The BMW M5 was a revelation when it was first introduced in the late 1980s, combining a smooth and powerful inline-six engine and sports car performance with four doors and a usable back seat.
BMW print ads at the time invited prospective buyers to “Be One of The 1,200 Fastest Families in America” and the M5 was the first car that truly blurred the lines between family sedan and sports car.
That concept has been behind the creation of every M5 since the first one through its successive generations, and the newest is one of the best ever.
Back in 1988, the first M5 made a very impressive 256 horsepower and could get from 0-60 mph in what BMW called a “microscopic” 6.5 seconds.
BMW M engineers at the time would probably have never fathomed that 30 years later the M5 would be making 617 horsepower and getting to 60 mph in nearly three seconds flat, despite weighing nearly 1,000 pounds more.
They also may not have predicted that by 2018 the M5 would have all-wheel drive and be offered only with an automatic transmission, but they certainly would have been blown away by its performance.
The M5 has seen various engine configurations in the last thirty years, from the original inline-sixes to V8’s, a V10 and now back to V8s, with turbocharging introduced in the last generation.
Many BMW purists still miss the original inline-sixes or the 5-liter V8 that was in the E39 generation (which also won Grand-Am championships with a Dinan-built motor in Ganassi’s Daytona Prototypes), but it’s hard not to love the engine in the new M5. It produces the aforementioned 617 horsepower but also a whopping 553 lb-ft of torque, and has little to no turbo lag.
The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic that replaces the dual-clutch in the previous generation M5 and there’s no manual option available.
That’s another sticky point with BMW enthusiasts, but the truth is the automatic works better with this engine than a manual would and it’s just as quick-shifting as a dual-clutch when you use the paddles while being more tractable for daily driving.
Another first for an M5 is BMW’s M xDrive all-wheel drive, but it has a definite rear-wheel bias and BMW has cleverly designed the car so the driver can choose between 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD modes.
You better be confident of your skills behind the wheel if you drive it in 2WD mode, because this M5 loves to kick the rear end out and do a little drifting if asked.
According to the BMW Performance School’s Mike Renner, who also gives the hot lap rides in the M5 on IMSA race weekends, the car is at its best in 4WD mode with the traction control turned off. Again, proper skills are required.
The cool thing about the M5, which has been true of all M5s, is that it can adroitly perform the role of daily driver, hauling groceries or commuting to work, but it can carve up roads like a sports car or even handle a track day on the weekends.
It’s comfortable and surprisingly fuel efficient on the interstate (it delivered 25.2 mpg on a trip from New Jersey to West Virginia), and can do the stop and go driving around town like any other sedan, but is surprisingly agile and well balanced for being as big and heavy as it is.
Drivers can select from different driving modes for the throttle, shocks and steering to be either comfortable or aggressive, and the character change from Comfort mode to Sport+ mode is pretty dramatic.
Put the M5 in Sport+ mode at the track and this car shrinks around you and transforms into a sports car. At Monticello Motor Club, the M5 felt more poised than some true sports coupes I’ve driven there, with great balance and power.
The AWD was literally launching the car out of the exit of corners, and it was hitting around 150mph on the straight (which isn’t all that straight) and going at close to triple-digits through the tracks challenging “Kryptos” turns.
The carbon ceramic brakes were very effective and the transmission was quick and accurate in manual shift mode.
It was honestly kind of shocking how good it was at the track and it was significantly better than the last generation M5, which kind of felt like it would much rather get back on the interstate than be thrown around corners.
I was a bit skeptical about the new M5 when I scheduled it to drive. I’ve driven all of the various M5 generations over the decades and they were all good, but they’re now much bigger and heavier than they used to be and it’s hard to design a car to be entertaining to drive when it combines a lot of power with a lot of weight.
BMW managed to reduce the weight on the new M5 versus the previous generation but not by much, so there are other things at play here that go into the realm of suspension geometry and wizardry with spring rates and shock valving.
One of the most surprising things about the new M5 is that it felt better to drive than the current M3, which has been around longer but has always been the more entertaining car of the two.
It’s been a while since BMW could legitimately say that they build the best all-around sports sedan in the world, but I think the M5 is just that. It’s astonishingly good, and if the standard M5 isn’t good enough for you, BMW also has a new M5 Competition model that cranks everything up a notch or two. I can’t wait to drive it!