2018 BMW M5 First Test Review


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I don’t like yams. There’s nothing you or my sweet potato fries–loving wife can do about that fact. I recently ate a meatball made from pig kidneys, lungs, stomach, and liver—paired with some mashed rutabaga—delicious! But yams? Yuck. They taste like pith, mush, sadness, and paste. I do not like them. I am aware that others do actually enjoy that vapid, nothingburger yammy taste, but you can’t change my mind. The end.

I mention my yam animus because there are certain cars I don’t like. Without unnecessarily sticking it to other manufacturers, I’ll just name two BMWs I don’t care for. The current G30 5 Series and the previous-gen F10 M5. Let’s start with the car the Bavarians no longer make. Although quick, the last M5 was dynamically identical to driving a bank vault with the speedometer constantly pegged at 100 mph. Corpses traditionally have more feeling. Plus, although that humdinger of a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 made copious amounts of power (550–575 horses, depending on the tune), you couldn’t hear a feedbag of it. Why? Well, the last-gen 5 Series was made from the same parts that underpinned not only the larger and heavier 7 Series but also the much bigger and fatter Rolls-Royce Ghost. So dull was that F10 M5 that the engineers (rightly) felt the need to pipe in fake engine noise through the speakers. Vroom, vroom, as it were.

Then there’s the new 5 Series. Not a fan. I’ve driven plenty of them, too: 530i, 530e, 540i, and the M550i. Forget about the derivative looks, behind-the-times interiors, and yamlike (ahem) steering. There’s nothing about any G30 that would allow you to jibe your behind-the-wheel experience with BMW’s shopworn but still fantastic tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Honestly, I prefer the new Honda Accord, and I’ve said so repeatedly both in public and private. I don’t like those cars.

So I had no hope for the new M5. The confusingly coded F90 M5 wouldn’t drive anywhere as great as the near-flawless E39 version or be a high speed ’bahn burner like the glorious, unappreciated in its time, V-10-powered E60. The new M5 wouldn’t even sport the sinister looks of the OG supersedan, the E28. No, this model is an aesthetic rehash of the mild-looking E34 version, a sleeper if there ever was one, and would obviously drive like a slightly (600-horsepower, but really 592-hp) more powerful F80 M5, right? After all, the new M5 had gone all-wheel drive. I mean if that’s not sacrilege, what is? However, after the X5 M and X6 M, is there really such a thing as sacrilege? Also, gone are both the manual transmission and the dual-clutch. Instead we get an eight-speed automatic. Just like a Toyota minivan. My hate was gearing up.

I first heard that my assumptions were wrong after talking to road test editor Chris Walton, who went on the M5’s launch and actually had driven the car. He more than liked it. “The BMW M5 is once again completely bonkers, hair-on-fire great in its current F90 form,” he said. “It’s once again the proverbial ballerina body builder able to balance on one toe while holding a two-ton weight over its head with one hand behind its back.” I also spoke with my Ignition and Head 2 Head co-host, Automobile’s Jethro Bovingdon. He too had nothing but nice things to say about the F90. Hmmm. I’m often (loudly) wrong, but could my assumptions be this far off base?

As soon as schedules permitted, I hopped in our white M5 tester and headed straight up my own personal test track (6 miles from my house), Angeles Crest. A couple of the negatives I’d anticipated were there. The engine’s still muted. On the F10 version, BMW seemed to be faking the sound of the V-10 from the E60. On the F90, the soundtrack has been dropped an octave—much more of a V-8 baritone than what sounded like a V-10 before. But it’s still phony and psychically annoying. Also, I’m not sure how or why, but the three-way adjustable steering feel is bad. Comfort is better than Sport, which in turn is better than Sport Plus. Yes, I tried all three modes in both AWD and RWD (you can do that!), and although the car is more pleasant with two wheels being driven than four, the new M5 just doesn’t feel great when turning the wheel. I don’t know what else to say.

But you know what? I was having fun. Unlike the numb supersedan that came before, the new M5’s chassis was playful. The car enjoyed being in corners. Huge props and credit the M boys and girls for adding the mass of AWD but lowering the vehicle’s overall weight: 4,268 pounds versus 4,369 for the previous generation. So you know, the E60 iteration clocked in at 4,107 pounds. Back to the driving experience, not only was there something confidence-inspiring about the way the M5 ate up one of the world’s better public highways, but there was something pleasantly familiar, as well.

I’m doing you, dear enthusiast reader, a disservice if I type another sentence without mentioning the new M5’s performance. I’d ask if you’re sitting down, but you might as well be standing on your head. Zero to 60 mph happens in 3.0 seconds. Yes, 3 seconds flat to 60 mph. McLaren 675LT? Zero to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds. Acura NSX? 3.1 seconds. More important, the 603-hp Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ takes 3.2 seconds to hit 60 mph, the 605-hp Audi RS 7 does 3.3 seconds, and the 640-hp Cadillac CTS-V needs 3.8. If you want to get to 60 mph quicker in a four-door vehicle, call Tesla, as the instant-torque Model S P100D Ludicrous Plus is our all-time champ at 2.3 seconds. The M5 is real quick.

This fact is further borne out down the quarter mile. A Ferrari Enzo and the 2017 Nissan GT-R NISMO both rip up the quarter in 11.0 seconds. The BMW M5, like the 991.1 Porsche GT3 RS, Carrera GT, Ferrari 458 Italia, and AMG SLS Black Series, is slower, all needing 11.1 seconds to go 1,320 feet. Corvette Z06? 11.2 seconds. That’s just plum whacky. Are you not impressed? Also, the BMW’s ridiculous numbers aren’t just the result of AWD grip during the launch. The four-door’s 126.7-mph trap speed is just 0.3 mph behind the 3,550-pound Z06. Please note: Out here in the Golden State, we’re (stupidly, pointlessly, frustratingly) running our tests on 91-octane “premium,” not 93, so in many other places, the M5 will be even quicker. As for the direct competition, the AMG E 63 S (more than 300 pounds heavier at 4,581) comes closest, doing 11.3 at 124.2 mph. The Audi RS 7 takes 11.5 seconds at 120.4 mph, and the RWD-only Caddy CTS-V brings up the rear, doing the quarter in 11.9 at 122.0 mph. Your takeaway: This new M5 is an accelerative monster.

She handles great, too. In our figure-eight testing the M5 put down a 23.3-second lap. That’s extraordinary. That’s 1.1 seconds off of a Lamborghini Huracán Performante with triple-sticky tires and 0.9 second behind the alien-technology-infused McLaren 720S. As for the direct competition, the E 63 S does a 23.6, the RS 7 lays down a 24.6, and the CTS-V is good for a 24.2. For just a little more perspective, the lightweight track-day-special BMW M4 GTS also does a 23.3-second lap, as do the Shelby GT350R and the Corvette Grand Sport. Crazy plus amazing equals cramazing. The Mercedes-AMG GT S, our former Best Driver’s Car, needs 23.4 seconds. Oh, and let’s not forget braking. The M5 needs just 97 feet to stop from 60 mph, whereas the E 63 S requires 116 feet, the Audi RS 7 needs 105 feet, and the Cadillac uses 99 feet. What a beast.

I spent a week with the sixth-generation F90 M5, and every day I drove it, I enjoyed it more and more. Especially once I figured out how to turn off the front wheels with a double click of my right thumb; you can configure either M button to run the car in RWD mode. Press once to engage, twice to confirm. This is worlds better than the secret cheat code—activate Race mode, turn the traction control all the way off, put the transmission in manual, foot on brake, pull both paddles toward you—AMG forces you to perform each and every time you’d like your car to be in rear-wheel drive. Curiously, both the AMG and the M5 require you to have all safety systems totally off when only two wheels are being powered. Not sure why that is, and it seems counterintuitive. Like with the AMG, I preferred driving the M5 around in RWD, world-beating acceleration numbers be damned.

Not only was I learning to like the car more and more with each passing day, but that creeping sense of familiarity from earlier in the week was also back. I’d experienced a machine like this before. Then it rained, and I decided to leave the car in AWD and put the engine, transmission, and suspension in Sport or Sport Plus. Aha! I know where I’d driven this before: BMW’s own heretic, the X6 M: that lovable brute, the mighty thing that both degraded and emboldened the M Division, the vehicle that upon sighting most enthusiasts claim to hate but once driven secretly yearn to own. I realized I was rolling around a slick Los Angeles in the 1,000 pounds lighter sedan version of the X6 M. And I liked it. Fancy that.

Conclusion? For pure driving thrills in the just-over-two-ton sedan class, I still believe I’d prefer the purer, more focused Cadillac CTS-V. But without driving the two cars back to back on the same day on the same road, it’s hard to say for certain. Call it a hunch. I can say that compared to E 63 or RS 7, BMW’s got ’em licked not just in terms of performance but also in terms of driving pleasure. I think what I’m most shocked about is that this F90 M5 shares a platform with all the other G30 5 Series that I’ve driven, and it is superior to the point that the car honestly doesn’t feel related. No, it’s not an E39 M5. Want a new one of those? Maybe some Chevy dealer still has a recently discontinued SS lying around. Also no, this big beast is not the deceptively great, F1-engined E60. But you know what? The wallflower-looking F90 does indeed rock. More important, unlike the last version, I say this M5 is worthy of the badge. Future performance icon? Just maybe. Although maybe I’m just getting soft. Maybe I’ve been seduced by the F90’s crazy numbers? Last night I tried one of my wife’s sweet potato fries. Nope. I still hate yams.

2018 BMW M5
BASE PRICE $104,595
PRICE AS TESTED $129,795
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 4.4L/600-hp/553-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,268 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 117.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 195.5 x 74.9 x 58.0 in
0-60 MPH 3.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.1 sec @ 126.7 mph
0-100-0 MPH 10.7 sec
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 97 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.00 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.3 sec @ 0.91 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 15/21/17 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 225/160 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.13 lb/mile