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.