BMW's M5 continues to define what a super saloon should be. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
BMW's M5 is the yardstick against which all serious performance saloons are judged, a car that in sixth 'F90' generation form gets all-wheel drive for the first time. The company insists that the bespoke 'M xDrive' set-up is compatible with its brand values: it's certainly needed to control the prodigious output of this model's refettled 600hp 4.4-litre V8. A trick rear diff gets the power to the tarmac, there's an uprated auto gearbox and a myriad of drive mode settings to make this the most configurable performance car on the planet. Munich, it seems, has thought of almost everything.
BMW invented the executive super saloon with their M5 and though Audi's RS6 and AMG versions of Mercedes' E-Class have offered stiff competition in recent years, for many, this remains the definitive motorsport-bred business blaster. Time to rate this 'F90'-series sixth generation version.
From the outset in 1984, this model line was all about straight six power, normal aspiration and rear wheel drive but over the years, all these original staples have evolved as BMW seeks to reinterpret what the ultimate super saloon should be. A V8 engine arrived for the 'E39' third generation version in 1998. And turbocharging was adopted for this current car's fifth generation 'F10'-series predecessor in 2011. Now at last, we've got 4WD too, though BMW reassures us that you can turn it off if you want and slide the back around. Which is nice...
The main reason all-wheel drive traction is needed lies with the news that engine output from the twin turbo V8 unit that's carried over here has now reached 600hp - 39hp more than before. We're here to put it all to the test - and enjoy a fresh chapter in the history of one of our favourite high performance standard-setters.
We've tested every generation of M5 over the last thirty five years - but nothing quite like this sixth 'F90'-series incarnation. The big news this time round is the addition of 4WD to the package, an M xDrive system incorporated in such a way as to only activate additional drive to the front wheels in extremis, so keeping this BMW's essentially rear-driven character. There's a selectable track-orientated 2WD-only driving mode if you really want to throw the back around. Power is provided by the most potent engine ever devised by BMW's high performance M division, a revised version of the 4.4-litre V8 unit used by the previous 'F10'-series model. This time, thanks to a sharper set of twin turbos, a new cooling system, a revised exhaust and higher injection pressures, it puts out 600hp - 40hp more than before - or as much as 625hp in the case of the uprated 'Competition' variant.
This powerplant doesn't quite have the thundery bluster of the AMG V8 used in this M5's Mercedes E 63 arch-rival, even if the optional M Sport-tuned tail pipes are fitted. But its output is now certainly a match for that Stuttgart saloon, as are the performance figures, which see 62mph from rest taking just 3.4s in this standard model en route to a top speed that when de-restricted will take you to 190mph. That's Ferrari-fast. But of course a two-tonne super saloon isn't going to change direction with the agility of that Maranello model. Or so you'd think. Actually, the M5 does an astonishingly good job of disguising all that bulk, aided hugely by the Active M differential that varies torque across the M-specific back axle. And by the extent to which you can set the car up to your exact driving preferences via short-cut buttons and an 'M-configuration' that allows you to alter stability settings, engine response, suspension and steering feel and timings for the torque-converter 8-speed 'M Steptronic' auto transmission that's been introduced this time round.
Design and Build
You'd have to know your BMWs to recognise this one's exalted status. The wheel arches are gently teased over M Double-spoke 20-inch alloys, through which you glimpse the high performance braking system. In addition, there are M-specific mirrors and M5-branded side gills - but that's about it for the model-specific changes. Unless you happen to be admiring the car from an upper window. Then you'll be able to take in the lovely 'CFRP' 'CarbonFibre Reinforced Pastic' roof.
It says a lot about the quality of the seventh generation 'G30' BMW 5 Series that it's only taken a bit of fairly minor fettling to make this cabin feel entirely appropriate to a car with a six-figure price tag. And to a supersonic saloon with Ferrari levels of performance. The primary contributor to that lies with the M multifunctional sports seats, which grip you tightly, use soft fine grain Merino leather and feature an 'M5' logo beneath the headrest.
You also get a red starter button and anthracite-coloured alcantara headlining. And the main controls are nicely finished - the bespoke red-striped stick you get for the new eight-speed M Stepronic auto gearbox and the thick three-spoke M leather steering wheel with its important two red Memory-setting buttons you'll want to programme to your preferences at the earliest opportunity. Through it, you view an M-branded set of graphics in the standard 'Digital Cockpit' instrument binnacle screen. In the rear, there's a fraction less space than you'd get in a rival E 63, but the difference isn't very great. Out back, there's a decent-sized 530-litre boot.
Market and Model
Pricing's taken quite a leap for this sixth generation model, which now lists at around £90,000 in this standard 600hp form. Back in 2011, the previous 'F10'-series rear-driven MK5 version launched at around £70,000, but of course this time round, you get AWD, more power and more kit. BMW also offers an uprated 625hp 'Competition' version of this car, with even sharper handling and extra equipment, but that model will cost you well over £96,000. In case you were wondering, there's only a saloon body style on offer; some previous generation M5s have also been available in 'Touring' estate guise. BMW says it's looked at that for this 'F90'-series car, but because the rear axle and wheel travel is quite different on a 5 Series wagon, quite a lot of redevelopment would be needed. It'd be a great car though...
Few commentators have questioned this car's value proposition, but we're going to by pointing out that the asking price here is almost double what you'd pay for the top model in the conventional 5 Series range, a 540i xDrive M Sport. That variant may only put out 340hp, but it still has AWD and is less than a second and a half slower from rest to 62mph. Visually, it doesn't look much different. And you can get it as an estate....
Cost of Ownership
BMW's quick to tell us that the kerb weight of this sixth generation 'F90'-series M5 has dropped by 15kgs over the previous model, but not so keen to remind us that this car still weighs the best part of two tonnes, despite its 'cluster architecture' underpinnings and composite carbonfibre-style roof. Still, delivering 4WD and a lot more equipment this time round without any really significant drop in fuel economy or CO2 returns has to be seen as something of a result.
Let's get to the figures, though of course they're pretty irrelevant because if you were to regularly replicate them, we'd have to wonder why you bothered buying an M5 in the first place. It's interesting though, to see how this car fares in comparison to the figures you'd get with its closest competitor, the Mercedes-AMG E 63, which, for reference, are 26.2mpg on the combined cycle and 245g/km of CO2. Check out BMW's stats and you'll find that this 'F90'-series M5 slightly shades its arch-rival; we're talking 26.9mpg on the combined cycle (it was 28.5mpg with the previous 'F10'-series V8 model) and the CO2 reading is 241g/km (previously 232g/km). For the uprated 'Competition' version of this car, the readings are 26.9mpg and 243g/km.
With this 'F90'-series model, the development team has proved that an AWD M5 can still retain a rear-driven, enthusiast-orientated character. And delivered a super saloon that's as happy collecting your dry cleaning as it is on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. If you are on a circuit, it's good that you don't have to have all-wheel traction unless you want it, but unless you're an expert or intent on showing off, we're guessing you'll really value that extra tractional help in extremis. And on a wet, icy morning, it'll give you the small but crucial extra dose of confidence that'll allow you to enjoy this car even more.
This would be our fast four-door of choice if money were no object - and, we suspect, probably yours too. We wish it wasn't so expensive, but it's more engaging than its predecessor and more real-world usable too. In short, this car is, more than ever, everything an M5 should be.