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First drive: BMW M5 comes alive!

Understated: discreet bodykit drapes a blistering new V10 that re-establishes M5 as BMW’s performance king.

BMW’s M5 will return to Oz after a two-year absence, complete with V10 firepower

29 Sep 2004

By MARTON PETTENDY in MUNICH

TWO decades old this year, one of the automotive world’s most revered names is back in business.

Launched in Germany last week, BMW’s fourth generation M5 super sedan will go on sale in Australia in June next year, bringing with it an entirely new realm of V10 performance, an exclusive new seven-speed SMG shifter and a higher pricetag.

Easily eclipsing the performance envelope of its $198,500 E39 M5 V8 predecessor - which ceased production in June 2003 and was last sold here four months later – the E60 5 Series-based M5 blasts to 100km/h almost a second sooner.

While the last M5’s official 0-100 figure was 5.3 seconds, the new one’s is 4.7 and some German magazines have recorded the sprint to our national highway limit in as little as 4.4 seconds.

Even the rapid E46 M3’s real-world performance (0-100 in a claimed 5.2 seconds) will look tame next to this bristling new M5, which re-establishes the model's supremacy as BMW’s quickest car.

Despite its artificial 250km/h speed limit, GoAuto also saw an indicated 270km/h at the military airfield used for the global launch. That was with another ratio remaining in the slicker SMG III transmission, confirming a derestricted M5 should achieve the 330km/h mark to which its speedo is marked.

But M5’s vast performance increase - courtesy of a high-revving, highly oversquare 5.0-litre V10 that delivers 373kW (507bhp) at 7750rpm, some 520Nm of torque at 6100rpm and a stratospheric 8250rpm redline - won’t come cheaply.

BMW Australia says only that M5 will cost somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000, but is no doubt keen to remain competitive with its most direct rival, the 350kW, $223,900 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG.

Even at that price, however, V10 firepower not only makes the new M5 one of the most powerful naturally aspirated vehicles on the market, but probably the least expensive 500-horsepower car available.

It’s therefore no surprise that expressions of interest in the next M5 have been unprecedented since the M5 concept appeared at the Geneva show in March. With just 80 examples allocated for Australia in the second half of 2005, BMW Australia will have no trouble finding homes for its first batch of M5s, or the further 150 expected here in 2006.

Despite the fact M5 will come exclusively with SMG, it represents a three-fold sales increase over the manual-only E39 M5, which notched up 195 sales in four years.

At M5’s heart lies what’s described as the first high-revving V10 in a series-production car and the first V10 in a production sedan, period. It offers 25 per cent more power with the same capacity from two more cylinders than the 400hp E39 M5, plus a 100hp-per-litre specific power output to match M3. And it’s just 1kg heavier than the old M5’s V8.

The 90-degree V10 features bi-VANOS variable valve timing, dual stainless steel exhausts, 10 individual throttles, sparkplug-integrated ionic knock sensors, 12:1 compression, the world’s most powerful engine management system and 500cc cylinders with 92 x 75.2mm bore x stroke dimensions.

But it fails to match the outgoing V8’s torque output below 4500rpm and fuel consumption climbs to an official 14.8L/100km average.

Mated exclusively to it for the first time in M5 is a new seven-speed sequential manual gearbox that’s claimed to be 20 per cent faster than the six-speed SMGII found in M3, as well as smoother in both auto and manual modes – the latter operated either by the central shifter or by steering wheel paddles. A launch control mode is included, as is the M3’s variable, torque-sensing differential lock.

Dynamic Stability Control from the garden variety 5 Series is there too, this time complemented by an M Dynamic Mode function that provides a far higher intervention threshold, while M5’s famed Power button continues, this time defaulting to peak power of “just” 400hp - or what the previous M5 was capable of.

But unlike the previous M5, the power button no longer alters steering, which in this case includes Servotronic mechanical variability, dispensing with the E60 5 Series’ active steering system. Turning circle is 12.4 metres.

Also new is Electronic Damper Control, which offers the choice of three suspension damping programs: comfort, normal or sport. While springs are also specific to M5, BMW’s Dynamic Drive variable anti-rollbar system is not fitted. M5 gets larger twin-piston sliding aluminium front brake callipers from the 7 Series.

Aesthetically, M5 introduces M3-style front quarter vents, wider front wheel arches, more prominent side skirts, exclusive wing mirrors, aggressive bumpers, quad exhaust pipes and specific new 19-inch alloy wheels (8.5-inch front, 9.5 rear). Weight increases by 35kg to 1830kg despite employing the E60’s alloy-fronted chassis.

14 center image Even more understated is the M5 interior, which again is available in three leather colours and comprises specific M instruments, a revised centre console, M steering wheel with MDrive buttons and the optional M-specific head-up display.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

RIGHT from the outset, I’ll confess the E39 M5 was among the three cars on my post-lotto-winning shopping list.

Understated, luxurious and able to cart four large adults – or kids, for that matter – and a Commodore-sized 500 litres of boot space around in comfort, its brutally effortless 400hp V8 made it the consummate sports sedan. If ever there was a single car that did everything, the outgoing M5 was it.

So I’m astonished to learn its successor does all this, and more. On top of the small increase in rear passenger accommodation offered by all E60 5 Series sedans, the M5 offers a level of performance that not only leaves the M3 and its predecessor in another league - but is easier to access for the majority of drivers.

Yes, the fundamental shift in engine character from a low-stressed, high-torque V8 to a high-revving, high power V10 means that fuel consumption rises while bottoem-end torque dropsnot only does the new M5 use more fuel, but it also lacks the bottom-end torque of the outgoing car.

Try as I did for the last 50km of a 420km Bavarian backroad loop that also took in top speed and slalom runs at a top-secret German airfield, I couldn’t get my M5’s average fuel consumption much below a greedy 21.0L/100km, which is only one point below BMW’s claimed around-town figure.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem in my post-lotto-winning days, even in the current era of three-figure PULP prices, and though some may be put off by the extra thirst, it’s not out of the fuel economy realms the M5’s rivals live in.

Moreover, I wouldn’t trade it, or the almost academic decrease in low-speed urge, for the advantages realised by this masterpiece of a powerplant.

Easily one of the best naturally aspirated engines I’ve sampled, the V10 is an ingenious solution to BMW M division’s need to develop more grunt without resorting to bigger cubes or forced induction systems like supercharging, which BMW says brings response that’s too spontaneous to driver inputs and of course also brings weight, space and fuel consumption issues.

The V10 delivers a steady stream of muscle over a 1000rpm-wider range than before, revving effortlessly to a staggering 8250rpm cut-out that’s rarely seen – or able to be seen – on public roads.

Throttle response is instant, the engine spins up as freely and quickly as it returns to idle and, all the while a purposeful, menacing staccato bellows as the 10 induction trumpets and four exhaust outlets harmonise together. Best heard when the SMG blips the throttle between downshifts, it’s a sound like nothing else on the road, and yet another Formula One similarity BMW’s marketers will no doubt maximise.

While it’s just as flexible as a 911 Turbo, pulling cleanly from 1250rpm at 60km/h in seventh, the new M5 won’t feel as though it could bite back like its predecessor. Where the old M5 V8 was deceptive in the way it developed its pace, achieving speeds by stealth and without fuss, the new M5 shrieks with purpose, making it plain it won’t relent until you do and daring you to stretch its long legs between every upchange.

But it takes a long, open road to do so, and just as the M5 is able to chirp its rear tyres under acceleration in the first three gears and require a level of respect at any revs on slippery roads, it’s also capable of ballistic speeds without even using its upper ratios.

We saw an indicated 270km/h a number of times during launch controlled speed runs until the electronic speed limiter spoiled the fun – without even using seventh gear.

Combined with M5’s clever new SMG, which can take some getting used to if it’s your first time, the V10 becomes an implement capable of impressing in many ways.

Faster and smoother shifting than before, SMG III’s all-important auto function is also smarter, offering five modes of aggression ranging from quick but snatchy to slower but smoother shifting. But it’s still not as good a regular auto, its seven gears notwithstanding, and it’s a pity that when you grab the tactile feeling paddles for a quick downshift in auto mode that it doesn’t revert back to auto like Porsche’s Tiptronic auto does.

The neck-snapping launch control function made famous by M3 brings the number of shift modes to 11, but there’s still so much drivetrain snatch that only the most mechanically unsympathetic of owners would dare use it regularly. SMG III also continues to offer a hill detection function that holds gears for better engine braking and the ability to open the clutch momentarily to avoid traction loss under hard downchanging in corners.

Other clever new additions also make the V10 as docile or as violent to handle as you please. First there’s the power button, which defaults to deliver 400bhp and is considerably more docile to drive, but when selected unleashes the maximum 507bhp of peak power, continuing the Jekyll-and-Hyde driving choice introduced by the E39 M5.

Perhaps even more significant when it comes to user-friendliness, however, is the new MDM DSC mode, which allows an incredibly high level of traction loss or sideways action before intervening by throwing out what feels like an invisible anchor via the car’s clever stability control system.

Both these functions, plus the EDC’s three positions of damping force – which seemed to provide only subtle differences – are brought together in the so-called MDrive system that can be altered visually on the monitor via the iDrive controller, or by pushing an M button on the steering wheel, which applies your preset setting for each system. Sounds complicated but once mastered it works well.

Elsewhere M5 relies on the sound basic package of the E60 5 Series to deliver the goods, offering only a subtly revised version of the aluminium MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspensions and adding beefier (but still twin-piston front and single-piston rear) brakes and rear axle components.

Of course, all the traditional 5 Series hallmarks are here too, such as a big boot, split-folding rear seat and room to seat five large adults in comfort, along with additions like three interior leather trim options, specific console and instrument designs and a useful head-up display that reveals a graphic of revs, speed and gear selection on the windscreen just above bonnet level.

Even more subtle than the exterior, despite Alcantara headlining and the like, the interior somehow fails to convey a sense of occasion offered by other $200,000-plus cars, although the aluminium trim treatment is far less conservative than the woodgrain featured in our test car. A sticky front cupholder was the only quality glitch.

All this is wrapped in a traditionally understated M bodykit that somehow manages to combines muscular cues with a sense of movement even when it’s parked, and adds three exclusive new paint colours. M3-style front quarter fluting is a neat touch, too.

Designed to appeal even more to predominantly business people that, with an average age of 45, are considerably younger than drivers of other 5 Series variants and often travel in excess of 100,000km annually, BMW says the E60 will lead its class with “the most innovative drive concept, the best power-to weight ratio, supreme handling and excellent everyday driving qualities".

Rated against million-dollar supercars like Ferrari’s Enzo and Porsche’s Carrera GT, M5 doesn’t even make it into the top ten list of lustiest engines. But given Audi uses a turbocharged V8 to produce 331kW in its equivalent RS6 super sedan ($220K) and that M5 matches the $400,000 Gallardo V10’s 500hp output, if there’s a more powerful, more accommodating vehicle available for less money, I want it.

The fact remains only BMW could have built a car like this. Quicker, faster, smarter, safer, easier to drive and glorious sounding, the new M5 is better than anyone could have expected. In the face of more serious high-performance competition than ever, M5 remains the full-sized sports sedan to save for and savour.

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