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.