BMW M5 First Drive

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This is a big deal. And heres why. BMWs new M5 is the first M division car to come with all-wheel drive, apart from the X5/X6 M SUVs. Thats breaking tradition, a rich motorsports-driven heritage that hung on to the front engine, rear-wheel drive formula to deliver the joy of driving. With 600bhp on tap in this new M5, that formula needed to be tweaked.

The answer came in the form of M tuned all-wheel drive or M x-Drive. For purists and fans of the BMW rear-wheel drive formula, were going to launch into tech geek mode.

The system, predominantly, sends torque to the rear wheels, using a clever clutch-based transfer case and an electronically locking differential (the Active M Differential) on the rear axle that can send between 0 to 100 per cent drive to a given wheel. If a slip is detected, torque can be diverted to the front wheels too.

The icing is on the differential drive modes. There are 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD modes. Yup, thats 2WD, as in 2 wheel drive, as in rear-wheel drive only. The system has the ability to disable the front axle completely, only sending power to the rear.

The driving modes are made further fun, by allowing the driver to only choose the latter with stability control turned completely off! And, lets remember this is 600bhp and 750Nm of torque were talking about.

The engine is essentially the same S63 4.4-litre block from the previous gen F10 M5 but with 40bhp more power. This is achieved through new turbos with larger compressors, higher pressure injectors and upgraded oil pumps. The power is no longer put down via a twin-clutch gearbox, instead, a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque converter is put into use. BMW says this was done since the pros of smoother shifts and better reliability outweighed the con of marginally slower shifts.

Confusingly, its based on the G30 5-Series but the new M5 is codenamed F90. Compared to the car its based on, it gets an inch wider track at the front and a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof. This helps it weigh in at 1,930kg wet, which is 15kg lighter than the last gen F10 M5 even though its carrying the added weight of all-wheel drive.
This is a lot of mass for sure but the all-wheel drive helps cut the 0-100kmph time from 4.4 seconds to 3.4 seconds. Youd be surprised at the way the new M5 drives. We were.

At the first corner we attacked, with the M5 in 4WD mode with all the electric nannies watching, the car went into tyre-squealing understeer, then a controlled four-wheel drift when we got on the power. Okay, that vaguely front-heavy feel is typical of a high-performance all-wheel-drive car.

The gearbox gets you set three levels of ferocity with which it will shift but shifts are smooth and seamless throughout. Throttle response is outstanding and it just takes a nudge to go from 100kmph and 1,400rpm in top gear too much higher multiples of speed. If you take manual control of the gearbox, you can feel the turbo spool up to 1,800rpm, which is when peak torque comes in and pushes you back into the seat.

Even in fourth gear! We found ourselves squeezing down on the throttle just to see what breaking the sound barrier must feel like. This turn of speed really is something special, especially in a luxury sedan. What will also take some getting used to are the brakes.

The optional (and massive) carbon ceramics on our test car were slightly grabby but, of course, braking performance is stupendous. Coming to the elephant in the room, which is the discreet exhaust sound. Sure you can hear the angry V8 growl inside the car but thats helped by the stereo system piping sound into the cabin. For passersby, the M5 is barely discernible over traffic noise. Thats either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how youre looking at it.

Incidentally, the M5 looks like it could be any other 5-Series, with larger wheels. The car we received does stand out but it is one out of just 400 First Edition cars, that come in the lovely Frozen Red paint with black wheels and dark trim.

In a more conservative colour, the M5 is definitely a car that will escape most peoples notice, except the ones who know and spot the more aggressive bumpers, side air vents and M badging. We think it goes well with the sleeper image the M5 has enjoyed over the years.

Inside, you get white upholstery and contrast stitching, with brilliantly supportive M Sport seats. The steering wheel, dials, heads-up display and gear lever all get M-specific cues and do enough to let you know youre driving something special.

Full disclosure:
I havent had the pleasure of driving the previous-gen M5 to compare. But the new M5 has proved to possess an uncanny balance going around corners, thats most unlike other high powered all-wheel-drive cars Ive driven. The engine certainly is one of the best Ive experienced so far. Whats most surprising is that neither ride comfort nor straight line performance has been compromised at the cost of the fun rear-wheel drive characteristics. It really is the ultimate do-it-all car.