The super saloon now has four-wheel drive – should we cheer or weep?
Engine: 4.4-litre, V8, twin-turbocharged, petrol
Torque: 553lb ft
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 1930kg
Top speed: 190mph
Fuel economy: 26.9mpg
CO2, tax band: 241g/km, 37%
For all the twin-turbocharged muscle, BMW’s M5 has always been relatively restrained to look at. So it is here, but underneath there’s more hardware and software than there probably was in one of the earlier Moon missions. This is an executive express still, albeit one that has now moved over to four-wheel drive. So has all that driving purity been sacrificed on the altar of practicality?
From the outside the signs of outright aggression are there for those with eyes to see. The expanses of cooling vents, the four pipes, the big diffuser, and more. You can’t see it beneath all that thick paint, but there are aluminium panels in places and a carbonfibre roof, which loses weight from on high. The mass is low with this one, even though the weight loss programme only shed 15kg from the previous design.
But the 1930kg has a considerable amount of power to push it along. The revised 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 makes 592bhp. Yes, that’s just a few horses short of 600bhp. That’s 30 horses short of a McLaren F1. In an executive saloon.
BMW reckoned that this arms race had reached a point where it was no longer entirely credible to pump it all just to the back wheels, so now there’s a rear-biased all-wheel drive system to shuffle it all around, even though under normal running it’ll favour the rears. There’s an active M differential as well at the back.
So how much of a driver’s car is this new M5? The answer depends on the driver or, more specifically, on what decisions the driver makes. Anyone who struggles to make decisions isn’t going to get on well with this car because you have to choose which of three modes you want on dampers, steering, drivetrain, gearshift and four-wheel drive. Oh, not forgetting three choices for the stability control level.
And two settings for the exhaust. Okay we’ll stop now, because we have to make some decisions before actually driving the car. Generally, this comes over as a fairly quiet and sleek executive express, with few signs of yobbishness or raucous behaviour, even from that thumping V8.
Keep the modes low and you have a very smooth and easy to drive saloon, like, say, the 520d. Seriously, it’s delightful, peaceful and comfortable. And then you start ramping up the settings, the exhaust becomes politely raucous and things really take off. How could they not with that much horsepower and 553lb ft of torque? The eight-speed torque-converter automatic is slick as can be, and that power just pours through like someone blew a major breach in the dam.
Handling is excellent, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in a handling package you won’t find it in a saloon this big and heavy. It’s perfect in a straight line and highly composed in the corners, aided by quick, light steering, and it’s all so slick you might not notice how quickly you’re travelling. The four-wheel drive system is remarkably restrained, and most of the time you feel like you’re being pushed along by a torrent of power and torque, and there’s none of that shuffling to and fro of power you get in some all-wheel drive vehicles.
Of course, if you feel like spending some money on tyres, you can take it to a track, turn off the stability control – that’s one of its three modes – ramp everything else up to max and just go for it. At which point you’re in a tyre-smoking heaven of rear steering and howling V8. It’s still very much an M5, that’s for sure, it’s just that now there’s another thin layer between you and motoring mayhem. But it’s still there.