In the eyes of most beholders, this appears to be an ordinary 5-series. Look closer…
Note the enormous steel brake discs, the 19” lightweight alloys, the chrome surround air intakes. Then there’s the numerous M5 emblems, discreet yet pronounced in equal measure. All of this integrates neatly with the distinguished kidney grilles and majestic sloping bodylines.
You see the problem. BMW’s M division has long been the linchpin for performance for executive saloons – despite numerous shots across their bows from AMG – and the M5 has long since led the charge. That this new generation model could be mistaken at a glance for its lesser-powered alter-ego might be cause for concern.
We see much the same on the inside. Few ‘M’ appendages can be seen on the beautifully mounted instrument panels and leather seats. As ever, BMW has all the high-quality boxes ticked. Only the gear lever and steering wheel – which, in a particularly neat touch, uses red and blue M colours for the stitching – give the game away. Once again, what we appear to have is a normal 5-series saloon. That is until we examine the beating heart under the bonnet.
The 4.4l V8 engine (with TwinPower Turbo package) produces 560bhp, will sprint from 0-100kph in 4.4s and will hit 305kph. Even on its leash, the M5 will still top 250kph. Suddenly this draws a different picture, one we’re happy to critique extensively. What better way than with a road trip.
Keen to miss the rush hour traffic, we hit the open road at 7am. The V8 rumble that bursts from the exhausts upon pushing the ‘on’ button rubs the sleep from our eyes nicely.
Starting on the outskirts of Dubai, we point the Beemer’s nose towards the 20+km stretch of winding tarmac in the Hajar mountains. Of course to get to the neighbouring emirate, this requires a thirty-minute highway sprint to get the M5 warmed up.
Though neutered in Comfort mode, a deft flick of the ankle sees us at highway cruising speed before anyone can even be bothered to snap their fingers. Road noise is muted but a faintly audible whine from the engine at high(ish) revs demonstrates there’s plenty more available.
The manual limiter stops us testing this theory. Set the limit to a perfectly legal 119kph, then mash your right foot: you’ll hit just short of 120kph easily, but go no further. As well as leaving sleeping speed cameras lie, this system is less alienating for the driver than standard cruise-control, and several clicks whizz past while we have a play.
As the erstwhile empty horizon suddenly gets taller, we turn off the highway and set the car’s components to Sport mode. Individually. Once again, the sense of driver input is elevated as we adjust suspension stiffness, steering response and gear ratios, even if we miss half a kilometre while we do so. With the M5 off its leash and with no traffic in sight, we floor it.
The needle continues to rise as we hit 230kph, and I bottle it soon after. Extensive tests prove with nary a shadow nor doubt that this is no 5-series sheep in Monte Carlo Blue Metallic clothing. A speed bump appearing without warning, for example, ensures those heavy duty brakes are also given the test.
The first roundabout we enter steadily, pushing on at the second. Then the third. And the fourth. We’re not even into Sport+ yet and the car barely twitches, both front and rears refusing to come off the rails. Only when we provoke the M5 into a reaction at the fifth do the rears begin to slide, though the ease with which they are brought under control suggests this is just a warning shot.
We pull over at the one-hour mark to refuel both the car and ourselves. The ‘EfficientDynamics’ gauge looks a bit out of place on a car producing this much power, though it seems likely this will be our only stop for petrol.
Preparing myself for the run ahead, I have activated Sport mode via the three buttons circumnavigating the gear lever. Give that BMW’s longstanding i-drive system comes as standard on the M5, there are still more than a dozen button on the centre-console, rendering the i-drive principal somewhat redundant. Saying that, not having to pull over and wade through option menus is a bonus.
A myriad of sweeping lefts and rights make up the first kilometre, and once warmed up, we start aiming for the apexes on a road devoid of traffic. Hitting them is ludicrously easy and entry speed accordingly picks up.
Soon the road tightens and sweeping lefts and rights sharpen with little warning. The rock walls are within touching distance but still we press on, the car’s balance eroding any sense of trepidation.
Camber soon turns to outright banking, and I hit the throttle hard to maximise exit speeds. But soon we’re through the first mountain stretch, the road straightening accordingly. My elevated heartbeat suggest it’s so far so good.
Just as well. After a 2km respite, the road inclines and begins to follow the curvature of the mountain range itself. Sport+ territory.
We’re nothing if not thorough at crankandpiston, and as the final stretch of mountain road is relatively short, we decide to do several runs. I don’t mind admitting that on my first run, I’m quite nervous. Now in Sport+, traction control is off and the setup is in its most ferocious setting. Suddenly the safe return of nearly $120,000 relies on my reaction speeds.
Though hesitant on the throttle for the first few corners, the enigmatic rumble from the exhausts and the blurry landscape whistling past soon awakens the inner eight-year-old. Paddle shifts are quick and lag-free, and the throttle kicks me in the back just enough to demonstrate the power at work.
The rears are more playful now but a 180 spin at 120 is unlikely, since the Beemer’s top-notch balance – even through a quick succession of left-right-lefts – obliterates body roll. Saying that, for such a sprightly piece of kit, it’s hard to ignore the M5’s size. Top speed may hit supercar territory, but saloon car weight is all too obvious when rounding some of the sharper turns.
Forty minutes of exuberant testing later though, and the car has barely broken sweat. And rather bizarrely, nor have we. With head-scratching fully underway, we knock the M5 back into Comfort mode and head back down the mountain.
We pull over at a local gas station just shy of the highway to top ourselves up for the journey home. As well as weighing up the pros and cons of buying a scythe alongside our twix bars, I think about the drive we’ve just undertaken.
Certainly the M5 has the power, performance and sporting edge we’ve come to expect from the M division. What surprises me is the dignified manner in which these have been dealt. At no point has this new model felt ‘monstrous’, ‘animalistic’ or akin to ‘a beast’. But then cocooned within its 5-series refinery, it was never going to be.
At the beginning, we had worried that this new model’s subtlety would be its Achilles heel. Perhaps now it is better to consider the new M5 from another angle: an executive saloon, refined and genteel from 9-5, and a powerhouse performer when the working day is done. How you choose to see it is down to you >>>