Motors

BMW M5: Still the definitive everyday supercar

The latest BMW M5 is a monumental car, a carbon fibre fist wrapped an alcantara glove, writes William Scholes

William Scholes
04 April, 2018 01:00

IT might have been a World Cup year, but despite Northern Ireland qualifying for the tournament my attention wasn't completely on Mexico 86, writes William Scholes.

While other boys were swapping Panini football stickers of Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong - Diego Maradona, Socrates and Gary Lineker might have got a look in, too - I was more interested in the facts and figures contained in my well-thumbed copy of the Observer's Book of Automobiles.

A constant companion during my primary school days, I still have a stack of these on a shelf at home.

Each bears the patina of its year of hard labour, the corners softened from being pulled in and out of a school bag and held in my eager young hands.

The cover car of the 1986 edition was a fire engine red BMW M635CSi. Elegant, powerful and rare, it was a lovely thing and worthy of its star billing.

However, it was another BMW, captured in a small black and white photograph in that Observer's book, which became my object of desire that year. And ever since, to be honest.

The BMW M5 was, and is, my kind of car. As comfortable and refined as any regular 5 Series, the M5 went like a rocket courtesy of the 3.0-litre straight-six engine that had been developed for the company's M1 supercar.

The subtlety of the finished product helped make it so deeply appealing and ineffably cool. The only real exterior tell-tale was the small M5 badge on the grille and boot lid, yet with its 278bhp and 251lb.ft this rather ordinary looking BMW could hit 152mph and complete the 0-60mph sprint in a shade over 6 seconds.

That might not be too startling these days, but back then it meant the M5 could humble a contemporary Ferrari.

It cost almost as much as a Ferrari, too, reflecting the exotic pedigree of the M5's engineering and the fact the car was hand-finished by BMW's Motorsport division.

The template established by that first M5 has been honed and developed as successive generations of the 5 Series have come and gone, bringing us to the point where we have arrived at the car on these pages, the 2018 manifestation of the original stealth supercar.

It is an epic, monumental piece of kit.

It helps that the latest 5 Series is itself a fabulous car. So swift and secure is it in its more potent forms, that it almost begs the question whether the full-fat M car is strictly necessary.

The BMW brushes aside straights with ease, gathering speed like you're sat on a deckchair hit by an express train, and its mighty carbon ceramic brakes are indefatigable, meaning the M5 decelerates even more viciously than it accelerates

But thank goodness there are those for whom even the more-than-enough of a 540i is, well, still not quite enough.

After the United States, the UK is the second hungriest market for the M5, with around 500 finding a home each year.

As with the last M5, under the bonnet is a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, tuned to make 592bhp and 553lb.ft.

 BMW M5

That's a step up from the last car and firmly in the 'ample' category, but it is the transmission which gives this M5 a radical edge over its predecessors.

It debuts an M-specific four-wheel-drive system - biased to the rear, naturally - and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

In tandem with the powerplant these help propel the M5 from 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and on to an electronically limited 155mph; this can be optionally raised to 190mph. The 0-124mph sprint takes a whisker over 11 seconds.

Such is the sophistication of the M5 that everything you can think of, and probably some you can't, can be tweaked to your whim.

Want to make your all-wheel-drive super-saloon a rear-drive drift machine? There's a setting for that.

Want to stiffen the suspension, soften the throttle response, increase the steering weight, change the exhaust note and make the transmission swap gears more rapidly? You can do all that too. And more.

Indeed, such is the flexibility of the drivetrain and chassis that you could spend weeks playing with all the settings and still not have tried all the variations. This is the way of the modern, digital performance car.

The good people from BMW thoughtfully laid on the beautiful Anglesey circuit in north Wales to help a bunch of lucky journalists explore just how awesomely competent and ridiculously fast their new M5 is.

This stunning track, which feels like it is perched on the edge of the earth, has spectacular views across the Irish Sea and towards Snowdonia, that threaten to distract you from every apex and braking zone.

The M5, however, has more than enough about it to capture your attention, even with soft twilight settling over the track.

Road cars can feel overwhelmed when driven in anger at a circuit - most are too soft, too slow, lack the requisite precision and don't brake adequately for track use - but the big BMW simply feels at home.

It brushes aside straights with ease, gathering speed like you're sat on a deckchair hit by an express train, and the trick chassis allows you to dispatch corners in a variety of attitudes.

Away from the track and on real roads, the M5 is every bit the superior executive car that the regular 5 Series is. It is lavishly equipped, with an Alcantara-lined kebab holder-and-heater perhaps the only major omission from the long specification list

The brakes - mighty carbon ceramic affairs, a £7,500 option fitted to the test cars - are indefatigable, meaning the M5 decelerates even more viciously than it accelerates.

Exposed, as it is, at the top of a cliff kissed by the Irish Sea means Anglesey is not the warmest place on earth.

It may, though, be one of the windiest. A presentation given in the sub-zero pit garages, gamely delivered by some of BMW's doughtiest media types against a background of rattling doors and a wind sharper than a stiletto, emphasised the two sides of the M5's character - track tool and executive express.

I'm not sure how many owners will take their über-BMW to a circuit - this is a car that costs from £90,000, after all... - though the fact that you can obviously adds to the authenticity of the M5 experience.

Of more relevance is how the car copes on real roads. Here, it's every bit the superior executive car that the regular 5 Series is. It is lavishly equipped, with an Alcantara-lined kebab holder-and-heater perhaps the only major omission from the long specification list.

Driving back from the track to the hotel along narrow country lanes, pitch black in the Welsh night, highlighted the eerie effectiveness of the adaptive LED headlamps.

 BMW M5

The bumpy roads also demonstrated just how well the BMW rides, a tribute to the operating breadth of its electronic dampers.

For a big, heavy, two tonne car with 20-inch alloys shod with low profile tyres which didn't feel roly-poly on a circuit, this is a considerable achievement.

Up in the mountains the next day, it reveals more of its character. Completely unflappable, endlessly rapid and with boundless grip, the M5 is just about flawless as it goes about the business of rearranging your internal organs.

Being pedantic, the plastic gearshift paddles lack the tactility of the aluminium fillets Alfa Romeo fits on the Giulia Quadrifoglio.

And the same growth spurt that has seen the 5 Series become a 5 metre long and 2 metre wide car means the M5 doesn't pull off the trick common to all the best performance cars of shrinking around the driver as often as you might like.

Those niggles aside, the BMW is absorbing and satisfying to drive when you want to delve into its capabilities and experiment with its array of chassis settings and drivetrain modes, yet when you just want a relaxed, comfortable drive, the M5 happily obliges.

It is a carbon fibre fist wrapped in a glove made from the swathes of alcantara that line the interior.

This duality has always been at the heart of what makes the M5 so deeply desirable.

Being able to play either role with equal conviction while loaded with passengers and luggage is the thread of DNA which links the legend of the original 1984 M5 to its 2018 iteration.

Faster and more powerful than ever, and loaded with the sort of high-tech engineering that hadn't even been dreamed of 30 years ago, the M5 remains the definitive, subtle everyday supercar.

My 1986 self would approve.

Faster and more powerful than ever, and loaded with the sort of high-tech engineering that hadn't even been dreamed of 30 years ago, the M5 remains the definitive, subtle everyday supercar

AT A GLANCE

BMW M5

Price: £89,640. As tested £105,795. Options included: Rhodonite Silver 'Individual' metallic paint £1,095; comfort package, with heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel and digital display key, £1,195; premium package, with soft-close doors, ventilated and massage seats, £1,995; Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system £3,090; M carbon engine cover £1,025; M seat belts £260; M carbon ceramic brakes £7,495

Engine and transmission: 4.4-litre V8 petrol twin-turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 592bhp, 553lb.ft

Performance: Top speed 155mph (electronically limited), 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds

Fuel consumption and CO2: 26.9mpg (EU combined), 15.8mpg (real world), 241g/km

Car tax: £1,700 in first year, then £450 annually

Benefit in kind: 37 per cent

Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (91/85/81/59), 2017

 BMW M5

04 April, 2018 01:00 Motors

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