It’s Baaack!

Automobile - - Contents - By Jethro Bov­ing­don

The all-new BMW M5 fea­tures el­e­ments that would nor­mally be strikes against it, specif­i­cally all­wheel drive and an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion mated to a twin-turbo V-8. But this is the most dy­namic M5 in years.



THE STORY OF the BMW M5 is a fas­ci­nat­ing and iconic tale. It was born in 1984 when the fab­u­lous M88 3.5-liter straight-six from the mid-en­gine M1 su­per­car was dropped into the shar­knosed, ra­zor-sharp E28 5 Se­ries.

Its re­place­ment, the E34, stayed true to the first car’s for­mula, with more power and a chas­sis honed to a de­li­ciously sharp edge. Sig­nif­i­cant changes were ap­plied to the third M5, the E39, specif­i­cally the ad­di­tion of a 5.0-liter V-8. At first, the purists cried. Then they drove it, and those tears of sad­ness turned to sobs of joy. For the next gen­er­a­tion BMW un­leashed the wildest M5 of them all, the E60, with its howl­ing 5.0-liter V-10 that revved to a heav­enly 8,250 rpm. It had its flaws, but it was spe­cial.

It seemed the M crew from Mu­nich could do no wrong with what had be­come BMW’s de­fin­i­tive su­per sedan.

But that was then. The car we’ve come to Por­tu­gal to drive has on the face of it aban­doned ev­ery prin­ci­ple on which the M5 leg­end was founded. The all-new F90 se­ries 2018 BMW M5 fea­tures a twin­tur­bocharged en­gine. It is fit­ted with a fully au­to­matic gear­box. And—the hor­ror—it’s now all-wheel drive.

The miss­ing link in this story, the out­go­ing F10 M5, was heavy, slightly pon­der­ous, and only re­ally came alive at un­speak­able speeds. The F10 ush­ered in BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-tur­bocharged V-8 and a greater fo­cus on lux­ury. It sim­ply didn’t feel spe­cial enough to be an M5. Fan­tas­ti­cally ca­pa­ble, yes, but rather cold.

How to su­per­heat the M5 for­mula once again? I can think of a mil­lion ways, but the adop­tion of all-wheel drive, switch­ing from a dual-clutch trans­mis­sion to a ZF eight-speed au­to­matic, and fo­cus­ing even more on lux­ury for $103,595 don’t make the list. In fact, those changes sug­gest that BMW ei­ther doesn’t know how to re­cap­ture the old M5 magic or sim­ply doesn’t care to do so.

At least that’s the nar­ra­tive I was ex­pect­ing to re­port. How­ever, it pays to be open-minded, be­cause this M5 has re­dis­cov­ered the magic. It’s more ag­gres­sive, the ride is busy and un­com­pro­mis­ing, it has sim­ply sen­sa­tional per­for­mance, and the all-wheel-drive sys­tem is won­der­fully fluid and play­ful. And if you re­ally must exit ev­ery cor­ner with a full turn of op­po­site lock? Just stick it in rear-wheel-drive mode and en­joy the sort of over-the­limit bal­ance that has al­ways been an M5 hall­mark.

Be­fore we ex­plore the car fur­ther, let’s go back to the makeup of this mighty ma­chine. It fea­tures a re­vised ver­sion of the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 that now pro­duces




SEN­SA­TIONAL All-wheel drive and an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion mated to its twin-turbo V-8 haven’t ru­ined the new M5.

Quite the con­trary.

600 horse­power and 553 lb-ft of torque mated to the afore­men­tioned eight-speed au­to­matic gear­box. Thanks in part to the new M XDRIVE all-wheel-drive sys­tem, it reaches 60 mph in 3.2 sec­onds and can run from 0 to 124 mph in 11.1 sec­onds. With the op­tional M Driver’s pack­age, it’s also ca­pa­ble of a top speed of 189 mph.

M XDRIVE es­sen­tially al­lows the M5 to drive the rear wheels only for much of the time, the cen­tral clutch pack only send­ing power for­ward when the rear starts to lose grip or un­der sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion, when ex­tra sta­bil­ity is needed. The rear axle also fea­tures the fa­mil­iar M dif­fer­en­tial, though the four-wheel steer­ing sys­tem seen on the M550i XDRIVE was omit­ted from the M5 to save weight. That seems a strange de­ci­sion be­cause it works so well on ev­ery­thing from a Porsche 911 GT3 to an M760Li and would surely af­ford the M5 even greater agility.

Of course, the M5 of­fers a wide range of ad­just­ment for pretty much ev­ery as­pect of its dy­namic per­son­al­ity. There are Com­fort, Sport, and Sport Plus set­tings for the dampers, steer­ing, and throt­tle map­ping, plus three modes for the gear­box, and you can run with full DSC in the more re­laxed MDM mode or with sta­bil­ity con­trol di­aled out com­pletely. On top of that, the M XDRIVE has three modes: 4WD, 4WD Sport, or RWD. You can only se­lect the lat­ter two modes when you dis­en­gage DSC, but con­fus­ingly, 4WD Sport de­faults to MDM mode for the sta­bil­ity con­trol, whereas se­lect­ing RWD forces you to run com­pletely with­out elec­tronic in­ter­ven­tion. You have been warned.

If this all sounds hor­ri­bly com­plex, well, that’s be­cause it is. But the M5 has two help­ful pre­set but­tons on the steer­ing wheel la­beled M1 and M2. The idea is to let you ex­per­i­ment with the car’s var­i­ous modes and set­tings un­til you’re happy to com­mit to two pre­pro­grammed and very per­sonal set­ups. For the launch event held near Lis­bon, M1 kept the car in stan­dard 4WD with steer­ing, en­gine map­ping, and dampers in Com­fort and the gear­box in its most serene mode. M2 ramped things up to 4WD Sport with MDM mode for the sta­bil­ity sys­tems, Sport for steer­ing and dampers, Sport Plus for en­gine map­ping, and tick­led the gear­box up to level two of three.

The first sur­prise? In docile M1, the M5 feels ea­ger— ag­gres­sive, even. The en­gine doesn’t have the pumped-up theater of the E63 S, but it matches it for re­sponse and revs, with even more en­ergy at the top end. The ride is taut and con­trolled, too. Over short, sharp bumps the M5 fid­gets and thumps. Up the speed, and things smooth out—but only a lit­tle. On Por­tu­gal’s pretty de­cent high­way sys­tem, the M5 feels never less than firm. Turn on to smaller, more in­ter­est­ing roads, and the un­com­pro­mis­ing feel of the chas­sis trans­lates into real agility, ex­cel­lent body con­trol, and a feel­ing that this all-wheel-drive sys­tem fa­vors the rear wheels at all times.

I haven’t men­tioned the gear­box yet be­cause it took a while for me to re­mem­ber it wasn’t a dual-clutch unit. Yes, it’s more well-man­nered than the old M DCT ’box at low speeds, but it’s also more de­ci­sive and punchier when you’re ex­er­cis­ing the twin-turbo mill.

In M2 mode the M5 hits hard and clean, and ev­ery shift is tight and syn­chro­nized per­fectly with my re­quests on the steer­ing­wheel-mounted pad­dles. It doesn’t have that su­per clean and al­most mag­i­cal feel­ing of the best dual-clutch gear­boxes, but it’s pretty close and beats ri­vals such as the AMG or the Cadil­lac CTS-V hands down. I can’t think of an au­to­matic that feels this re­spon­sive, save for the 10-speed unit in the Lexus LC 500.

So it takes just a few miles to be deeply im­pressed with the M5. In fact, im­pressed is the wrong word. The old car was im­pres­sive. The new M5 is fun, ex­cit­ing, and pretty un­com­pro­mis­ing, too. In full lux­ury mode it feels like a proper sport sedan. Dial ev­ery­thing up to Sport Plus, and it’s al­most ra­bid. On th­ese nar­row, craggy roads, the M5 ac­tu­ally works best with the dampers in Com­fort, while Sport Plus feels like a race­track-only set­ting, which is handy be­cause I’m fol­low­ing brown signs marked “Au­to­dromo.” Es­to­ril is await­ing our ar­rival.

The old F1 cir­cuit is de­light­fully shabby with huge, sun-bleached grand­stands that reek of faded glory, but Es­to­ril re­mains a se­ri­ous test for any car, let alone a 4,370-pound mon­ster such as the 2018 M5. The M Di­vi­sion worked hard to keep weight down with items like a car­bon-fiber roof, and de­spite the adop­tion of all-wheel drive, the F90 is ac­tu­ally lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor. How­ever, it never ful­fills the old cliché of “shrink­ing around you” on the road. It’s a big car, and it feels the part. This much mass plus AWD should mean un­der­steer and plenty of it on the track, right?

Nope. The M5 wants to turn, though you have to be care­ful not to be too greedy on turn-in. Once the front tires bite, and you’re on the throt­tle, the big sedan errs to­ward over­steer rather than howl­ing push. The 4WD Sport mode re­ally is ef­fec­tive, and al­though the M5 doesn’t feel as de­lib­er­ately rear­biased as the E63 S, its be­hav­ior is more fluid and




nat­u­ral. You tend to find at the limit some un­der­steer on turn-in, fol­lowed by a lovely four-wheel drift­ing phase mid­corner and a lit­tle flour­ish of over­steer on the way out. MDM mode al­lows you to ex­pe­ri­ence this pretty well, but turn off all the sta­bil­ity sys­tems, and the easy­go­ing na­ture of the M5 even when the tires are slip­ping and slid­ing is ad­dic­tive.

The track also al­lows you to en­joy the M5’s en­gine at its full po­ten­tial. With big­ger turbochargers than the pre­vi­ous M5, greater boost pres­sure (24.5 psi ver­sus 21.8), and a higher pres­sure and more pre­cise fuel-in­jec­tion sys­tem, the 4.4-liter V-8 sim­ply chews up straights. The noise feels a lit­tle ar­ti­fi­cial and is clearly aug­mented by the speak­ers—and if you love the ball-bear­ings gar­gle and spew­ing V-8 fire and brim­stone of an AMG, the M5 sounds a lit­tle tame—yet the work it does can­not be crit­i­cized. Its char­ac­ter comes not from the sound­track but from a cock­tail of pre­ci­sion and or­gan-crush­ing power.

It’s enough to test the op­tional car­bon-ce­ramic brakes to the ab­so­lute limit around Es­to­ril. The pedal goes long af­ter a few laps, and the M5 starts to shimmy and dance as the brak­ing per­for­mance is tested, but they’re go­ing through an ex­treme and un­re­al­is­tic reg­i­men: five fast laps with a half­hearted cool-down lap, sit in the pits for three or four min­utes soak­ing up all the heat as driv­ers swap, and then re­peat un­til the fuel tank is dry or the tires are worn out. On the road, there were no is­sues, but such is the per­for­mance on of­fer here. Given the weight be­ing hauled around, I sus­pect the car­bon ce­ram­ics would be well worth the out­lay.

By the end of the day, the F90 M5 has con­founded my ex­pec­ta­tions. Rather than mov­ing away from the old M5 for­mula, it has used new tech­nolo­gies to re­turn closer to it. This is a su­per sedan that can be used ev­ery day yet al­ways feels spe­cial and doesn’t com­pro­mise out­right per­for­mance for a ve­neer of lux­ury.

It’s also an M5 to the core. Break­ing all the rules, I tried one lap in RWD mode. The tires needed chang­ing by the time I re­turned to the pit lane. Wel­come back. We’ve missed you. AM


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