Now in its sixth generation, the BMW M5 is new for 2018. It’s bigger, lighter and now includes all-wheel drive. Lighter is good, but the rest is disheartening for us car folk. Nostalgic types and purists may sulk. And for those groups, it gets worse. The only transmission is a ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic. Quite simply, no car, not even the iconic M5, is immune to the realities of the times. The masses want more space inside and AWD assurance on the road. Thankfully, BMW took these particularly sour-for-car-nerd lemons and made a mighty fine lemonade. The sweetener came from a choice tree.
Named MxDrive, the most critical part of the M5’s AWD system are its three modes: four-wheel drive (4WD), 4WD sport and 2WD. The M5 only drives the front axle when the driver wants it. And even in 4WD the electronic center differential only diverts power to the front axle when it senses the electronically controlled limited-slip rear is out of traction. You can also independently adjust steering weight, shock absorber stiffness, and throttle mapping. Even the transmission has adjustable shifting speeds. Oh, and there’s also a “loud” button for the exhaust.
And why not have it loud when you have 591 reasons to shout? The new M5 once again uses a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 configured as a “hot-inside-V,” meaning the exhaust ports are between the banks, the intakes outside them. This allowed BMW to mount two twin-scroll compressors in between the banks with each one being spun by exhaust ports from either bank. This arrangement delivers more even exhaust pulses to the turbos and allows them to spin up faster.
The new engine maintains a 10.5:1 compression ratio, as before, but uses bigger turbos with an electric wastegate to give more control over the up to 24.6 psi of boost. All that additional air requires more fuel, so BMW swapped 2,900-psi (200 bar) fuel injectors for 5075-psi (350 bar), higher-pressure units. That along with 28 percent more efficient intercoolers and a swath of other parts and software help to spit out those 591 hp from 5,600-6,700 rpm and 553 lb-ft of torque between 1,800 and 5,600 rpm. That incredible range of peak torque can easily fool you into believing the aluminum hood hides closer to 650 hp underneath. And ZF’s tried-and-true eight-speed snaps from one cog to the next with encouraging speed, such that power is always on the ready.
And, despite the M5 casting a bigger shadow, the newest engine is pushing fewer pounds. According to BMW, the latest M5 weighs 4,090 pounds, despite AWD, making it lighter than the fifth generation. The aforementioned hood helps, and there’s extensive use of aluminum alloy throughout, but the easiest bit to brag about is the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof. Very strong and much lighter than steel, this saves weight and lowers the center of gravity. Weight-to-power ratio improves to 6.9 pounds per horsepower. This, along with AWD drive, explains reaching 62 mph in just 3.4 seconds from a standstill; 124 mph takes 11.1 seconds; and if you keep your foot in it, this big luxo cruiser hits 190 mph.
All this adds up to a big, floaty luxury sedan when the M5 wants to be and a big, yet rigid, performance sedan when it needs to be. BMW stuffed the M5 full of the mainstay luxuries you’d expect in a midsize premium sedan. On the interstate, set everything to comfort and the M5 soaks up miles with the serenity of a Japanese garden. The V8 whispers along at 2,000 rpm, wind noise is nicely muffled and the 70,000-way adjustable leather seats make it easy to get comfy. At 195.5 inches long (2 inches longer than before), there’s plenty of space for three friends in the cabin and all of their luggage in back.
But strap the bags in tight, because when the going gets curvy, the M5 can hustle. I was happiest keeping the throttle in efficient mode, the most linear application, and the shocks and steering in sport-plus. This combination proved highly capable, the staggered Pirelli P Zeros, 275/35ZR-20 in front, 285/35ZR-20 in back, held the road tenaciously and the V8 delivered immense muscle, all the time.
I do wish there was more steering feel. It’s accurate and the adjustable weighting is nice, but it feels less organic and intuitive than M5s of old. Tactile sensations are attenuated by a swath of electronics and other tech that lie between your hands on the wheel and the front tires. These things increase the car’s capability, but not the inherent joy a driver gets from extracting them.
But perhaps that back road is heading to a racetrack. Mine landed me at Circuito Estoril outside of Lisbon, Portugal. So why not have a go, I figured? After all, this car has gold-painted calipers and carbon-ceramic brakes with six-piston calipers in front and single-piston calipers in back clamping on massive rotors all the way around. If they’re painted blue, they’re steel, but still quite large.
Straight-line speed will never disappoint: I kissed 160 mph on the front straight in a two-ton sedan. That motor is such a sweetheart, as is the eight-speed automatic. Of course, I’d rather have a manual gearbox, but if the choice is between an automatic M5 and no M5, I choose the auto. I am not a purist, but a pragmatist, and the ZF gearbox shifts as quickly as I need and does little to dilute power delivery from the engine to the wheels. Overall performance is on par with best dual-clutch transmissions.
Chassis balance is superb and pretty darn neutral. Turn-in is more direct than expected, especially considering the M5’s size. And steady state cornering is easy to modulate — the car responds well to small inputs from the brake and throttle.
Adding AWD did pose its challenges, but BMW did a brilliant job to keep rear-drive feel. Even in 4WD sport mode, mid-corner stabs of the gas will send you sideways. Yet the combination of quick steering and a long wheelbase make it all-day easy to manage. And, if you really want to play around and burn up tires, simply set the MxDrive to 2WD and have fun. All vehicles of this class are going AWD, which is a shame, but it’s nice that BMW still gives you the opportunity to drive the car like the good old days.
You cannot hide the weight of this car everywhere, though the engineers at BMW tried and largely succeeded — except when you’re quickly transitioning from left to right. The M5 also showed its true girth later in the day because the car pretty quickly ate the shoulders of the front tires, shifting balance to understeer. Brakes, too, even the carbon ceramics, will fade and require new pads if abused. This is a capable track toy, but one that will burn up your wear-item budget.
Price of entry for the M5 is $103,595, a couple grand under the Mercedes E63S. The Mercedes has it beat on overall power and torque, but the Bimmer gives drivers more control.
Overall, the M5 is a very well-executed car with a blighted purpose. It’s a capable enough track car, but much too big to be anyone’s logical first choice for lapping duties. It’s also a very nice luxury sedan and one with presence, but maybe too much presence too often.
But its true purpose, perhaps, is a status symbol. And to that end, it is a mighty success. The BMW M5 has the specs to impress the jet set, the adjustability to satisfy the true car nerd and just enough of a grip on the great virtues of the past to keep the nostalgic at bay.
On Sale: Spring 2018
Base Price: $103,595
As Tested Price: $103,595
Powertrain: Twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, eight-speed automatic, AWD
Output: 591 hp @ 5,600-6,700 rpm; 553 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800-5,600 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,090 lbs
0-60 MPH: 3.4 sec
Pros: Raises the bar for performance cars with all-wheel drive
Cons: Not as connected as the best BMWs of the recent past