The fifth generation M5 off the venerable M division production line exceeds expectations, combining luxury and fomidable power while significantly reducing fuel consumption.
Road Test: High five for BMW's new M5
Expectations of a new car are never higher than when it wears both a BMW badge and that of its M division. Here's the 2012 M5, the fifth iteration of the sports saloon since the model was launched in 1984 and, naturally, it's the best yet.
But can it really be better than its accomplished predecessor in - as BMW itself suggests - every way?
Let's look at the facts first: the screaming 5.0L V10 engine has been eschewed in favour of a new 4.4L twin-turbo V8, based on the one powering the X6 and X5 M. It has a useful extra 50hp over the V10 of old, along with about 30 per cent more torque.
Somewhat shockingly, the full 680Nm is on tap all the way around the rev counter from 1,500 to 5,750rpm. Needless to say, it's devastatingly fast. Yet BMW has also managed to work its "EfficientDynamics" magic on the car, reducing fuel consumption and emissions by, again, 30 per cent.
That's partly thanks to the influence of the standard seven-speed double-clutch gearbox (and stop-start). As ever, the characteristics of this transmission can be altered by the driver, allowing everything from relaxed, smooth shifts to aggressive, full-throttle up-changes and delicious downshifts punctuated by an automatic throttle blip.
You could let the electronics make all the decisions for you, but it's more fun to do it for yourself, especially with such tactile gear-change paddles.
The previous M5 introduced a whole new level of customisation to the driving experience and when you sit in the latest car for the first time you quickly realise that the philosophy has been carried over. Owners can program in two distinct set-ups, which can be summoned at the touch of the new M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel.
You can alter the throttle response, power steering settings, transmission mode, level of stability control, damping and even the information contained in the excellent head-up display. It may all sound a bit over the top, but I guess a buyer will take a little time tweaking the settings to their liking and then leave them be. Gadget fans will love it.
Thankfully, though the new car is bristling with technology, it does not detract from the driving experience one iota; it adds to it. Instead of developing a car that the engineers reckon is the best compromise between luxury and sporting, they've allowed the driver to choose how he wants it. At the hard-core end of the scale, switch the steering, damping and throttle to Sport Plus, DSC (dynamic stability control) to fully off and the transmission to its fastest setting.
You'd best be prepared for the consequences if you do all this though, as the M5 truly comes alive and its 560hp is your sole responsibility.
The steering is heavy but it faithfully tells you what's happening at tarmac level; throttle response is scalpel sharp, requiring smooth, assured inputs; the damping is firm, meaning rock-solid body control (though surprisingly it's not that uncomfortable); and the gear changes verge on violent.
Do all this on a suitably exciting road and you'll come away grinning and buzzing with adrenaline. The uninitiated may want to leave the DSC in its interim setting, as the rear tyres are quick to relinquish their grip once you put all that torque through them and you'll need to be quick to control it. Once you get the hang of it, though, it's incredible fun.
We were lucky enough to test the limits of the M5 on the Ascari Race Resort in Spain and it's no surprise that it copes admirably. It's a true M-car in that respect, though is undoubtedly developed to be used on the road first and foremost. Nonetheless, the brakes seem up to the task of hauling it down from speed lap after lap, and the way it changes direction belies its two-tonne weight. Admittedly, it doesn't take long for the tyres to feel the strain. We don't expect many buyers to subject their pride and joy to this sort of abuse, but it's good to know that it fares well.
Much of this driving experience is more or less as it was in the previous M5, though the new model blows its predecessor away in terms of outright pace - and the V10-engined car was no slouch.
However, there's another aspect to the new car that stands out - and it's not the marked improvement in efficiency. Reset all the systems to default and you've got yourself a well-specified luxury car. It's genuinely comfortable, refined, quiet(ish) and happy to whisk five people and their luggage along for hours on end. The old car could never do that properly.
One key aspect has been carried over, and that's the relatively restrained looks. There's a more aggressive front-end, wider front wings with "M5" air outlets, 19in wheels, a rear spoiler and four exhaust pipes and, yet, perhaps because of the ubiquity of the 5 Series M Sport, it only draws attention when finished in one of the brighter colours.
Saying that, pictures don't convey how assertive the car's stance is on the road. In contrast, the interior is biased towards luxury, with sumptuous Merino leather covering the seats, parts of the dashboard and the centre console. There's a lot of equipment as standard as well, though there are just enough sprinklings of the M division's blue and red colours to remind you it's no ordinary 5 Series.
Somehow, BMW has endowed the new M5 with this dual personality, seemingly without compromising on either. Our expectations haven't only been met, they've been exceeded. And then some. See it at the Dubai Motor Show in November.
Engine 4.4L eight-cylinder
Gearbox Seven-speed DSG
Power 560hp @ 6,000-7,000rpm
Torque 680Nm @ 1,500-5,750rpm
Fuel economy, combined 9.9L/100km