The magical M badge, which at BMW officially stands for Motorsport, is also synonymous with ‘more’. More power, more thrill, more possibilities: all we want over time is more and BMW promises to deliver. The new 2018 BMW M5 treads in the footsteps of an illustrious pack of predecessors, raising the bar of performance to new heights. Easily one of the most anticipated cars of this year, the M5 promises to reignite the fury on the battlefield of the super sports sedans. We were invited to sunny Portugal to experience the new BMW M5 on road and track.
For me personally the world of BMW M is relatively unexplored territory, so I couldn’t have been more excited to have a go behind the wheel of the new M5. Better yet: the presence of all of its five predecessors, courtesy of BMW Classic, provided me with the opportunity for a quick crash course and some much needed brushing up on my experience driving BMW M models.
It’s always nice to see a brand new car accompanied by its predecessors. Here too, the path of development and changes throughout the more than 30 years of M5 are incredible to see. Taking it all in, I started contemplating which one of the older models I definitely wanted to drive the next day. The E60 M5 with V10 engine topped the list for me, a childhood dream finally becoming reality. First order of business however, was getting behind the wheel of the new 2018 M5.
A few radical changes headlined the the long anticipated release of the new BMW M5: xDrive all-wheel drive will be offered for the first time, the manual transmission is definitively sent into retirement and the Getrag-sourced double-clutch has been replaced by a ZF 8-speed automatic with torque converter. The immense power upgrade to the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 and new max torque output would have taxed the DCT of the previous generation to its limit. By all means an exciting preface, that is for sure.
Less radical are the changes to its design, entirely according to the current industry trend. The front of the new M5 is by far the most attractive and forms a nice evolution from the previous model. The longer full-LED ‘angel’ lights serve as an extension of the traditional kidney grille and make the M5 look wider. The kidney grille itself is slightly stretched outwards and plays a center role in the dynamic front apron, which is overall nicely proportioned and gives the M5 sufficient body at the front. I especially like how the front sensor and camera are tucked away below the license plate and appear as they are part of the central air intake.
There is a lot happening on the side of the car. The distinctive shoulder line runs along the door handles and dissolves into the large taillights. It’s nice, it gives the M5 more presence on the side. So do the slightly flared wheel arches, especially if the car is fitted with the optional 20-inch seven-double-spoke wheels finished in polished black. The contrasting brake calipers certainly form a handsome offset with the black wheels. All the way down a side skirt extension mildly slopes upwards to match the rear apron.
The rear of the M5 is not my favorite part of the design. The taillights could have been more subtle, and overall the rear could have been positioned a tad lower to make the car look more aggressive and dynamic from the rear. I do like the modest spoiler lip painted to match and how the dual twin-pipes fit into the rear diffuser. I would probably go for stainless steel rather than black, just to make them appear more prominently.
The interior leaves a very tidy and clean impression. It’s not the most luxurious in its segment, but has a very premium feel to it. The leather and contrasting stitching has quality written all over it, and with a mix of white and black leather the cabin feels bright and spacious. The infotainment screen is nicely positioned at eye height and contains endless functionality and connectivity. What I generally like about the interior is that without making compromises on offering the latest tech and functionality, it’s still very driver oriented.
I’m also a fan of the steering wheel, no weird shapes and cutoffs here. It’s very robust, normal sized and has a fantastic feel to it. The interface is well-organized too and the instruments have a premium look to them. All-in-all there is little to moan about the interior of the M5, apart from perhaps a few bits and pieces of plastic that could have been trimmed differently. The red ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ buttons behind the steering wheel, which let you save pre-configured driving settings, as well as the red start/stop button could have styled a little more subtly, although I understand the idea behind them very well: it yearns the driver to push on them.
Under the muscular hood of the M5 sits a refreshed 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that puts out 600 horsepower and 750 Nm of torque. That’s a solid increase compared to the F10 model, which produces 560 hp and 680 Nm of torque. A 0 to 100 km/h sprint takes just 3.4 seconds, while the top speed of the M5 is electronically limited at 250 km/h. With the M Driver’s Package, owners have the ability to reach a top speed of 305 km/h.
To put all that extra performance to the road and achieve these numbers, BMW introduced xDrive to an M model for the first time. It’s been generally received as a controversial, but understandable measure. Besides, there is no need for the purists to turn away: in M Dynamic mode all of those 600 horses are transferred to the rear axle, providing plenty of opportunities for unspoiled fun. Despite the extra weight an all-wheel drive system tacks on, BMW still managed to shave off 15 kilograms compared to the previous model.
Time to put the M5 through its paces in the back country of Estoril, Portugal. A first stretch on the highway gave me time to get familiar with the car. Short spurts forward instantly pushed me back in my seat, the new 8-speed M Steptronic based on the ZF 8-speed full automatic impresses with razor sharp shifts and rough kickbacks. The full 750 Nm are available from as low as 1,800 rpm, the turbo lag is hardly noticeable.
As I encountered a few quiet country roads moments later, the M5 started showing some of its real potential. Steering into corners is something else with the M5, it’s so precise and refined, you can place the car exactly how you want it. Coming out of corners, the xDrive and M Steptronic gearbox with integrated wet clutch work together to bring you back to mindboggling speeds in no-time. All this goes accompanied by a very deep exhaust note that finds its way into the well-isolated cabin.
The full potential of the new M5 is unlocked on the track. The race track of Estoril is particularly challenging, but leaves room to have a play around in M Dynamic mode. Here too, the M5 proved to be super efficient when cornering. It’s so nimble for its size and weight – it starts to get really challenging once you engage rear-wheel drive only and shut ESP completely off. I immediately noticed the difference in accelerating out of the corner, and you can really make that rear-end dance if you want to.
So how does it stock up against its ultimate rival, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S? I had the opportunity of driving the E63 a year earlier just a few 100 kilometers South at the race track of Portimao. They are a great match: both have AWD with wet clutch and the possibility to transfer all power to the rear wheels and a fully automatic gearbox. The E63 has slightly more power, 612 hp and 800 Nm of Torque, but weighs more too.
I would have to conclude that after driving both cars, the BMW is just a tad more precise and refined. I could see how it would be the faster car around the track, but that’s not the only thing that matters. In terms of design, the E63 arguably boasts more road presence and certainly ticks more boxes when it comes to comfort and interior features. The E63 also has a more intense soundtrack, if that is what you’re looking for. But if you are a skilled driver that likes to roam around the track every now and then, the M5 probably gives you more bang for your buck.
The BMW M5 starts from €117,900 in Germany, compared to the €121,892 price tag of the Mercedes-AMG E63 S. For the quick buyers BMW offers a First Edition model at an extra €19,500, limited at just 400 examples. For those who want to get creative with the looks of the M5, BMW recently released a range of ‘M Performance Parts’ that will definitely spice up the car’s road presence.