The art of car control is a craft held in very high esteem. Varying the slip angle through a corner as you balance a car on throttle, otherwise known as drifting, is the ultimate driving experience in many driver’s books – and at BMWBLOG, we can’t help but admit we are smitten by the thrill of it.
A seemingly infinite number of variables effect the behavior of a car at the limit of grip, a key factor being weight transfer. Therein lies the beauty of a BMW chassis, what with its ideal 50:50 weight distribution. A few other ingredients are helpful but not essential to complete the act (we’re still talking about thrilling driving). Front and center is rear-wheel-drive, you simply cannot power-slide a front-wheel-drive car. Manual transmissions are helpful, but again not essential as there are many ways to initiate a drift other than “popping the clutch” or dropping aggressively into a lower gear (can you say “drivetrain abuse?”). A limited slip differential (LSD) is an invaluable asset in your drifting adventures, allowing you to put the power down with better grip, more evenly distributing power through the rear wheels. Ample power and torque will go a long way to extend and control your slide, along with a high rev limit. Lastly, throttle response is of critical importance, since you’ll be steering the car with the throttle in unison with steering angle.
If the above features are hallmarks of an ideal drift car, then BMW’s new M5 is the ultimate drift car for four. Period. It one-ups the aforementioned wish list in every way, starting with its limited-slip rear differential. Coined the “Active M Differential,” BMW M have fitted an electronically controlled, multi-plate rear diff that can lock up to 100% – directly linking the rear wheels. The electronic control of the differential is linked to the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) which takes several factors into consideration before determining how tightly the differential should be locked. Factors include throttle position, steering angle, yaw rate, anticipated throttle position, etc. The M5 is literally trying to anticipate your next maneuver, such that every fraction of grip is used efficiently, and not thrown away to frivolous inside wheel spin.
In the power department, BMW’s M5 raises the game with 560 hp available from 6,000 to 7,000 rpm. Equally important, the S63tu under-hood twists out a staggering 502 lb-ft of torque starting nearly from idle, at 1,500 rpm, all the way to 5,750 rpm. So vast are the M5’s power reserves that little more than a stab of the throttle is needed to initiate a drift, and get the rear end sliding; no manipulation of the clutch, brake torque or Scandinavian flick needed here. A relatively high redline of 7,200 rpm (commendably high for a turbo engine) allows you to extend your slide. Throttle response from the M5’s turbo V8 is excellent, with very little to no lag noted in most gears – certainly the lower ones. The immediacy of the throttle response is first-class, and most would be very hard pressed to ascertain any lag while driving.
Finally, the 7-speed semi-automated dual-clutch transmission (DCT) is a marvel, slamming the gears in with aggression and speed while programed in its sportiest setting. Whereas I am a die-hard manual traditionalist and thoroughly enjoy the connection between man and machine while switching my own gears – the 7-speed DCT works so well in the M5 that what it lacks in left leg involvement, it makes up for through its ability to bang gears in while in the middle of a lengthy slide. Try doing that smoothly with a third petal, and you begin to appreciate the merits of the M DCT – at least in the scope of drifting exercises.
Does all this talk of smokey sliding sound a touch juvenile to you? In a safe, isolated environment, why not give it a try and judge for yourself? Learning the subtleties of car control at the limit of grip will make you a better and safer driver in every way – just be responsible in practice and find an isolated space to try your hand; avoid public roads as they are not a place to learn! You will find it easier to start practicing on surfaces with lower grip coefficients – snow covered asphalt being the best and easiest place to start, followed by rain soaked roads, and finally dry pavement. There must be some merit to the practice, as it is all the rage with internationally recognized drift championships gaining popularity everywhere. We also note that BMW consistently markets their sports cars in lurid, drawn out drifts. Sex sells, and in the automotive market place, so does drifting through a commercial.
BMW’s M5 was easily driftable – seemingly begging for more, corner after corner. This car has a manic personality that surfaces every time you hit the ‘M’ button. It is a head-banging, thrill-seeking monster with an appetite for corners (and tires) that few cars have. We loved every minute of our time behind the wheel at Ascari race circuit in Spain, and we look forward to future drives with BMW’s brilliant M5.
Stay tuned for BMWBLOG’s M5 road review, racetrack review, and further technical pieces to be published shortly. In the meantime, enjoy our exclusive photo gallery shot earlier today at the Ascari race circuit in Spain.
(Photos credit: Tom Kirkpatrick)