which BMW launched its lat­est M-badged road car, and therein lies the true ap­peal of this M5. Some back-road fun sand­wiched by sub­stan­tial high­way blasts re­sulted in around 900 miles and an over­all fuel econ­omy of 21.4 mpg, for a to­tal ex­pen­di­ture of roughly £260. No, this 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 was never go­ing to set records for fru­gal­ity but, if the car im­presses on more tor­tu­ous routes, it’ll blow your mind on a der­e­stricted au­to­bahn. How fast? An in­di­cated (and re­stricted) 164mph, at which point your es­ti­mated time of ar­rival goes into free fall with that engine still pulling damnably hard. Per­haps of greater sig­nif­i­cance is that pro­ceed­ings re­main serene enough that you’d barely have to raise your voice to be heard by those in the back.

More pro­saically, the M5 sim­ply makes things easy on this kind of trip. You can an­gle the head­lights for Con­ti­nen­tal du­ties at the touch of a but­ton and the head-up dis­play con­verts your speed and speed-limit icons into km/h. It is com­fort­able, it is spa­cious, the Har­man Kar­don sound sys­tem is very good and you don’t worry about leav­ing the thing in a strange cor­ner of an un­fa­mil­iar town af­ter a mam­moth day in the sad­dle.

It is quite stocky, though, with a track width that’s more or less equal to that of a Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán Per­for­mante. It means there’s now a small nick on one of the al­loy wheels, in­flicted by the ghastly width re­stric­tors on the top deck on the Euro­tun­nel trains.

Ev­ery time I’m lucky enough to drive this car, three things oc­cur to me. The seats are set too high, the body con­trol is sim­ply a touch close for every­day driv­ing, even for a su­per­sa­loon, and, God, how I wish they’d made a bit more of the wheel arches. But while it takes me a lit­tle time to get onto the M5’s wave­length, once there I’m pretty much smit­ten.

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