I have to say that it was with a mixture of fear and excitement that I picked up a 2008 BMW M5 for a week long test drive. Colleagues had warned me of the prospect of having a police officer yank my driving privileges at the side of the road.
The fourth version of this revolutionary sedan continues with such subtle exterior cues as an integrated rear spoiler (which can be removed on order), massive 19-inch alloy spoked vortex rims, equally massive 285 mm wide rear tires and 4 beer can sized chromed exhaust pipes. Discreetly tucked into chromed fender fin vents and on the rear trunk lip, are the multi-coloured M5 logos. These visual markers confirm to the world that this is not your typical 5 series. The aluminum 5.0L V-10 engine goes unheralded from the outside, odd as this sits at the heart of what is arguably the fastest sedan on earth, but more about that later.
Inside the M5 occupants are treated to a combination of luxury and sporting reflection that is uncommon in all but the most sought after cars on the planet. Taut leather surfaces and bespoke suede accents blend seamlessly with the racing inspired brushed aluminum trim across the dashboard, console, door and dead pedal on the floor. The M logos are noticeable on the tachometer, gearshift lever, steering wheel and metal kick panel in the doorframe. The test vehicle came with the optional Executive package, which included the M multi-function seats. These have active seat side bolsters that push back against your torso to counter centrifugal force in turns, how did we live without this before?
As long as you have the smart key fob on you, depress the clutch and push the starter button. The ensuing rumble that emanates from under the hood should warn status seeking poseurs about this cars true intention. Truth be told, most times when the engine sits under 2,000 RPM the power plant seems displeased, an uncharacteristic rough vibration can be felt as the V-10 begs for fuel to burst free. Getting caught in stop and go traffic while trying to feather the clutch against the driveline’s aversion to the sub-2,000 RPM range becomes annoying. This was perhaps the only time I wished I had the 7-speed Sequential M Gearbox model.
After familiarizing myself with the general layout and feel of the car, it was time to find some private property with enough room to see whether the M5 was all that it was cranked up to be and how the chassis handled under all this power.
At regular engine output, the M5 is a delight to drive, totally predictable with near perfect balance. However to fully experience the M5 it was time to go beyond impulse power and push the limits of warp speed.
Seek out an inconspicuous button on the steering wheel, just marked “M”, pressing this unleashes the posted maximum 500 HP, instead of the normally available 400. Apply throttle and release the clutch, a firm but constant rush of power propels the M5 forward with alarming smoothness, such that ones perception of speed is challenged and thus the danger of incarceration looms. Thank goodness our tester was equipped with the heads up display unit allowing the driver to monitor their speed on a constant basis.
The first 0-100-km/hr run took over 5 seconds, a figure hampered by the application of the omni-present traction control. Even with the system turned off it never truly allows the driver unrestricted use of the engines 500 HP, the system only hides deeper in the weeds waiting to save those drivers who have waded too far out of their comfort zone. With the electronic governance rolled back, a sub 5-second time became the norm. One word of caution, redlining the vehicle in second gear could get you a nasty speeding ticket on any highway in Canada!
The sophisticated high pressure Double Vanos variable valve timing system produces a relatively flat torque curve that tops out with 383 lb-ft at 6,100 RPM while horsepower sits along an almost vertical line plateauing with 500 HP being hammered out at 7750 RPM. All this means downshifting is hardly a requirement for passing or accelerating.
Fuel economy is something normally overlooked on a vehicle in this class however we observed 14.7L/100 kms on a mixed cycle without the M button in use. This figure would normally be lauded except for a rather smallish 70L fuel tank that limits the range of the M5.
Braking is as impressive as the acceleration, which is as it should be in a car of this magnitude. Emergency stops were near chest bruising across the seat belt plane; even slower stops with a bit too much pedal weight were neck snapping in brevity. Take a look at the massive drilled and vented discs if you need visual confirmation of what will likely save you from impending disaster if you manage to approach the car’s limits.
Handling walks a tightrope of sedan-like comfort and sports car exhilaration. The all-aluminum M-tuned suspension is a benchmark in the balance of handling and personal comfort. The vehicle telegraphs all the input a driver could want without any of the unwanted extras lesser designs tend to transmit.
To put the cars abilities in perspective, while North American models are limited to 250 km/hr, unconfirmed rumours persist of an unlimited M5 in Europe, reportedly allowing it to top out at 320 km/hr, better known by its culturally significant limitation, 200 MPH. The BMW M5 is truly a Supercar by my reckoning, it manages to justify its existence as a mild mannered family truckster and in a heartbeat, dons its super-hero cape and vaults outward to a level of performance few others can equal.