Mountain Wheels: Otherworldly BMW M5 is beyond belief (column)
April 6, 2018
Imagine, for a second, if you could actually feel the speed at which the earth is rotating — 1,037 mph, according to NASA — or, worse, the speed at which the earth is moving around the sun, 67,000 mph.
About the closest you'll get to that, outside of those multi-million-dollar supercars, is a day behind the wheel of the 2018 BMW M5, the granddaddy of full-sized, ultra-performance sedans. It is not cheap (the $102,600 base price rose to just shy of $130K on my heavily-optioned test car), but it continues to set the high-water mark for real-world automotive excellence.
Now in its sixth generation, the legendary M5 offers mere mortals the opportunity to accelerate like they've hitched themselves to a SpaceX rocket, plus some outstanding handling and otherworldly braking to help make it all more than a one-time trip.
Despite being a relatively large (195.5-inch long, 4,370-pound) four-door family vehicle, with a roomy back seat and an ample trunk, the M5 acts (for the most part) like a vehicle about a third of its size and weight.
Principal to this conundrum is the highest output variation of the company's 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8. For M5, it's 600 horsepower and 553 lb.-ft. of torque, a potentially face-ripping equation that will get you rolling like a freight train in nanoseconds.
As I have recently learned to do with my exposure to the M family, I opted not to go all bananas the very second I stepped out in the M5, and instead found some depopulated, relatively safe and isolated locations to do what is the equivalent of atomic weapons testing with the car.
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The company's claims seem to be correct. If you mess with the four different, self-configurable attributes (throttle response, steering feel, suspension dampers and even a three-mode Drivelogic transmission intensity switch for the eight-speed automatic), and then absolutely floor it, the M5 will indeed go 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and, I imagine, hit 124 mph in 11.1 seconds. Top speed is 189 mph.
Let's go with that middle range of numbers. While other vehicles of the 500-plus-HP crowd take a steady-as-you-go approach to continued acceleration, M5 feels like it has no intention of slowing down even at double the standard posted highway speed. The sheer power is intense, brutal and beautiful.
The cool thing is that it doesn't resort to the painful rigidity of beasts like a Mercedes-Benz AMG or Cadillac's big horsepower/magnetic suspension to do all of that. You can still drive it comfortably, even in its most intense mix of settings, and if you soften things up a bit, it's a perfectly easy-going vehicle for long family trips. With an extremely dark side, underneath. Subtlety may get you 21 MPG on the highway; I was averaging about 14.
A big change for 2018 is the introduction of an M5-specific variation of the BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive system. It too of course is configurable (this is a car for people who like to micromanage their driving experience) and if you don't want the extra grip and tenacity of AWD and want to pretend like it's an old-school 2WD with 600 horses, you have that option.
Braking in a vehicle which starts to bend the rules of physics is also important, and lighter weight compound brakes are standard. Mine got the $8,900 carbon ceramic brakes, painted like Notre Dame football helmets, which will allow even further, virtually fade-proof cavorting.
Frankly, the M5 scared the hell out of me, so my non-straight-line cavorting was relatively benign, all things considered. It is indeed a very large car and its ability to be thrown into corners and react quickly seems almost counterintuitive. For added excitement, mine also got 20-inch wheels and the mixture of slightly different-sized front and rear tires.
Should you suddenly want to hit a track day with your M5 or go crazy on a summertime canyon road, besides dosing your passengers with Dramamine, you can also crank up the kidney bolsters on the very racy front seats to pin you in place like Recaros — the large shoulder bolsters are also another giveaway of ridiculousness.
The raw exhaust note at idle is high-pitched and terrifying; energetic driving can produce some equally hilarious noises, though you can also hit a switch and muffle the noises if you're trying to do some speed records on the DL. Full throttle is simple remarkable.
It's a somewhat imposing automobile on the outside, as well. A much more aggressive front fascia, with gigantic, pavement-scratching aerodynamics, helps suck in the millions of cubic gallons of oxygen the engine needs to make all that magic.
Some very deep kinks on the long hood can be used as navigational points to help keep the M5 pointed down range, while the active aero and quad pipes in the rear really do keep you stuck to the ground and make a hell of a lot of noise, respectively — unlike the new Camry, or every other car that has them.
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