Review: F90 BMW M5 – luxury, performance and a grip-fiend rolled into one sizzling package

Considering that all of the previous models were fiery it comes as no surprise that the latest version is an extremely fast saloon car.

Yes, it’s a big boy but it supervises its bulk with aplomb jumbo jet with a very uncanny agility. Heck you may even call it a sports car thanks to the aptitude to really fascinate proper enthusiasts of driving.

Has the BMW M5 finally equalled Mercedes-AMG’s E63 in the old cliché of a thug in a suit?

Historically we couldn’t really charge the BMW with this sort of tailoring. While there was a bonafide whiff of luxury, previous generations of the car, from E60 backwards, were the product of petrosexually charged engineers wielding true enthusiasm for the craft of making racers for the road. The current car, which we’ve just lived with for a few days, preserves that special texture of historical and hysterical pyrotechnics but is now layered deep inside a multi-faceted air of luxury and sophistication that we can’t deny. Even its physical appearance requires a second glance if you haven’t quickly noticed the small M5 insignia perched on its kidney grille. It’s a largely disguised dragon, other tell-tale clues being a black carbon roof; menacing signature front-end design of a large central air scoop and a decidedly wide road stance helped along by a pronounced quartet of African curves at each corner to comfortably swallow 20-inches worth of alloy and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber.

You can easily tell that to satisfy the demands of the brief for BMW’s fastest ever saloon, the specifications were different from the previous car.

New challenges such as true refinement to please not only a wider audience, but to fall within the expected drive consistencies of customers in its price bracket who could be easily swayed by AMG and Audi RS. Then there was xDrive to contend with. The legendary focus on the two driven rear wheels to extend the legendary BMW M magic to all four wheels now and, all of it would have to be violent yet reserved, explicitly powerful yet elegantly polite, less flash yet captivating.

Even by BMW’s standards, the newest M5 is the definitive luxury performance saloon despite an engine carried over from the last model. In its latest form the power from the engine is silkier, two notches effortless to unleash thanks to burbling torque waiting to be unleashed at any moment. It’s quite the spectacle to watch the new threesome of engine, gearbox and xDrive at work, be it cruising off the boil or pressing buttons to summon the performance hymn.

In civil mode the distillation of the adjustable damping draws a few noticeable notebook reflections. Punch in COMFORT MODE and its springs soften up, but not entirely. And perhaps this slight mishap in expectations isn’t so surprising given that it had been only a few weeks since I drove the M760Li – the most comfortable BMW of all time. In some way we can also put some of the blame squarely on the unevenness of the surface of our roads. A lot of the construction and road management un-professionalism registers properly unto the car.

Amazingly it also accomplishes the GT role very well, cruising in a hushed and humble manner at big speeds. If you are expecting something that has the ultimate over the limit dynamic edge of say…a BMW M4 fitted with a Competition Pack then you will be correct.

You need only press on the strategic buttons and menu items. While on the inside, there is fine hybrid of executive and propulsive machismo expressed. Our test M5 is tastefully specified in light grey, deeply bolstered and shaped seats that drop a hint that the g-forces experienced in the cabin will be comprehensively felt.

It’s nearly comical to find screens mounted behind the pair of front chairs considering that legroom is immediately consumed by the big bucket seats which are styled like androids. Nonetheless, the paper-smooth surfaces of the interior and exquisite background lighting, which is also extended to the front pair of seats embossed with a glowing M5 badge, endear a genuine air of luxury and style.

Potentially you can achieve very impressive fuel eating habits of about 14l/100km. You’ll really need the restraint of an unimpeachable Reverend to muster these numbers. The eight-speed automatic transmission does its bit to soothe when driving gently, progress through towns or anywhere else really characterized by imperceptible up or down changes in full auto mode. It also has steering-wheel paddles behind another pair of bright red pedals which, are to be used to engage tailored M Drive algorithms. The transmission offers the best-ever shift speeds and responses outside of battle ready and largely naked Porsche 911s fitted with the phenomenal PDK gearbox.

But because this is M5 thus the urge to let all rip is never far off.  For maximum attack, all-bases are covered, starting with that nuclear reactor of an engine. With 441kW and 750Nm on tap, in real time the M5 is shockingly rapid. The previous iteration of this engine, which you can read about through this week’s #TBT post, was clearly subdued and had a softer-edged V8 bellow hit. The new S63B44T twin-turbo engine is a carryover alright but BMW has enhanced a number of crucial bits such as boost pressure to 350 bar; improved charge cooling and given it beastly injectors to awaken more of that nape-tingling acceleration.

 

Regardless, this is the first four-wheel drive M5 that BMW has ever made and the M xDrive system with masses of tech requires more pages to debrief. The traction is of a phenomenal grip fiend, in the dry and in 4WD mode at least, where the big power harnessed by the 4.4-litre twin-turbo engine is refused oversteer slides. It’s a standard mode where drifts are definitely off the menu because just when you’d expect the tail to let go the front wheels cull that eventuality. It’s quite incredible and is the catalytic agent that helps the M5 to become the fastest accelerating series BMW of all time with a sprint of 3.5 seconds to 100km/h.

Being hooked to all four-wheels has also polished the results, making for sublime bursts of speed. This new marriage of xDrive and V8 power may have truer enthusiast in a knot but where I’m concerned it’s a more electrifying, safer and far more exploitable experience. The added traction is what the world needed to have a proper handle on M5s, which for the best part of a 30 year legacy everyone knew and acknowledged that where the driving an M5 was concerned, the car, and not the driver, called the shots.

The faster its spears forward, the more remarkable the chassis balance becomes, even on the bendy bits. There is a never-ending pliancy and progressive feel in the M5s chassis to a point where you’ll grow confidence to treat it like you would the more compact M4. The specific M-diff is significantly sharper, quicker, forgiving and seemingly better tuned to what your hands and throttle inputs are doing. If you know what you are doing, which comes highly recommended, by the way; you can place the M5 with pinpoint accuracy on any road despite its size and weight.

The entire spectrum of sensors and mechanical components combine well indeed, allowing for deployment of fast driving intentions in a lightness and unparalleled quickness with minimal strong-arming. You’re never aware of how quickly you can skip the line of illegality.

Such is the curriculum of the latest BMW M5. It’s not just about raw performance. It’s about every possible application within its shape, size and segment. If BMW wanted to make just another fast saloon, or a luxury barge or a practical but anodyne body shell, they would have. The M5 is bulging with the firepower to take on sports cars on road or track; the extravagance of an executive; the digital prowess of a high-power computer all in the practical shape of a family car. In plain text, this is not only the real business athlete but a super car dressed in an accountant’s suit.

 

SCORES

 

PERFORMANCE: Phenomenal performance. M xDrive underpinnings help a lot.

DESIGN: No OTT addenda like spoilers yet it manages to look the part of a devastatingly fast projectile.

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION: Multi-faceted. Can bring calm and good fuel consumption (I managed 14l/100km at one point) to fore as easily as it can transform to fire and brimstone.

CABIN/SPACE: Impressive but there’s no disguising the fact that bucket seats short-change rear legroom.

MODELS/PRICING: Well priced for the brand and niche.

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