Have it all
MW HAS BEEN CHASING perfection with the M5 since 1988. One stormy night some engineers from BMW’S Motorsport division got their greasy mitts on a luxurious 5 Series sedan and decided to put one of their racing engines in it. They fiddled with the suspension a bit, and voila: the first M5. The critics loved this luxury car with the soul of a racing machine — a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they said — but the engineers knew they could do better. With every successive generation, the M5 gets more exotic, more removed from the mid-size 5 Series saloon on which it is ostensibly still based. The engineers tried everything: straight-six engines, V8s, even a raucous V10. They reinforced the car’s body. Invented a trick limited-slip differential. Completely re-designed the 5 Series’ suspension. Improved the airflow. Gave each cylinder its own throttle body.
Their pursuit of perfection has led them here, to this camouflaged prototype before me at BMW’S top-secret testing facility in France, near Marseille. It’s the next-generation M5, the sixth, and the engineers seem hopeful. Maybe this is the one.
Immediately, the steering feels lighter than the old M5. It feels more eager now, less of a brute-force instrument. There’s some finesse that was missing in the previous version. This is good.
For the first time the M5 has allwheel drive. I was worried it would ruin the handling, create terminal understeer, but it didn’t. The engineers said AWD was necessary because the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 now produces more than 600 horsepower. Most of the power still goes to the rear wheels, but the safety net of all-wheel drive means traction control doesn’t need to intervene as much or with such a heavy hand. It slides smoother, more naturally now. Besides, pure rearwheel drive mode is available should you prefer it.
The car feels more at ease, more balanced now. But the engineers still have work to do. The new M5 won’t be fully revealed until September. It is only 90 or 95 percent complete, the engineers say, and the last few percentage points are the hardest. That’s where perfection lies.