Road Tests

Drive Review: BMW M5 (2018) M xDrive

One last highlight of 2017

In a year that delivered several M derivatives as well as the new M8, it has been a fast-paced proliferation but until now none have threatened major disruption to the BMW M formula quite like the new 2018 BMW M5. Two things to consider before we fuss over the details; this is the fastest car BMW has on sale, it’s also the first to debut M xDrive which is the company’s Swiss Army Knife to its catchphrase Sheer Driving Pleasure. We’re told it will allow owners to access all the power, more of the time. That’s a good thing, right?

Sounds controversial

To the M illuminati, an all-wheel drive BMW M5 is the next vexing despair to when the brand shunned normally aspirated engines with turbo power or built the front-wheel drive Active Tourer, but 2017 was a slippery year for all old school recipes and yet we’re driving faster, lighter, cleaner cars than before so let’s not knot our emotions too tightly over this one.  Besides, alongside Audi’s quattro and Merc’s 4MATIC, it is a logical shift to register BMW’s M xDrive into the trifecta.

My X3 has something similar…

Except for the active rear differential, micro differences are embedded in the F90’s grey matter. Normal xDrive is programmed to recruit traction at the earliest detection of slip but that’s not always fast because it reverts to slamming power to the front, promoting understeer. Think early Audis. With the BMW M5 a central brain is ostensibly a little less paranoid when there’s a deficiency in grip, bestowing risk and reward to the driver with through an interactive set of challenges when power converges to the rear wheels.

Does it drift?

Yes, but you are required to seek it out by skipping through the menus and you really ought to think about where you’re doing this and why.

We can confirm that the pre-launch media material of Timo Glock flicking it sideways at the entry to a corner in the precise arc you’d attempt, maybe, with a BMW M2 are, unlike a Nurburgring laptime, entirely representative of the final product. Off means off in the dubious waters of traction control, promising that the front wheels be tasked solely with counter-steering as 441kW and 750Nm instantly overwhelms the rears for 4th gear black lines and flamboyant oversteer.

There’s still an unyielding amount of stabilising intervention that takes place in AWD MDM which is disappointing considering the mode’s safe but mischievous past, and how I think most owners will use their M5. But feast your eyes on the new vehicle settings which have an arm-span from AWD to MDM, AWD with ESC off, and the raw tyre shredding in 2WD and you’ll realise that the new BMW M5 has incredible bandwidth that probably deserves four or five separate reviews.

And when it’s not drifting, what’s the performance like?

You don’t need to meddle with the electronics or throttle to upstage the supercar elite. That’s all-wheel drive and 8-speed (Steptronic, not DCT) auto with launch control in a nutshell. The fastest M car to date has its targets set on last gen supercars, like the 458, with 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds – versus 4.4 in the Pirelli-burning F10 M5, and if you want it to go like it does in the latest Need For Speed, you’ll need to tick the 305km/h top speed option. Even with two axles demanding power, advances to the 4.4-litre’s reworked turbo setup, fuel pressure as well as weight saving negates an increase in fuel consumption.

Give me the Nurburgring time

Sorry but there isn’t one and BMW has no intention of stooping to a level of competition that condones, then publicly denies, any form of modification. Over dinner the engineer did confess that their own testing saw laptimes significantly quicker than the old car – internet forums will brandish this decision as defeatist but it’s hardly going to support the theory that Jaguar’s Project 8 is now a better car.

Quad pipes and token spoiler

Compared to the First Edition with its matte paint, black alloys and other bits of mascara, the standard BMW M5 has opted for a style that’s going to give other versions (think Competition Package) enough headroom for visual embellishments like carbon splitters, contrasting alloys. For now though the metal work is taut with subtle flares instead of meaty holes of peeled back bodywork around the bumpers but in no way is it going to be mistaken for one of the M Sport packages. It works airflow into and around the engine with fewer obvious protrusions but the carbon roof, a first on any M5, is evidence that BMW is on a diet at 1885kg plays 1945kg in the F10.

Lots of M badges inside?

The usual smattering but nothing to remind you that this is M xDrive. There are a few differentiators not included on BMW’s 540i. Logically they’re red: the starter button wouldn’t be out of place on a Civic Type R while the position of the M1 and M2 buttons is now where one’s thumbs comfortably rest on the inside of wheel. BMW has placed renewed emphasis on easy configuration – the growing list of driving modes is a clever cheat code to unlocking the M5’s multiple personalities – scaring oneself at the next corner, then rushing back to the all-sustaining security of all-wheel drive.

There was a time when M interiors were dull and old, or just not quite as widescreen as Mercedes’s or molecular as Audi’s. There aren’t 100 different interior colours, and while you can select different fragrances for the climate, M5 as a whole doesn’t confuse itself with superfluous elements. It’s fundamentally right. The technology you don’t want never interferes with the experience – an enormous head-up display, great iDrive, one screen and I’m happy. If you want to use gesture control or talk to your car, change the rpm and speedo gauge to something meaningless, the M5 will take care of that too.

Compared to its rivals.

It rides better than an E 63 S. Didn’t expect that. Minus the boxy seats, the pliancy as we wilfully melted Pirelli rubber into Portugal’s earnest scenic drive could have been mistaken for a regular 5 Series but with keener body control. Unlike the Mercedes, the M5 acts with enduring sophistication, to be civilised at cruising speed, creeps along lazily as if there’s a lightness of 200Nm underfoot and not nearly as violent in its normal modes. My gut says the E 63 S AMG is still the meteor shower – it has another 100Nm of intimidation – while the M5’s edges are a little smoother, exhausts drawing less attention with tighter crackles on a handful of early downshift. Engineered noise? Subtle enough, better with the exhaust enhancement button left alone. We’ll need to organise one of the biggest shootouts of 2018 to be sure which one strikes the eyes and the heart.

Verdict

For fairness, considerable more time with each driving mode is essential – this is a complex M with a perplexing number of signals nibbling at the electronics as it enters into every corner, wanting to straighten itself out, or reacting to every bump. Yet its equally night and day in its transformation from the old M5, it’ll switch character in an instant from a slightly nose-led drive that cooks up the front tyres due to its weight and size to one that feels tremendously supple in rear-wheel drive mode. The new BMW M5 arrives in South Africa in March 2018 and from our conversation with BMW SA, we know the intention is to bring it in below the R1.8 million price of the E 63 S.

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