You wouldn’t think, with a 592bhp V8 engine under the bonnet, that the most interesting facet of the mega new BMW M5 would be the latest xDrive system with its trick active differential, but that’s a fact. One that was hammered home as I was making a sweaty-palmed, hilarious tail-out slide around Estoril’s 13th corner, Parabolica Ayrton Senna.
Having just activated the 4WD Sport setting of the M Dynamic Mode, it took me all of two corners to discover that – as advertised – the all-wheels-driven M5 could behave just like a rear-drive car with a little goading. And yet, massive grip was still evident for straight line acceleration when I realised how far I’d fallen behind the car ahead, with its cleaner racing line.
It took me all of two corners to discover that – as advertised – the all-wheels-driven M5 could behave just like a rear-drive car with a little goading.
Not only is that recipe brilliant for making a big saloon quick around a racetrack, it is essential for protecting the 'M-ness' of this new M5. That is to say: creating a car that’s just as concerned with driving joy, as it is with moving quickly with unerring precision. After all, who among us wouldn’t sacrifice a tiny bit of exit speed for a hilarious dollop of slip angle, if we’re really being honest?
Should 4WD Sport prove still too restrictive, the BMW does offer a two-wheel drive mode as well. The addition of this drive mode to what is undoubtedly a very complex car may not sate the purists, I’ll grant you. But it really does open up the operating profile of the car to a major degree.
The M5 would not be true to its lineage (or half as riotous) were it not for the impressive powertrain, of course. The 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 metes out the previously mentioned 592bhp, along with 553lb ft of torque, and pushes the car to 62mph in 3.4sec. That's roughly as quickly as a McLaren 540C. I tend to avoid the overemphasis of 0-60 times, but it’s fair to mention that the xDrive system allows for that kind of acceleration without requiring preternatural reaction times.
With the fantastically capable F90 5 Series as its base, this new M5 is objectively better at both types of driving than any car to wear the badge.
And that, in turn, makes this a fast car that you can really feel working. On the motorways around Portugal’s Sintra region, the BMW startled me on a couple of occasions, when I stomped on the accelerator pedal and the car leapt up like a live thing. That response is aided by the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which – in any drive mode – is willing to instantly drop gears when you call for more speed. In manual mode, the ratio changes are smooth and extremely quick; a super-accurate stopwatch might find some lag relative to the best dual-clutch systems, but my human brain really couldn’t.
For the entirety of the nameplate, 'M5' has stood for a balance between high-performance and luxury. With the fantastically capable, previous generation F90 5 Series as its base, this new M5 is objectively better at both types of driving than any car to wear the badge. The split personality is represented quite well sonically: at motorway speed and under low throttle loads, the car is really quiet, with both wind noise and tyre roar kept in check. Decide to fully flog the car, and the exhaust delivers a stirring (if still not entirely un-manicured) V8 song.
Ride quality is also quite posh. It's hard to find a surface that might rattle the big saloon, and even in the sportier modes the M5 never feels crashy or brittle. Meanwhile, in fast corners the BMW is impressively stable; Sure, you won’t forget this is a car that dresses out at some 1,900kg when throwing it into a hairpin – the body does move around somewhat. But the fact remains this is an impressively agile machine considering its generous proportions.
The M5 does nothing but add to the already pleasurable experience of owning and driving a 5 Series.
The M5’s mass is very well controlled by beefy 'M-compound' six-piston front brakes. Not that many real-world M5 drivers will track these beasts… Oh, and, of course carbon ceramic units are optional, but the standard brakes certainly feel strong enough.
Really the only slight let down is with the feel from the electrically-assisted power steering. M-specific tuning to add weight is effective in terms of both steady on-centre behaviour and rapid turn-ins, but it does all that without giving much information at real-world speeds. Sure, at Estoril I could feel the tiller tingle as the tyres started to give up grip, but even driving with intent on public roads, the feel is quite numb.
For the rest, the M5 does nothing but add to the already pleasurable experience of owning and driving a 5 Series. The interior is incredibly comfortable, with sport-oriented seats giving loads of support and a huge range of adjustment even for very lanky drivers. Visibility forward and to the sides is excellent and there's an array of cameras and sensors for keeping you safely in your lane, or helping you back into a parking space, for instance.
Suffice it to say that the M5 has more gadgets than you probably have interest in reading about here. High points include iDrive 6 software accessed through a bright and beautiful central touchscreen. Wireless charging is supported, and you can even get your M5 optioned up with the remote control parking system, if you’re looking for a Batman-esque way to kick off a spirited drive.
And… none of the massive performance or mind-bending tech comes cheaply. The asking price for the 2018 M5 is £89,640. You'll spend near enough the same for the very competitive Mercedes-AMG E63 S, or the slower but even posher Porsche Panamera 4S is also yours for that amount of cash.
BMW’s clear focus on driving joy mixed with outright ability has paid huge dividends in this impressive M5. Not the least of which is the goofy smile – remembering quick corners and a few big stupid slides – that refused to leave my face, even as I moved from driving the car, to writing about it. Even when delivered by a sophisticated mix of hardware and software, the M-ness of this M5 is no longer in doubt.
Gallery: 2018 BMW M5: First Drive
2018 BMW M5