Bimmerfile First Drive: 2012 M5

BMW M5

Dr. Jeckyll meets Mr. Hyde at the push of a button. Or more precisely, an “M ” button.

From board room to race track, or vice versa was M ‘s goal when developing the fifth generation M5. In many ways they hit the nail on the head, but there are some attributes that are not ideal for that tag line. We ‘ve put the new M5 through the paces all over Andalusia and the track at Ascari developing a great sense of what the vehicle is all about and what it is not.

BMW M5

What exactly is this M5 all about?

First off, it is the best five series car ever built (end of discussion). It is as tame as a highly analytical doctor in a lab doing some experiment mixing salt and water – not a whole lot going on. This is thanks in part to the sophisticated systems M has employed for engine and chassis management. The car remains docile and dare we say boring when you are in all the base settings; engine set efficient, suspension and steering in comfort.

Yawn – the chassis is so over engineered that at the 120 km/h speed limit on the roads in Spain invoked a sense of crawling at a snail ‘s pace. This is not from a lack of feel or engagement. It is that the car is designed to handle speeds much faster so there is no drama and it is effortless to casually power from one destination to another.

Likewise, driving to the office never felt more cozy in a 5. The appointments are top notch as is lengthy list of driver aids and technological choices on the options list.

Unlike the SMG that came before it, the DCT is unflappable. There is no hunting or pecking for the right gear on the street, slowing down to make turns and mashing the pedal doesn ‘t send it into a tiff; it just works.

BMW M5

So it ‘s boring and doesn ‘t get the juices flowing?

On the contrary, the problem is that it is not the car but the laws and roads. The M5 thankfully at the press of one of two programmable “M ” buttons the M5 turns into a ferocious fire breathing animal that is at your mercy. The change happens fast and sends tingles down your spine. You ‘ve just unleashed something with more ability and power than you ‘ve ever driven from BMW yet you ‘re fully in control. The torque is epic and is seemingly always there when you want it. The car pulls like mad even in the second overdrive gear (7th) as 1-5 are close ratio.

We purposely induced wheel spin in gears one through four in series on the roads outside Jerez where it was otherwise peaceful. By now the world should know that M has adjustable shift rates in non-manual cars (they ‘ve offered this for over a decade) and this M5 is no different. Drivelogic features 3 levels, smooth as silk to seat sinking (thankfully neck breaking mode is no longer included) and number two felt just right for spirited road driving. Throttle response is quick and boost is able to be held when in sport or sport plus (even off throttle thanks to an advanced Valvetronic system). Keeping the car reigned in are a series of electronic nannies that can still be turned off. Specifically, the M dynamic mode came in handy on these roads as the tarmac had little cohesion and keeping the wheels from letting loose (with everything off) became a chore after a while. But it never stopped being invigorating.

BMW M5

It weighs as much as my house, can it really handle well and come to a stop?

Unsurprisingly, it handles like it weighs far less. We were expecting it to since M somehow made both the X5 and X6 M models defy the laws of physics (namely cohesion and gravity). To achieve M worthy handling the suspension gurus developed for the first time in an M5 an almost completely new rear suspension which is bolted it directly to the chassis like in the M3 GTS. Unlike the GTS, M completely sorted the noise and harshness issues out with bushings lower in the suspension. The engineers also added in an additional rear thrust plate and cross members for good measure. What this translates to is a rear end that follows the front very well. It is predictable and, unlike past models, it does ‘t wander.

The hydraulically adjustable dampers have three settings: comfort, sport, and sport plus. Each is fully adaptable and each is noticeably different at the depressing of the button, comfort allows more travel and in some cases might even be good on the track but the sport setting seemed darn near perfect for 95% of the time. The Active M differential seamlessly moves power between the rear wheels and helps get it to where it needs to be, the wheel with the grip.

Steering is communicative, thanks to being hydraulic rather than electronic like the series production car. There are three settings, one is too soft, one has too little boost and the wheel doesn ‘t always return to center but the one in the middle (Sport) is just right- maybe they only needed to make one setting and get it perfect?

For the first time, outside the limited run M3 GTS, BMW M has equipped a car with multi-piston calipers. The front discs are the size of a small pizza and (yes) they are also oozing with greatness. We never experienced fade and the stock pads were more than adequate at the track for stints less than 10 laps. While the pedal did feel squishy after 6 or so laps but the braking points never changed. If tracking any BMW M all that needs to been done for longer stints and better heat dissipation is to swap out the pads and maybe the fluid for the ultimate track set-up (The M guys only change pads for the ‘Ring). This new M5 feels no different.

BMW M5

This is an M car, where is the Carbon Fiber and why did it get even heavier?

We posed this question to the project manager and every other engineer we ran into during the event. Specifically why there is no CF roof. The answer was always the same, the M5 is a sedan and is not a high volume seller so the limited weight savings did not warrant the engineering investment. The majority of M5s are sold with a sunroof so the take rate on a solid roof would be limited. The M6 will of course feature a CF roof as part of its differentiation from the M5.

The retired E60 M5 gained about 240 lbs. when it received the M treatment yet the F10M only gained about 160. It is faster, better handling and has far more equipment than the outgoing model all with gaining less weight. In fact, one could say that the F10M lost weight in all the right places and simply added some back with the addition of new equipment and better safety measures.

BMW M5

The last M5 had limited range and needed a gas can in the trunk just in case – does it now need a chase car?

The M engineers did all that they could, outside making it a 4 cylinder diesel to increase fuel economy. Auto stop/start, brake energy regeneration, direct injection, twin turbos, valvetronic, and more were utilized to get 30% more efficiency than the outgoing V10 gas chugger.

These guys are geniuses, really, they knew that range was an issue in the last car so they didn ‘t stop with just making the engine more efficient. They wanted the car to be able to hold more fuel. Unfortunately, they could not change the footprint of the standard plastic tank from the series production car because of other systems. But, they came up with a better although more expensive solution. Keep the outside diameter of the base tank but make it out of metal and decrease the wall thickness- this frees up nearly 10 liters for more fuel!

BMW M5

This thing sounds like a complicated mess of settings, are they buried in iDrive again?

We are happy to say that the only people that should have difficulty adjusting settings will be those that are for one reason or another unable to successfully operate a microwave or use a remote control for a television. There are buttons that do not carry acronyms but rather pictures- steering adjustment = steering wheel, suspension = shock absorber, engine = tachometer. The buttons are located to the left of the shifter and once depressed the settings are clearly displayed in the lower portion of the gauge cluster (Black LCD technology).

Hating on iDrive is old, so get over it. The new system is intuitive and easy to use, you can program the M1 and M2 buttons in a few seconds. There is the MDrive menu for everything M and it is nice and neat.

BMW M5

What are the drawbacks of this M5?

Besides the M5 ‘s inability to carry livestock, a glaring drawback is that the US will have to wait until late next summer (August). This is for good reason, the manual (6 speed) that the US market so desperately needs will not be ready until then and the carbon ceramic brakes we broke the news of should be available at around the same time.

With the car itself, it is nothing M could have changed, they worked wonders with the car and it by far is the best M5 ever created. The biggest problem is the size of the 5 Series, it has grown to what a 7er was not all that long ago. The outside dimensions are the biggest fault with the car, it just feels less intimate (even with an alcantara anthracite headliner). It drives smaller than its size in terms of dynamics and the ability to set for turns but there is no ignoring that driving down some narrow streets the mirrors needed to come in.

BMW M5

Why not just buy a 550i and a used M track car?

For the M tweaked Head ‘s Up Display of course. All kidding aside- the M5 is not some glorified 550i, it is not an “IS “. With nearly 80% of its components made bespoke there is nothing that can equal it in terms of dual duty. It can truly be driven daily to the office and at the track in anger. When the official ‘Ring time comes out many will be surprised that the only BMW faster is rumored to be the M3 GTS, that ‘s how good the M5 is.

That is what M is about, being the best all around car for whatever the day brings and that is what makes the M5 so special. Sure, a 550i and a track car may cost about the same with each serving a purpose but at the end of the day, that ‘s two cars- more insurance more registration fees, an additional parking spot and all the other additions more than one car brings. The M5 is two cars in one, and it fills both roles- Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde better than any car before.

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  • Adam

    Great review Michael! I gotta say.

    You covered all the bases except for one: your opinion on the Active Sound in the M5. I can’t wait to hear your opinion on that.

    • Jon

      Yeah, how does it sound, windows open and windows closed?

  • I’m just blown away at the tech and power that you talk about Michael. I cannot wait to drive this car.