Fleet News

BMW M5

BMW

Review

IF the previous M5 was the most acute statement of BMW’s old slogan ‘the ultimate driving machine’ then the new M5 would be a tempting prospect for those people who want a fitting vehicle to replace their old 400bhp V8.

And the pictures we have been teased with since the M5 ‘concept car’ appeared in March seem to have done the trick.

Sports saloon aficionados have snapped up two years’ supplies of the most powerful road car ever built by BMW, eight months before it reaches UK showrooms. Business executives will have to wait until May to see the next-generation M5, but that hasn’t prevented them from placing more than 900 orders – and backing each one with a deposit.

The scramble to be among the first to take delivery of the V10-powered ultimate executive express got under way soon after a concept of the car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Company officials are declining to reveal the full extent of the factory order bank, but admit to being ‘delighted’ at the response from their customers in Britain.

BMW M product and process management director Bernhard Gobmeier told Fleet News: ‘Motorists in the UK have always had a better understanding of what we are trying to do with the M cars. They are among our most loyal customers.’

He was speaking as pre-production examples of the high performance model were made available to the international media for limited test drives in Germany.

Likely to be £20,000 more expensive than the £43,000 545iES, the current top 5-series offering, the prestige M saloon puts 25% more oomph under the driver’s right foot than its E39 predecessor, which ended a successful run last year and achieved more than 20,000 total sales. Gobmeier said: ‘I don’t want to appear to be over confident, but the tremendous amount of interest that has been shown in the new model over the last few months suggests it will continue the growth of our division and help us extend our lead in this sector of the luxury car market.’

Though it showcases a raft of technology, the new car’s most significant feature is the most prodigious five-litre production petrol engine yet: developing 507bhp and 384lb-ft of torque, it zooms to a top speed of 155mph and would be capable of topping 205mph if it wasn’t fitted with an electronic limiter.

Undoubtedly a fresh benchmark in supercar travel, the unit is a fitting celebration of two decades and four generations of M5s. But another significant innovation is the sequential M gearbox (SMG) that now channels the engine’s wall of power through seven ratios, each one achieved in super-quick fashion either by nudging steering wheel mounted paddle switches or the traditional shift lever mounted on the centre console.

Allowing changes to be made 20% faster, the new transmission plays a key role in getting the M5 to the benchmark 62mph rate in 4.7 seconds. However, calling up the engine’s full performance requires a deliberate decision from the driver and a push on a console ‘power button’ because output of 400bhp, thought to be sufficient for most motoring needs, is the default mode automatically selected each time the motor is fired up.

The sporting theme continues with a traction control system that intervenes less, should the driver want to take the car to its limits. But the discreet MDrive button on the steering wheel is the gadget that really says it all about the most powerful BMW road car yet – just touching it once formats the driver’s preferred transmission, damper and traction control settings to make peak handling performance available in an instant.

Gobmeier said: ‘This car has all the luxury you would expect in the sector, but it is primarily devoted to meeting the requirements of motorists who pride themselves on their abilities behind the wheel and seek the maximum pleasure from their driving.

‘Our research shows the typical M5 owner uses his car every day, mainly for long business trips. He is around 45, a professional, usually self- employed and an entrepreneur, who often covers more than 60,000 miles each year. ‘His car has to be exclusive and something special – a real executive express, in fact. This is it.’

Behind the wheel

If you have to choose one word to sum up the M5, it has to be ‘power’. Whatever the speed and no matter which of the seven gear ratios happens to be selected, dabbing your foot on the accelerator unleashes an amazing force to send the car surging ahead.

From lower speeds, the front of the car sits up as the force from a masterpiece of a motor red-lined at 8,250rpm presses you back into your seat – and with more than 100bhp per litre at full song, such a thrilling noise comes from under the bonnet that you start believing that if the M5 had wings, it would take off and fly.

But all manner of gadgetry ensures that doesn’t happen, of course, and though it has the specific output to venture into racing territory, this big car clings to the road.

The previous M5 was a hard act to follow, but the latest version will soon be winning the plaudits it deserves for the refined way it delivers all the enthusiast expects – and more.

A closed course on a military airbase allowed us to sample the full potential of the M5 in safety, far away from public highways, and a slalom test soon showed the benefit of suspension and damping that has been specially developed to offer the nimble handling of a smaller car.

Surprisingly, less attention to detail seems to have been paid to the interior. The car I tested boasted plush leather seats and a superb head-up display, but still came with hideous fake wood trim instead of metal, which seems more appropriate.

Driving verdict

BMW chairman Dr Helmut Panke once described the M division as being at the core of what the company is all about and the 300 engineers working at the offshoot have created another gem. Pure Jekyll and Hyde, the M5 is the soul of discretion as it potters around town, but a thrilling roller-coaster ride is on tap anytime you choose to turn on the power. Awesome.

Make: BMW
Model: M5
Engine: V10, 4,999cc
Max power (bhp/rpm): 507/7,750
Max torque (lb.ft/rpm): 384/6,100
Max speed (mph): 155
0-62mph (sec): 4.7
Fuel consumption (mpg): 19.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 357
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 70/15.4
Transmission: 7-sp sequential man
Service interval (miles): Variable
Prices (est): £63,000
On sale: May 2005

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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