After we fell hard for the naturally aspirated V-8– and V-10–powered versions of the BMW M5, a twin-turbo V-8 M5 arrived for 2013 and left us a little cold. Sure, it had 560 horsepower, 502 lb-ft of torque, and a body by Atlas, but something that was core to our long-held attraction was lost. Even an available manual transmission couldn’t bridge the emotional gap. While the car’s performance left us in awe, somehow BMW forgot to make it fun. We’d grown apart.
The divide grew when we heard rumors that the new M5 would have all-wheel drive, no manual option, and a conventional automatic transmission. Despite adding all-wheel drive, BMW claims the new model is 20 pounds lighter than its predecessor, and even though power wasn’t really ever a problem, we were delighted to learn that, thanks to larger turbos and more boost, the new M5’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 would have 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. Then we drove first a prototype and then a production version in Europe last year, and most of those fears were put to rest. Maybe we’re ready to love again?
We made a date with the first 2018 M5 available in the United States and took it straight to our test facility. That torque-converter automatic that we’d worried might take the eagerness out of BMW’s supersedan comes with a simple launch-control function that works with the all-wheel-drive system to help the new M5 turn some ridiculous times. A perfect launch is as easy as holding the brake and the accelerator while stopped. When fluid temperatures are right, the computer allows the engine to rev to nearly 3000 rpm, and the rear tires start spinning as if the M5 were rear-wheel drive. Release the brakes, the front wheels kick in, and the M5 pounds forward. In 2.8 seconds you’re at 60 mph and in 10.9 you’re whisked through the quarter-mile at 129 mph.
That makes the new M5 the quickest sedan we’ve ever tested, tying a Tesla Model S P90D to 60 mph but pulling ahead by 100 mph and in the quarter-mile. Turbo lag is absent, and the engine delivers instantaneous big whacks of power similar to a massive naturally aspirated engine. There’s no slush in the gearbox, either; the torque converter locks up almost as soon as you get rolling.
After a couple of runs, the launch-control system dialed back the launch rpm to 2500 rpm, which isn’t enough to start the rear tires spinning. Launching without that rear-wheel spin adds a couple of tenths to the zero-to-60-mph time. Our test car supposedly arrived with the lower, 155-mph governor, but it didn’t stop the party until we’d hit a verified 163 mph. (A $2500 M Driver’s package brings a 189-mph limiter.)
BMW makes it possible to disable the all-wheel-drive system and switch the M5 into rear-drive mode. It’s a trick that mimics the Mercedes-AMG E63 S’s Drift mode. We thought it would be interesting to see how much all-wheel-drive traction benefits acceleration, so we tested the M5 in rear-drive mode, too. When two tires instead of four face off against 553 lb-ft of torque, it takes 3.6 seconds to hit 60 and 11.6 seconds for the quarter-mile, and it’s a far bigger challenge to get the launch right and dance at the limits of tire adhesion.
In the Game
While the numbers are shocking, the new M5 has more going for it than numbers. There’s a closer connection with the driver in this M5, one that isn’t as overtly filtered through silicon chips and electronics. It’s more amusing and less robotic than its predecessor. Unlike so many BMWs of late, the steering is lively and has some actual feedback. At the track, the M5 put up 0.98 g on the skidpad, and the front tires chatter and protest as they try to fight off understeer. It’s a different story on the road, where the chassis exhibits balanced, lively, and secure handling that gives the impression that the M5 is smaller than it is. There’s joy again in hustling the M5. You’re in the game—and not just a spectator to a 21st-century display of technology.
Even with the roughly 150-pound penalty of all-wheel drive, the new M5 weighs in at 4288 pounds—which sounds like a lot, but that’s 110 pounds lighter than the most recent previous-gen M5 we tested(which had a manual) and 299 less than the E63 S. In addition to a carbon-fiber roof panel and a lithium-ion battery, the new 5-series platform uses more weight-saving aluminum than before. Fifty-one of those saved pounds are from the optional $8500 carbon-ceramic brakes, which along with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires stopped the M5 from 70 mph in a tidy 147 feet.
Fortunately, the diet hasn’t eroded any of the M5’s ability to act like a luxury car when you’re not working the Michelins hard. Left in Comfort mode, the electronically adjustable dampers allow the M5 to ride as smoothly as a regular 5-series. Two stiffer modes are selectable, but they are better left to canyon carving or a racetrack.
Driver comfort is a clear priority. The leather-upholstered seat is supple and supportive and hugs you back when you lean in. Upright windows with large expanses of glass give the cabin an airiness missing from the competition. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy driving. Calmness begets calmness. Road and tire noise are hushed and wind rush doesn’t appear until the M5 reaches triple-digit speeds. At 70 mph the sound-level meter registers a low 66 decibels, and full-throttle acceleration rises to only 74 decibels. Switch to Sport mode and the audio system plays an enhanced version of the engine’s soundtrack that peaks at 80 decibels under hard acceleration. Any more would be annoying and would disturb the occupants of the M5’s luxurious cabin.
In spite of its all-wheel drive and automatic transmission, the M5 is a return to form. For the first time in a long time, we’re lusting after a new M5. It might not be the pure and competition-bred sedan of its youth, but the new iteration has stopped placing technology over tactility and numbers over enjoyment. The whole car is now better at integrating its tech and drawing the driver in. The performance data is more impressive than before, but the car is more than just something that generates an eye-popping test sheet. It’s better to drive than its predecessor, which is something we haven’t been able to say about an M5 since 2000.