If you like cars, you probably don’t need an introduction to the M5. The model name is virtually a brand in its own right, having stood for all that is great about supercar-fast four-door saloons since 1985. This one brings something new to the traditional rear-wheel drive super-saloon layout, with switchable four-wheel drive, to match similar tech found in key rivals – the Mercedes-AMG E63 S and Alpina B5.
|Body Style: 5 door saloon||Seats: 5||MRP from £89,645|
Did you know? The Mk4 BMW M5 was the only version to have an estate Touring version, which was produced between 2007 and 2010. It was never offered for sale in North America, though, and BMW has no plans to offer an estate version of the M5 to rival the Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate.
The BMW M5 is a remarkable thing. Savage enough to worry proper supercars yet sumptuous enough in its interior finish and refinement levels to be a genuine alternative to fast limos. All while delivering the sort of handling precision and ability that would embarrass plenty of sports cars. Yet, there is an iota of disappointment on the road. The anodyne steering feel, the shortage of general theatre and naughtiness that a Merc E63 S delivers in barrel loads... Even so, if you want the most easy-living super-saloon you're looking at it, and if you can find a bit of Tarmac fast enough, it's got fun factor to spare, too.
More comfortable than a Merc E63
High-spec, comfy interior
We Don't Like
Too many settings
Not as fun as a Merc E63
You have to pay for Apple CarPlay
What’s best – understated or attention-grabbing? The jury’s out when it comes to fast saloons, but BMW has done a great job of making the M5 somewhere in the middle. Go for one of the more everyday colours and the average person probably wouldn’t look twice despite the gaping air intakes, tri-colour badges, 20-inch alloys and quad exhausts.
It’s certainly a seriously purposeful-looking thing, and it’s hard to miss the carbonfibre roof, but it’s also rather less shouty in its appearance than the Ms 3 or 4. Which some might consider a shame given just how much there is to shout about. Starting with the 592bhp, 553 lb ft 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 beneath its bonnet, which sends power via an eight-speed automatic gearbox (a torque converter in place of the old dual-clutch gearbox) to all four-wheels (or just the rear ones if you prefer).
The M5’s interior is quite something. From the fully electric seats complete with memory and heating function, to the 10.25-inch colour screen, to the huge (and, unusually, standard) head-up display, to the illuminated ‘M5’ logos in the headrest, it feels and looks beautiful. This is, of course, mostly due to the the standard 5 Series having such an excellent interior, but the M5 does feel special. Those seats are great - they're heated and electrically adjustable in every imaginable way as standard, and you have the red start/stop button, M mode buttons on the wheel and the tri-colour stitching as obvious markers that this is an M5. It’s endlessly frustrating to have the fat, squidgy M steering wheel numbing your connection to the car, but if you can afford an M5 you can probably afford to get hold of a decent steering wheel even if it’s aftermarket. Alpina does a superb, slim-rimmed alcantara wheel… Just saying.
Ultimately the digital dials are crisp and simple, the dash layout easy to get used to and the seats supportive and cosseting in equal measure. Whatever shape or size you are, and whether you like to sit very low or quite high up, you’ll love it.
There’s plenty of space in the back seats for two adults to stretch out in comfort, too.
It’s also worth pointing out here that the M5 is a near-faultless cruiser. There’s a fair bit of tyre noise from the chunky rubber, particularly over coarse surfaces, but otherwise you’d happily go continent-hopping in this as easily as you would any less sports-oriented executive saloon. Only something like a Porsche Panamera Turbo can rival the M5 for balance of performance and refinement.
The BMW M5 is not available as an estate, like the Mercedes E63 is. So you’re limited to the saloon layout that includes big, if letterbox-shaped opening and a deep boot. You also have to pay £335 extra for rear seats that split and fold. There’s plenty of space to chuck a couple of big suitcases. Or some tyres for a track day. Whatever mood you're in.
The M5 is a technical tour de force. The infotainment system is a touchscreen, but can also be controlled via the traditional iDrive rotary controller, which we find to be the easier method to use – especially for when you’re driving. The menus are mostly quite easy to fathom and have a logical layout, the screen is crystal clear, well placed to be easy to see without glare, and actually sets the standard for user-friendly interface and graphics quality. It’s the best out there in the saloon class at the moment.
Of course, you get sat-nav, Bluetooth audio streaming and handsfree and USB inputs, but it is particularly cheeky on a car of this price and luxury spec, that BMW wants £235 for AppleCarPlay – and you can’t get Android Auto or Mirrorlink. That’s a bit like paying for a tasting menu at The Ivy and then being charged extra for tap water.
Anyway, if you’re well into your gadgets then you'll enjoy the standard ‘Gesture Control’, which means you can change the volume and radio station etc by swishing your hand dramatically in the air. Between the standard multifunction steering wheel, voice control, touchscreen and rotary dial, this seems highly unnecessary and very hit-and-miss in our experience, but it is fun to show your mates.
You also get 12 months subscription to BMW Connected+, which is an App that syncs the car to your phone and gives you updates on traffic conditions (it'll tell you if traffic is heavy and you need to leave to get to a meeting on time, for instance), it can send routes to your sat-nav, and you can share your location with others who can even track your journey on a desktop.
Pay a bit extra and you can have a posh key with a screen on it, which allows you to check critical info - like whether the car's locked - on the key itself. It’s all super clever, but most importantly you can also take a phone call, change the radio station or zoom in on the map without wanting to put your fist through the car’s dash.
Performance. Yeah. That. The BMW M5 has that, and then some. It has the performance you expect of it, and then you hit another button and find out that it was half asleep. It has the sort of performance that will see you doing warp speed before you actually realise that you’re doing warp speed, so be careful of that. It’s the inevitable, wonderful but licence-endangering side effect of a car that’s big, refined and running with enough power to make the world spin backwards.
This V8 fires out 592bhp at 5600 – 6700rpm, and 553lb ft of torque all the way from 1800 – 5600rpm. In the time it took you to read all those numbers, the M5 could have gone from a standstill to 62mph in a mere 3.4sec, and then come to a rest again. And it probably made a conference call and booked a table for tonight’s dinner while it did it. Impressive, eh?
The way the M5 delivers its power is quite something. There is a precise fury to it. It doesn’t yell and burble and bang like a Mercedes E63, it’s more clean cut than that. Less rough and ready. The noise is the critical thing. Our car came with the optional £1100 M Sports exhaust and yet to be honest it didn’t make us want to record its exhaust note for prosperity. It sounds great from the outside – meaningful and angry, with a booming upshift – but the noise in the cabin always sounds quite synthetic and a little flat, so don’t expect a V8 muscle car soundtrack.
The real joy is in harnessing the M5’s brutal mid-range. It’s a murderously rapid car, but all of that power is so perfectly presented, and in the sharpest mode the throttle is so sharp, that you can virtually call each horsepower forth individually.
We also had £7,495 carbon ceramic brakes fitted to our test car, and they certainly deliver confident stopping power, but while you can modulate the pressure well enough in hard braking, we’d like a bit more pedal feel in moderate use. Effective as the golden-coloured carbon-ceramics are, we’d save the money and go for standard brakes.
Ride and Handling
The M5 is a fun car. The four-wheel drive hasn’t taken that away, so breathe easy. After all, it is rear-wheel biased most of the time even in its safest mode, and when we had a go on track with the four-wheel drive in its slippier ‘M’ setting you can actually provoke it into cheeky, manageable little skids. It’s got a playful nature given free reign of a track, the M5. And of course, you can stick it in rear-wheel drive mode and pull a big skid faster than you can say ‘find my credit card and call the tyre place’.
But it is quite hard to unearth that cheeky side of the many-faceted M5 on public roads. It handles with real poise, loads of grip and with a satisfyingly deft bite as you turn into a corner. You still feel like it’s you calling the shots and driving the car; the systems haven’t removed the sense of involvement. But you do feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer variety of modes on offer.
The active four-wheel drive system (complete with a rear differential) has the ability to stick with the safer four-wheel drive mode, a more rear-biased 'M' performance four-wheel drive mode that allows a bit of slip, or straightforward rear-wheel drive with all the traction aids off.
On top of that, there are three steering settings, three levels of gearbox ferocity, three damper settings, three traction control modes and two exhaust modes. All of which can be programmed individually, or you can save your favourite combination of settings into the two M modes accessed via the red steering wheel buttons in order to easily flick from your favoured ‘just want to get home’ setup to ‘just want to have fun’ setup.
Yet the reality is that you need to take your brain out to really challenge the M5. It’s too fast, too capable, too polished at sane speeds. And the steering isn’t quite right. It’s oddly inconsistent in its weighting, and it never deliver the sort of slick, natural-feeling build of resistance that you can revel in. And again (are you listening, BMW?) the too-fat steering wheel doesn’t help.
Of course, the M5 is slick and well-balanced and it keeps its 1950kg kerbweight in check and you can enjoy its astronomical pace and precise handling. But it's not playful unless you’re going too fast for good sense on a public road. Not like a Mercedes E63 S does, which – by dint of its more rebellious soundtrack and more fervent, immediate low-speed handling behaviour – is actually something of a riot even at normal road speeds. They feel like quite different animals, the M5 and E63. One the consummate professional, always composed if a bit removed from the situation, while the other’s got just as expensive a suit and university degree, but has a definite bad boy attitude underneath it all. You’d want the M5 to do your tax return, but you’d want to go for a night out with the E63.
Ultimately, the M5’s ferocity and naughtiness are a bit too well hidden, too much of the time.
Still, if a priority for your super saloon is comfort then the M5 is the one you want. Those adaptive dampers keep things neat and tidy even on the huge 20-inch alloys; it’s a remarkably easygoing thing when you want it to be.
Recommended engine: 4.4 V8 M5
Of course there’s that four-wheel drive system, traction control with three modes – on, sort-of-on and not on. There’s also AEB at city speeds, brilliant fully-adaptive LED headlights, heated washer jets, BMW OnCall (which calls the emergency services for you if the car is involved in an accident), traffic sign recognition, auto lights and wipers, and even a semi-autonomous parking aid on top of the standard reversing camera and acoustic sensors. The big, easy-to-read head-up display is a fantastic standard feature, too, and can show all sorts of cool 'M' appropriate data, or can be pared down to just show your speed and sat-nav directions. It's the best head-up display there is.
The only frustrations with the safety features on the M5 is that there's no driver's knee airbag, and you have to pay quite a lot extra to get adaptive cruise (which keeps your distance from the car in front when cruise control is activated). It's so expensive that you may as well find the few hundred quid extra that you need to get the £1495 Driving Assistant, which brings full adaptive cruise, traffic jam assist and lane-keep assist, which is a great function to have in sluggish traffic. You can also add night vision with pedestrian detection. You also can't add a space saver spare tyre - it's just an inflation kit beneath the boot floor, which is rarely effective and always intensely annoying.
There are seven standard colours on the M5, including two very lovely bright metallic blues that we favour, or Donington Grey with smoked alloys looks properly mean and purposeful while remaining classy. There are four 'BMW Individual' shades that you pay £1095 for, but we'd say the standard colour palette is good enough to make those unnecessary.
The M5 is its own trim level, and it comes with pretty much everything you want including high-class leather from an actual cow, seats with all the adjustment you could imagine, ambient lighting, full adaptive LED headlights, backlit M5 badges in the seat headrests, alcantara headlining, the Professional Media infotainment system, head-up display, 20-inch alloys, reversing camera and park-assist… The only things you absolutely should add are Apple CarPlay and the M Sports exhaust, although of course you can go to town with plenty of other options, from massaging front seats to a carbonfibre 'M' engine cover. You can even add a tow bar if you want to use your M5 to take your race car to weekend meets.
Size and Dimensions
Max towing weight unbraked - braked
750kg – 2000kg
Nobody expects a near-enough 600bhp V8 to be cheap, and nobody would be right. You’re probably looking at economy of around 20-25mpg on a good day, tyres aren’t going to be cheap, neither is insurance. You’re buying an M5, so what do you expect? However, it's worth pointing out that a Mercedes-AMG E63 and E63 S are both quite noticeably more efficient by official standards, so you may well see slightly better everyday economy from the Merc. Even so, be aware that you’re looking at a car with genuine supercar pace, and genuine supercar running costs to go along with it, whichever of these super-saloons you go for.
Reliability and servicing
It's difficult to comment on reliability given the shortage of history on this model, but BMW as a brand often comes around mid-table for reliability in owner surveys. A three year, unlimited mileage warranty is standard and can be extended.
Variable – condition based
Variable – condition based
Predictably, the BMW M5 is priced to put the big BMW toe-to-toe with the Mercedes-AMG E63 S. That makes it officially not cheap, at nearly £90k, and you can get the standard E63 (which is barely any slower) for some £10k less. Even so, the BMW is competitively priced, especially considering how well equipped it is. If you want to spread the costs, BMW will give you the M5 on PCP finance for some £1500 per month, after a £10,000 deposit on a three year contract.
However you look at the costs of this car, it's expensive. But then again, it's also usefully cheaper than a Porsche Panamera Turbo, which is closer to the BMW M5 for balance of refinement and pace than the noisier and firmer Mercedes E63 S.
Add the night vision camera, premium package, online entertainment and TV function.
You’re in the right place however you spec it. Save the cash on the carbon ceramics, but buy a decent, slimmer steering wheel.
Go for the comfort pack, massaging seats and the Bowers and Wilkins audio system. You can even add wood trim, if you want to.
More theatrical, and more fun at normal road speeds, but firmer and not as refined.
We’re yet to drive the B5, so check back again soon.
Old-school Italian style and drama, with rear-wheel drive and a stunning V8 soundtrack. Ruinously expensive and doesn’t handle as well.
Up there with the BMW for balance of pace and comfort, but quite a lot more expensive.
Lexus GS F
Naturally aspirated V8, with a wonderful muscle car character and noise. Heavy and nowhere near as poised as the M5, and with a terrible infotainment system, but still lovable.