Awhile back, I tested an ALPINA B7 and called it “Weapons-Grade”, as its brute force and seemingly unending power made it feel as it was powered by enriched uranium. However, I’ve now found something even more powerful, even more violent and even more capable of destroying worlds. The brand-new F90-gen BMW M5.
Last I drove the BMW M5, it was at BMW’s “Test Fest”, where I had the chance to drive several of BMW’s newest cars. However, my time in the M5 was unfortunately brief. I had a few laps on track at the Thermal Club and about 30 minutes on the road. While it was a fun experience, it wasn’t enough to properly gauge the M5, or to fulfill my appetite. Which is why BMW so kindly decided to let me borrow one back in New Jersey for a week. Now that I’ve spent some more time in it, I’ve come to one major conclusion — I want even more time in it.
The BMW M5 completely seduced me. During the week, my passion for it only grew stronger with each passing day. Every time I sunk into its wonderful Silverstone leather thrones, I would literally say out loud “I flipping love this car”. Okay, so maybe I didn’t say “flipping” but you get the point. But I couldn’t help it. This new F90 BMW M5 could be one of the best, if not the very best, M5 in history. It’s brilliant.
A Brief Introduction
First, a little backstory, though. The new F90 BMW M5 is the first M5 in history to sport all-wheel drive and a conventional automatic gearbox, without a manual transmission option. So, naturally, this upset the fan base a little bit when the car was first announced. Fans were worried that all-wheel drive would add unnecessary weight and complexity to the car, making it less of a driver’s car. They also felt that it was an indication that BMW was more focused on straight-line speed and power than on making it a proper driver’s car to begin with. However, fans who are worried, rest assured, neither of those things are true.
Yes, the BMW M5 is fast in a straight line, brutally, violently so. Thanks to its newly revised 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8, packing 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, its eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic and all-wheel drive, the BMW M5 is capable of 0-60 mph in the low three-second range. Car and Driver now-famously tested the M5 and was able to hit 60 mph in 2.8 seconds with careful launching, making it the fastest sedan they have ever tested. So, yes, it is blisteringly quick in a straight line and all-wheel drive grip has a lot to do with that. But don’t think for a second that its tenacious grip and incredible speed define the M5. Though, it must be discussed.
Brutal, Violent Speed
While its power doesn’t define the M5, that doesn’t mean that it sits in the background. From the moment you thumb its red starter button, that engine lets you know just how powerful it is. It fires to life with a bark and a snarl. Once awake, it settles into a deep, sophisticated burble. Even just at idle, it’s the best BMW V8 noise since the E39’s 5.0 liter free-breathing V8. It’s deep but it has character. It’s not just noise, like so many modern turbocharged V8s.
But it’s when you prod the go-pedal that it really shows what its made of. And it’s made of many good things. Despite having enough firepower to launch a satellite into orbit, the M5’s 4.4 liter V8 is buttery smooth and effortless to drive around town. However, there’s a sense that it always wants to run hard, like a dog that isn’t necessarily tugging at its leash but showing you with its body language that it’s waiting for the word to bolt. And once you give it that word, and indulge its inner desires to destroy pavement, it fires the big M5 forward with thrust that would make the space shuttle jealous.
Mashing the gas in the M5 is like hitting the warp-speed switch on the Millennium Falcon. Street signs and traffic lights whiz past the windshield like stars streaming by, as the M5 seemingly tears through the fabric of space-time. At least that’s how it feels. Seriously, you pull G’s on your neck under full-on acceleration, just trying to keep your eyes open and focused. It’s fantastic, violent and utterly addictive.
The noise is good, too. It’s deep and angry at lower revs but as the needle climbs toward redline, the pitch rises with it and the sound becomes more and more metallic. It sounds like a proper M engine. Yes, some of what you’re hear is coming through the speakers but I get it. Close the doors in the M5, or any 5 Series for that matter, and you’re enveloped in silence. So to give you the engine/exhaust noise that you want without giving you any of the intrusive road/wind noise that you don’t, BMW has to use some trickery. So I understand why. Plus, the actual noise you’ll hear is a good one. So complaints should be curbed.
It Likes Corners, Too
The previous-generation BMW M5, the F10-gen, was also a very fast car. Its problem lied in its inability to tackle corners with the same sort of enthusiasm as its predecessors. Sure, it was plenty capable but it never felt exciting or engaging in the same way that M5s of the past felt. This new M5 laughs at the car it replaces. Laughs right in its damn face.
From the moment you set off, you realize that BMW M has gotten its Mojo back. Turn the steering wheel and you’re met with a decent amount of heft but, more interestingly, actual steering feel. No, it’s not dripping with feedback like the E39 or E60 generations before it but car fans need to get over that. Pure, unfiltered steering feel is gone. It’s dead. Modern cars with electric power steering and more comfort than ever before are not going to feel the same way old classics did. Having said that, there’s a sense of what the front tires are doing through the feedback that your hands feel through the wheel. And that’s all I need. The BMW M5 responds to every steering input with sublime accuracy and razor sharp reactions. It’s no bruiser, this M5, it’s a proper super sedan.
The front end has seemingly unlimited grip, thanks in no small part to its sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4s, and its chassis balance is so spot-on that it feels completely rear-driven, like a proper M car, even with all-wheel drive. The latter just adds unflappable grip, without ever compromising its fluidity. Due to its size and weight, the BMW M5 is never going to be the scalpel that something like a Porsche Cayman is but it will tackle any twisty back road with ample enthusiasm and put a massive smile on your face while doing it. Oh, and it will obliterate said Cayman out of corners. Hell, the M5 will leave a 911 Carrera GTS for dead on corner exit.
There are three different all-wheel drive settings; 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD. It defaults to the normal 4WD setting, which is just your typical all-wheel drive setup and keeps grip levels high and everything on the safe side. Then there’s 4WD Sport, which sends almost all of the power to the rear wheels until the fronts need some to save your ass. This is the best mode to drive the M5 in, as it gives you the confidence of a safety net with the sporty feel of a rear drive car. It will also allow some slip before the front wheels kick in to keep everything going straight. So you can push it hard through corners, feel the rear end squirm, let the all-wheel drive system sort everything out and then watch everything in your rear-view mirror disappear.
Lastly, 2WD is a full-on rear-wheel drive mode that can be engaged at any time and kept on for as long as the driver so chooses. It’s the tire-shredding, drift-happy mode for lunatics. Because 2WD require traction and stability control to be switched off, it should only be used on a track or private tarmac. All of those 600 rampaging Bavarian horses will quickly turn the M5’s expensive rear Michelins to smoke in 2WD mode and it’s just a bit to sketchy on public roads, especially if there’s even a hint of dampness. Plus, it doesn’t really feel any more rear-driven than 4WD Sport. Still, it’s great fun to have the ability to do so.
Set It and Forget it
As great as this new M5 is, though, it needs to be set up properly to be so. Straight out of the box, the BMW M5 is highly configurable. So there are three settings for steering, suspension, engine, transmission and, as mentioned before, the all-wheel drive system. That’s a lot to remember and play with, too much to be honest. However, BMW kindly gives you two dedicated “M” buttons, which are new red toggles on the steering wheel that look and feel far better than the regular ole buttons on previous M cars. You can configure every one of those settings to your liking and then save two of your favorite configurations to the two red buttons.
Personally, I like to keep “M1” as my daily driving setting and “M2” as my full-on insane settings. So my M1 configuration was as follows: Engine in Sport, steering in Comfort, suspension in Comfort, traction control set to MDM mode and the transmission set to automatic in its middle aggression setting. For me, that’s the perfect setup for driving the BMW M5 on the road. With the engine in Sport, it feels the most natural, with the best throttle response. Its “Efficient” and “Sport Plus” settings are too sluggish and twitchy, respectively. But the steering is best in its Comfort setting, as Sport and Sport Plus just add increasingly artificial weight that feels odd. Comfort is expertly judged with the right amount of accuracy. While the suspension needs to be set to Comfort on anything other than a track, as it’s far too firm in anything else. In Comfort, it’s about perfect for my liking, as it’s still quite firm but with just enough compliance to make New Jersey’s awful roads tolerable.
The transmission also has three aggression settings and they’re effective for either automatic or manual mode. The first is a bit slush-boxy, making it feel like a luxurious automatic. The middle setting makes it feel like a snappy auto and it’s the best setting while the highest setting makes it feel like a crude dual-clutch, snapping off shifts and giving you a little kick in the back.
All of this is a lot to take in at first, which is why you need to spend the first day figuring out which settings you like and then saving your perfect configurations to the two M buttons.
My “M2” setting is everything in hooligan mode. So it’s Sport Plus engine, Sport steering, Sport suspension, angriest transmission and 2WD mode. I used this only once to see what 2WD mode felt like and then went right back to my “M1” setting. Set up the way I had it, the F90 BMW M5 feels like a proper M5, one with delicate steering and chassis balance combined with brutal power and performance.
As a good M5 should, this new F90 isn’t all about tire smoke and blistering performance figures. It’s also comfortable, luxurious and capable of being a calm, elegant cruiser. The best part about it? I never had to switch it out of my “M1” configuration. The only thing I had to do to calm it down was to calm my driving down. Then it relaxed and became a superb luxury car, capable of eating countless miles in quiet, high-tech comfort. The fact that it required no switching of settings to calm down proves just how flexible it is, how vast its breadth of ability truly is.
The cabin is lovely, also. It’s a bit fussier than that of the standard 5 Series, thanks to all of its M-specific gubbins and carbon fiber trim. But it looks great and build quality is absolute top notch. Everything inside the M5 feels as if it’s capable of withstanding a nuclear war. The seats are sublime, even if the headrests are a bit firm, the seating position is spot on and even the back seat has good space for adults.
Then there’s the tech. Equipped with BMW’s iDrive 6.0, it sports touchscreen compatibility as well as voice control and Gesture Control. Like all modern BMWs, the M5’s iDrive is the best in the business, with slick graphics, quick responses and intuitive menus and controls. I could also get used to all of the Connected Drive features. For instance, while I was driving early on in the week, my wife called me after she left work, telling me about her long and stressful day and how the rest of her week was only going to get worse. Immediately after hanging up the phone, I went into the Connected Drive menu, did a web search for her favorite restaurant in town, was able to just click “call” from the iDrive screen and booked us a table for two the following Friday night over Bluetooth.
Once I had hung up the phone, I went back to driving like a hoon. And then it hit me that the BMW M5 really can do everything and be everything. It can be the insane super sedan with performance that can make some genuine mid-engine exotics shiver and it can be the calm, comfortable luxury car with all the tech in the world. Aside from towing a boat or going off road, there’s nothing within reason that the BMW M5 can’t do. It poses remarkable duality that I don’t think can be matched in the entire industry.
Personally, I love the new BMW M5. Purists may bemoan its all-wheel drive system and claim that it’s getting too complicated, too high-tech and too connected to be a proper M car. Hogwash. This new BMW M5 is capable of delivering some of the most exciting performance you’ll feel in any modern road car while also boasting remarkable luxury and some of the best tech in the game. During my entire week with it, I kept getting this feeling that BMW M was back. Never once did I draw comparisons to its most recent predecessor, the F10 M5. Instead it reminded me of cars like the E34 and E39 M5s, cars that were both intoxicating sports sedans and elegant cruisers.
Yes, the levels of performance, luxury and tech are all off the charts now. But none of it takes away from the M5’s ability to astonish, thrill, entertain or coddle. At the moment, enthusiasts will never claim this M5 to be better than its legendary predecessors, due to nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses. But in years to come, once we look back on this F90 BMW M5, it’s possible that it will be considered the very best M5 of all time.