Is it Really About Lap Times For ///M?

2012 BMW M5

Once upon a time there was a car, it was a fast car. This car went around, what is considered by many sports car aficionados the most demanding race track in the world, the fastest out of any car in its class (7:55). Is it a big deal? To some it is. No, I am not trying to rehash the lousy script from Pixar ‘s Cars 2 here. We are discussing the most recent car to lap the ‘Ring as the fastest sedan (unofficially mind you). That car is the all new BMW ///M5 super sedan.

Lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife is no small feat at any decent speed as those that have tackled the course will tell you. At just shy of 13 miles and over 150 turns it is demanding to say the least (it truly is the “Green Hell “.) Only the top driver ‘s in racing who are familiar with the turns, changes in tarmac (concrete to asphalt), and overly harsh conditions have a chance at a “perfect ” lap. That is in part why I have such a tough time digesting claims as the fastest car, or even that the lap times matter in the grand scheme of what a car represents, more specifically an ///M car. There is so much more to a lap on such a track than just the car. The driver, tires, weather and track conditions (if it hasn ‘t rained in a while, the track is greasy from all the build up) are just a few of the many extraneous variables that impact the overall outcome and time of a lap.

BMW has never officially come out and announced an “official ” time of a production car around the ‘Ring (that I am aware of), because in reality they could care less about the actual time as a marketing element. BMW and ///M (even more so) use the ‘Ring as something to compete with- they want to build the best car they can to consistently and reliably tackle the demands of the course while at the same time make speed and handling improvements along the way. They essentially race against themselves internally.

The new ///M5 has had significant modifications made under the hood (S63Tü- technically updated) when compared to the sister engine the base S63 ///M engine found in the X5/X6 ///Ms. What is interesting is that these new tweaks did not produce all that more horsepower or torque but increased efficiency. That ‘s right folks, BMW ///M opted to improve efficiency rather than all out performance around a race track. If lapping a track the fastest meant so much to them, the engineers surely would have used all that newly found breathing capacity to improve top speed and torque to get around that track as fast as possible. Since the numbers stay in house and are not used for marketing (at least not yet) it is not hard to believe that the famed track in Germany is really just a tool to develop some of the best cars in the world that also happen to be some of the fastest.

On the other hand there is Cadillac. While I will give the CTS-V some serious credit as being an all around great car, they flashed around the “Ring King ” title for a long while (even after the Porsche Panamera beat it). So much so that every faster time will just put the CTS-V down another peg. That is why lap times really don ‘t matter. Cars get faster and what was once the king is now just a pauper. In the end the ///M5 will be a more refined car, a car with more feel and a car with the ability to change roles- sedate sedan to menacing marvel at the press of a steering wheel button. It also happens to be faster than the competition. Does it get better than that? I doubt it, but I just hope that BMW and ///M continue to design cars to be the best rather than just the fastest as there is a lot more to building a great car than speed. So don ‘t get caught up in the lap time hype as it takes over the web even though it is easy to do.

What makes BMW special in the end is that no matter what is under the hood (be it a 16d or a 30i) the handling composure and the enjoyment of the drive will still be there even though the lap times will be in different realms. To me that is what it is all about.

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  • JonPD

    BMW had to go this route since long ago they were generally out of the fastest cars around the ring, I think this came about the same time as the brand slide more to the luxury side than performance. I am not calling ///M a slouch but rather 51% luxury and 49% performance at best.

    • Adam


      I suppose your more or less talking about the changes we saw in the E9x M3’s vs the E46/36 generation.  But let me ask you, would you pay over 60k for an M3 with no powered accessories, no nav, no power windows, no high end stereo, no powered seats? or at the very least to have these as options?

      M hasnt changed its cars equipment much, as alot of the same “creature comforts” available today were available generations ago, apart from some evolved technologies what does the newest M5 have, that the E60, or E39 did not?………

    • sackboy

      So tell us JonPD- what would YOU LIKE BMW to Change? What would YOU LIKE to see them BUILD ?   I have owned them [BMWs] over 30 yrs., lots of them- varied models for sure, and humbly think they are the best cars in the world! Fastest? No ! But even my V8 M3 , which Im sure you will say is way too heavy[!], is PLENTY darn fast ! And has the BEST “turn-in” I have EVER experienced! Yep- and I have owned 3 P911 Turbos, and even a Sunbeam Tiger! Grrrrr!!  Sinc., sackboy   ps: started with a 2002 and have owned up to a Z8, with 6 M3s of all persuasions along the way, and many Corvettes, AArrrggghh, Matey !!!

      • JonPD

        Not saying that BMW is doing much wrong, rather that I believe that worry about lap times are a low priority since they are not really competitive for a long while. Yes the current E90 M3 is quite a car and very capable its also a fully loaded luxury car in a great many ways. In a perfect world BMW would produce lighter cars with basic specs to allow the end user to spec the level of luxury they would like. I know this is not feasible from BMW however.

        For myself when I bought my last car one that was second on the list was a S260 Lotus Exige so think that tells you all you need to know about my view on sport/luxury.

  • Dr Obnxs

    Of course it’s not about lap times! Any serious car person with any seat time on a track knows that it’s for really fast laps, it’s a combination of the driver, the car and the set-up. All it is is BS marketing hype for armchair racing and advertisements.

    Truth is, that one can have really great cars that perform really, really well because of all the engineering and knowledge that has acrued over time. Just look at the numbers from something as mundane as Honda Accord V6 compared to the leading sports cars of times past.

    And no, I’m not surprised that BMW would choose efficiency over performance at all. Fact is, most of these types of cars are bought for street driving for those that want comfort, luxury and more than average performance, but who never, ever, ever will use the car anywhere close to it’s capabilities. And the US standards for fleet averages are finally going up (after being pretty much dormant since the mid 80s), so all the manufacturers need to improve average efficiencies based on these supply side control efforts.

    A couple years ago at an automotive media event, I was talking to some other writers about the MB SLs. The base was the SL550, with “only” 385 HP or so. We pretty much all agreed that almost all the buyers wouldn’t really know if they’d bought an SL63 AMG vs the SL550 other than the badges, some bodywork, and a different exhaust note! (and a really different price tag).

    Every manufacturer is looking for an edge over the competition. Lap times are just another one of those things used for market differentiation. But all these things are somewhat of an addiction and a trap. So now we have 4-door sedans that outperform some past supercars. And next year they have to be “better” still so they have to be faster/quicker or whatever. Independent of what is ever really used by the people that actuall buy and drive the cars.

    //M is really about high performance street cars. They have licence plates. They get groceries. I really wonder how much of what motivates those to buy them is really the performance vs the statement that driving them makes. (Would sales be as good if they just looked the same on the outside, and just were different under the skin?)



  • Barrybahama

    Very well written Michael!