Have you ever read or watched a bad review of the BMW M5? No, me neither. There’s a very good reason for that; it’s because the M5 is very hard car to fault. I’m not exaggerating here, I had to think hard and nitpick more than I ever had in my life to find anything negative about the M5. But before we get to those, and they’re only very trivial, let’s talk about why the M5 is so adored by the motoring world.

The M5 celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with the first E28 M5 being launched in 1985. Not only was this the start of one of BMW’s best known models but it also paved the way for other German manufacturers to produce their own take of a fast executive sedan. To say the Audi RS6 and Mercedes E AMG owe their existence to the M5 might be an understatement.

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Each generation after the E28 was as good, if not better, than the one before. The E39 in particular has gone on to gain a cult status. The more recent E60, the first M5 to forgo a manual transmission, was controversial but that glorious V10 more than made up for it.

Then we got the current F10 generation. Launched in 2012, it received a minor facelift last year. As well as an updated design, the F10 received a minor power hike too. As if the old car’s 552bhp/405kW wasn’t enough.

Does It Move?

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Yes, and rather quickly. Full disclosure, the M5 is the most powerful car I’ve driven. It previously it was the Audi R8 V10 Plus, which ‘only’ had 552bhp/405kW and the Maserati Quattroporte GTS at 530bhp/390kW. But while the R8 was impressive because it was a supercar and the Maserati because it had a Ferrari engine, the M5 is still a German executive sedan.

Let’s start with the heart of the M5, it’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. It develops 560bhp/412kW and 680NM of torque. That’s super sports car territory. That’s about on par with a Ferrari California T, Aston Martin Vanquish, and Porsche 911 Turbo S. Which means 0-100 km/h is also sports car fast, taking just 4.3 seconds and a top speed that’s electronically limited to 250. The 0-100 sprint can be done effortlessly with the car’s launch control system.

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To engage launch control you have to go through a series of steps. Engage M2 mode with DSC off. Left foot on the brake, push the gear lever up to ‘-‘ mode. Right foot on the throttle, release the brake. When you’re ready to go let go of the lever and you’re catapulted towards the horizon. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.

What isn’t complicated is the end result. It doesn’t so much as push you into the seats but rather getting punched in the chest by Manny Pacquiao. It’s a brutal and visceral experience that gets better the more you do it. There’s absolutely no real world use for it, you’d be labeled a lunatic if you were to use launch control at a set of traffic lights in the middle of a city. But on a track or on an empty bit of country road, yeah it’s an absolute blast.

Where the M5’s epic power plant shines though is on the open road. It longs for a big open stretch of tarmac to unleash the power and torque. As you can imagine overtaking manoeuvres are done in the blink of an eye.

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I have a theory that I want to try out very much, perhaps next time I get an M5 to test. I think instead of using defibrillators, paramedics should take patients in an M5 in M2 mode around some twisty roads to resuscitate them. On the way to Lake Yamanaka I drove past Fuji-Q theme park, home to Japan’s fastest jet coaster. But I couldn’t help but think I was getting more of an adrenaline rush in the M5 than those people on the jet coaster.

Then there’s the noise. I’ll admit, the 5.5-litre V8 Bi-Turbo in a ’63’ AMG Merc does sound nicer to my ears, but the V8 in the M5 still manages to please. During acceleration you get the snarl of the V8 and a whiff of turbo whine to make things sound special. But where it shines is in the overrun or when you change down a gear. I do love a pop and crackle every now and then.

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But deep down in the back of my mind I knew some of the noises was fake and unnatural. You see, BMW must’ve been so proud of the engine note that they decided to feed some of that noise through the car’s speakers. It’s only the low frequency noises but I still wished what I heard inside was more of the natural sound. But at least you can give people on the outside a good show.

BMW are happy to say the new 4.4-litre turbo V8 is more powerful and economical than the previous generation’s V10 engine. I’m sure that’s true but because it’s very easy to get lost in all the fun this engine provides, the fuel economy quickly takes a tumble. If you want a car that sips on fuel, the M5 is not it. I was averaging around 16L/100km. I didn’t care though, I was having too much fun.

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A car with as much power as the M5 needs some serious brakes to bring it safely to a halt. Luckily my test car came with the optional M Carbon Ceramic Brakes. With 410mm discs up front and 390mm at the rear, they were some of the biggest I’ve seen.

This was my first chance to properly test carbon ceramic brakes and the way the stopped the not-so-light M5 had me out of breath. At ¥1,193,000 (NZ$14,800 approx) they’re an expensive option but worth if it. The gold-painted calipers alone are enough to justify the asking price. One thing you have to be wary of though are the squeaky nature of carbon ceramic brakes. Once they’ve warmed up it’s fine, but around town it’s not very cool pulling up at a set of lights with squeaky brakes.

Can it go around corners?

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Being a big, rear-wheel drive, 560bhp BMW you’d expect it to be a bit of a handful but it’s actually very manageable. Unlike a certain other fast German sedans, the M5’s power doesn’t dominate the overall experience. Rather it lurks in the background ready to pounce when you’re ready for it to.

The steering is electric-assisted which means at low speeds it’s light and a doddle to use around town. But as you pick up speed it gets meatier. It’s one of the more fluid and natural feeling electric-assisted steering systems I’ve come across. No, it doesn’t have the same feel as an old-fashioned hydraulic system but that’s just the world we live in now. That’s not to say it’s no good though, oh no. Far from it in fact.

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The handling is so balanced Olympic figure skaters could learn a thing or two from it. Despite its size, and it’s a pretty big car, you can place it as precisely on the road as a much smaller car. It’s near two-tonne weight almost vanishes after your confidence with the car increases. A car this big and weighing this much shouldn’t handle so well. It literally defies physics.

In M1 mode with DSC on you’re able to drive enthusiastically and look like a hero without dying. In M2 with DSC off you can still have fun but you need to be fully awake. But of course you’d be awake, this car is an absolute rush. I think if you had one of these you could save a lot of money on not needing coffee or Red Bull to wake you up in the mornings.

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But stability is the theme here. Taking on a corner at speed in this felt similar to a bullet train going around a bend. It sticks to the ground and you can feel the progression of the power and the steering as you push your way through the apex.

The responses were so electrifyingly quick I’m expecting a hefty power bill next month. I really did feel guilty for having this much fun in a car. If I had videoed myself during my time with the M5 I think you’d be able to see how many times this car made me giggle or laugh out loud. This car has a certain charm and personality about it. It’d be the sort of car that’d laugh at a fart joke.

Will it break my back?

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But it can also do all the sensible grown up stuff too. This thing loves motorways, it’ll eat them up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with room to spare for dessert. Tone everything back down to their Comfort and Efficient settings, put on some easy listening music and just see the kilometres disappear in a blur.

It’s so stable and smooth on a motorway cruise, more often than not you don’t realise how fast you’re actually going. Sounds good at first but I can see myself losing my license very quickly in this. Thank God for cruise control then. As you’d expect NVH levels are very low, the only noise that’s apparent inside is from the tyre roar. Engine and wind noises are near non-existent.

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Around twisty roads, the M5 never felt harsh or uncomfortable. I didn’t feel as connected to the road as I would in a typical sports car but I guess that’s the point of the M5. It’s not trying to be a sports car, it knows that. What it is a very comfortable way of covering great distances at mind-boggling speed.

What really impressed me about the M5 was its ability to transform from a raging sports car to a luxe-barge at the touch of a button. Put it into comfort mode and the M5 wafts along the motorway like any other executive sedan. And with that 4.4-litre turbo V8 under the bonnet, overtaking manoeuvres are stress-free.

What’s it like inside?

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The special feeling continues inside. Whoever chose the spec for this test car must’ve read my mind. With red leather, wood/aluminium trim, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system this car was pretty much my ideal spec.

The seats are important in a car like this because they need to be supportive enough to hold you in place when you’re at a track but comfortable enough for a cross-continent road trip. I’m happy to report the M5’s are easily the best compromise of the two I’ve experienced.

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Being electrically adjustable there’s nigh on infinite amounts of adjustability. They’re also heated and ventilated so you needn’t worry about having a sweaty back or cold bum. I’m glad BMW didn’t go for a more bucket style seat as the ones they have in the M5 suit it perfectly. The perfect balance of body hugging-ness and plushness.

As you’d expect, fit and finish were top quality. Everything you saw and touched was another reminder that you were in something special. Then there’s the smell. It’s what I imagine a vault in a Swiss bank would smell like. It oozed wealth. The optional extended leather package made it feel appropriately luxurious inside. There were virtually no plastics on the main touch points, which I absolutely loved.

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This M5 was equipped with a rear-entertainment system. It was great because my dad was able to watch Japanese TV and listen to it through headphones and I was free to play whatever I wanted through the pitch-perfect Bang & Olufsen speakers. I’ve been a long time fan of B&O and the speakers in the M5 did not disappoint. And I’d never bore of seeing the central speaker rise and retract.

Well equipped as expected everything you could possibly need. I was surprised, however, by the lack of an adaptive cruise control. It would’ve made Japan’s notorious rush hour commute more bearable. But on the flip side this is a car that needs to be driven and manhandled to be appreciated.

It can’t be all perfect

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Okay, so some negatives. As I’ve mentioned I wasn’t too fond of the noise playback through the speakers. To be fair it’s only for certain frequencies and not the whole time. But the engine and exhaust noises are best heard with the windows down.

I haven’t mentioned the price for a reason. It’s an expensive car to buy, and as I mentioned with its thirst, expensive to run too. There is a price to pay for perfection.

The Stop/Start and DCT don’t always work well together. It’ll take some getting used to for it to creep smoothly away from a set of lights. Otherwise you’ll end up looking jerky – in more ways than one. DCT works fine at higher speeds but you’re not always going to be doing 100 km/h on your commute to work.

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The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePowerFuel L/100kmCO2 g/km0-100 km/hPrice – High to Low
Porsche Panamera GTS4.8-litre, V8 petrol440bhp/324kW10.9L/100km249g/km4.4 secNZ$287,100
Maserati Quattroporte GTS3.8-litre, V8 twin-turbo petrol530bhp/390kW11.8L/100km274g/km4.7 secNZ$258,900
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG5.5-litre, V8 twin-turbo petrol584bhp/430kW10L/100km234g/km4.1 secNZ$215,000
BMW M54.4-litre, V8 twin-turbo petrol560bhp/412kW9.9/100km232g/km4.3 secNZ$210,800
Audi RS74.0-litre, V8 twin-turbo petrol560bhp/412kW9.8L/100km229g/km3.9 secNZ$209,900
Jaguar XFR-S5.0-litre, V8 supercharged petrol550bhp/405kW11.6/100km270g/km4.6 secNZ$185,000
HSV GTS6.2-litre V8, supercharged petrol584bhp/430kW15.7L/100km373g/km4.4 secNZ$119,990
Chrysler 300 SRT86.4-litre V8, petrol471bhp/347kW13L/100km298g/km4.8 secNZ$87,990

 

What Do We Think

ProsCons
  • Monstrous power and torque from a breathtaking engine
  • Stop/Start and DCT can be a jerky combo at low speeds
  • Can keep up with the best sports cars around mountain roads
  • Expensive to buy and run
  • Then can cruise back home in typical German luxury
  • Personally not a fan of the engine/exhaust playback through speakers
  • Has all the bells and whistles you could ever need
  • Being able to say you’ve got an M5

I’ve long championed the Golf GTI as the only car anyone could ever need. It’s fast, practical, economical, good looking, well built, and doesn’t offend. If you can stretch the extra $120,000 needed to get an M5 then do it because the M5 really is the only car anyone could ever need.

That’s not to say the M5 is the best car in the world, it’s not better than say a Pagani Huayra or a LaFerrari. But as an all-rounder, the M5 is second to none. For the purposes it was designed for, it’s hard to think of a car that’s as complete as this. It’s the best example of a split-personality I’ve experienced that’s actually good.

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The road from Lake Yamanaka to Fuji Speedway with the view of Mount Fuji, in a BMW M5 on a warm autumn day was by far the best drive of my life so far. It’ll be an experience I won’t forget. While the views and the road were breathtaking, the car itself was the highlight. In anything less than an M5 I don’t think it would’ve felt as special.

I reckon the M5 would be one of those cars where if you owned it you would never regret it. You wouldn’t look at another car and wish you had that instead. Because short of a $1,000,000+ hypercar, few things would be able to keep up with an M5 on an open stretch of road. Few cars could be used as a daily driver yet provide a primal rush every time you got in it. Bavaria is home to many legends but none are as awe-inspiring as the M5.

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Vehicle TypeLarge Sedan
Starting Price¥15,530,000 (approx. $193,021)
Tested Price¥17,925,000 (approx. $222,789)
Engine4394cc V8 DOHC twin-turbo petrol
Transmission7-speed dual-clutch transmission
0-100 kph4.3 seconds
Kerb Weight1980kg
Length x Width x Height4920mm x 1890mm x 1470mm
Cargo Capacity520L
Fuel Tank80L
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
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Words cannot begin to describe how much I love cars but it's worth a try. Grew up obsessed with them and want to pursue a career writing about them. Anything from small city cars to the most exotic of supercars will catch my attention.

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