BMW M5: First drive

For over 25 years, the BMW M5 has established itself as the world's most successful performance saloon.

Now it's back in fifth-generation form, with a turbocharged engine that's even more powerful than the old V10, but with the focus on BMW's Efficient Dynamics technology, it's 30% more fuel efficient too.
So, can a turbocharged M5 live up to the reputation of its illustrious predecessors? I headed to France to find out.

On the outside, the current 5-Series has been criticised as not being as distinctive as the previous Bangle design, but I think that this M5, with the M-specific design touches has the right amount of subtle aggression.

At the front, there are wide black slats for the grille, unique LED light rings and a front apron with three intakes to keep the turbocharged engine cool.

Move to the side and there are special side skirts, flared wheel arches, the hallmark M gills which house the side indicators, lowered suspension and 19 and optional 20-inch alloy wheels, showing off the M-Tech six-piston brake calipers.

At the back, there's a small lip spoiler so subtle you could almost miss it and the chunky rear apron with quad exhausts and rear diffuser.

Move inside, there are bespoke M Sports seats, aluminium trace interior trim, an anthracite roof liner, plus the iDrive control system with 10.2-inch display.

The driving position is excellent and the M Sports seats really comfortable. Also, because the M5 is a saloon, there's room for four and a practical boot.

The fit, finish and build-quality of the M5 definitely feels more special than a standard BMW 5-Series. This is particularly noticeable with the optional £5,445 Merino leather trim, which extends to the dashboard.

So what's the M5 like to drive then? Well, you might be fooled into thinking that because the new car's 4.4-litre V8 engine is turbocharged, the engine couldn't be as special as the previous naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V10. Well, you'd be wrong, as there's a hefty power hike of nearly 53bhp to 560bhp, with torque up by 120lb ft from 520 to 680lb ft of torque.

It's surprisingly green too, as despite the performance, the M5 is fitted with start/stop and is more fuel efficient with a 28.5mpg combined fuel consumption (an increase of almost 9mpg) and 232g/km fuel emissions (a reduction of 112g/km).

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BMW M5: First drive

From the moment you prod the accelerator, it's obvious that the M5 has the power you'd expect of an M car. It's fast, very fast. The punch from low-down is impressive and because of the twin-turbochargers, it's almost linear in its delivery of power.

Another surprise of this new engine is just how flexible it is; on one hand it's happy to be thrashed to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds and on to a limited 155mph top speed, yet it's equally comfortable pottering around town and this is mostly down to the new double clutch gearbox.

It sounds great too, perhaps not special as the V10, but deep enough to announce the M5's sporting intentions.

The M5 is so capable, I found it quite difficult to stick within speed limits – this car will be a licence-loser in the wrong hands.

Alongside the new engine, there's also a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It's quicker and generally smoother than the last seven-speed SMG transmission. There are also three manual and three automatic modes.

On top of this, there are three tuneable levels for the steering, suspension and throttle; this means that including the gearbox, there are 81 possible combinations. With two not one M buttons on the steering wheel.

After playing around with various settings on the mountainous route, I thought the M5 was best in comfort mode for the steering and dampers, with a sportier map for the throttle.

Attack some corners in the M5 and it's obvious that the traction control system is working hard to keep the rear wheels under control. There's virtually no body roll and the BMW takes corners flat and quickly.

I also appreciated the light, positive and responsive steering. I'm not keen on the M steering wheel, that has a rim that's too thick. I also felt that considering the performance, the brakes were too prone to fade after heavy use.

The ride is surprisingly good; it's taut but not hard enough to be uncomfortable. Refinement is high, as engine and tyre noise are almost too well-insulated in the cabin.

So to sum up, the M5 still holds on to its crown. It's much easier to live with the new engine and gearbox, is faster yet greener and more economical. If you're after a performance saloon and have £73,040 to spend, the M5 is the car you want.
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