David Lin­klater

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - MOTORING -

It’s nat­u­ral to com­pare the all-new BMW M5 to the Mercedes-AMG E 63. They’ve al­ways been ri­vals and they’ve both evolved into all­wheel drive track-ca­pa­ble mon­sters. The fact they both now do 0-100kmh in the same-and-veryspe­cific 3.4 sec­onds is no co­in­ci­dence.

It’s nat­u­ral to com­pare them, but also wrong. The E 63 left our garage just as the M5 rolled in and it’s clear they’ve be­come very dif­fer­ent cars. The AMG is raw and fe­ro­cious – it feels like a rac­ing car for the road. To be fair, we drove the E 63 in its most ag­gres­sive S 4Matic+ in­car­na­tion, so it’s pos­si­ble that the non-S ver­sion (at the same $199,900 as the M5) be bit a bit more . . . calm. But it’s doubt­ful.

The new M5 is also su­per-fast and cir­cuit-ready, but you wouldn’t know it on a drive down to the shops. It’s also a re­fined and rather un­der­stated lux­ury sedan when you want it to be.

So even though their abil­i­ties are very sim­i­lar, the M5 and E 63 are now quite dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter.

It’s all quite de­lib­er­ate and in many ways a re­turn to the roots of each halo-brand. AMG re­ally rose to promi­nence on the track in 1971, mon­ster­ing much smaller rac­ing ma­chines with its 300 SEL 6.8 tour­ing car, aka the ‘‘red pig’’ – pretty much the uber-E-class of its day.

Mod­ern Mercedes-AMG does in­deed make some low-key, non­con­fronta­tional models, like the


very re­fined E 43. But the think­ing these days is that if you’re go­ing full-noise with some­thing like an E 63, you might as well bring your hel­met and race suit.

BMW M is also a mo­tor­sport com­pany, but when it turned its hand to road cars, per­for­mance did not come at the ex­pense of re­fine­ment. The lim­ited-run mi­dengined M1 was its first, but most con­sider the true gen­e­sis of the M-road-car brand to be the 5-se­ries-based M535i of 1979, which in turned spawned the first M5 in 1986.

That orig­i­nal M5 was the world’s fastest sedan at the time (0-100kmh 6.5sec, 246kmh) yet still a top-line lux­ury car, with elec­tric win­dows and cen­tral lock­ing. That com­bi­na­tion of ex­treme per­for­mance and ul­ti­mate sedan­car lux­ury and prac­ti­cal­ity was ground­break­ing.

The lat­est M5 is very much in that mould. Make no mis­take, it’s still su­per­car-fast and the last word in M-tech­nol­ogy. But it’s also sump­tu­ous and so­phis­ti­cated-feel­ing.

The per­for­mance is crazy of course and there are enough but­tons on the dash­board to keep en­thu­si­ast driv­ers busy for hours. You can ad­just the steer­ing, pow­er­train and adap­tive-dam­per sus­pen­sion in­di­vid­u­ally through three sep­a­rate modes. There’s an­other rocker switch on top of the gear­lever that al­lows you to ad­just the speed and ag­gres­sion of the gearchanges. There are also two set­tings for the ex­haust.

On each side of the steer­ing wheel you get bright red but­tons (M1 and M2) that al­low you to save your favourite com­bi­na­tions and re­ac­ti­vate them with one touch.

Both BMW M and MercedesAMG are agreed that this level of power can­not be safely de­ployed through a RWD plat­form. The M5 is the brand’s first non-SUV AWD car – ex­cept it’s not re­ally, be­cause it’s very much rear­biased ex­cept in ex­treme or low­trac­tion con­di­tions and it’s still fit­ted with a trick M-spe­cific rear dif­fer­en­tial. You also get the choice of AWD or AWD Sport via the sta­bil­ity con­trol – the lat­ter re­ally keep­ing things fo­cused on the rear wheels right up to the point where your driv­ing tal­ent runs out.

And of course there’s still drift mode, al­though BMW is wise enough not to out­rage peo­ple by call­ing it that. It’s sim­ply ‘‘2WD’’ on the dash­board menu and can only be ac­cessed when other elec­tronic driver aids are off, so it re­ally is just for track use and es­pe­cially for do­ing big skids.

We did not have ac­cess to a track in our time with the M5 and we did not ac­ti­vate 2WD mode. Some­body at BMW NZ used the

Styling of M5 is not over-the-top. New front bumper with mas­sive air in­takes gives the game away, though.

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