Fog is rolling in at Dunsfold. Heavily localised and strangely acrid fog. It billows and swirls, with sudden explosive puffs, giving the sense it’s being replenished from within. And from its murky depths comes noise: a bassy, beastly roar. Lights twirl and flash within the fog, then a dark form takes shape. The noise clarifies to a howl and something erupts from the mist, towing a cloud behind it. It’s black, that much is certain, but inside there’s a brief flicker of pure white.
Something about Stig’s body language suggests contentment – and not just because his respiratory system functions better on vaporised rubber than oxygen. Yep, he likes a super saloon, does Stig. But don’t we all? Isn’t there something good and honest about a meaty saloon motivated by an excessively potent motor?
The new M5 is quite sublime. Criticisms? The front end feels slightly over-tyred to me, but so do most high-performance cars, and so do I, come to think of it. The steering-column stalks seem a bit too close to the gearchange paddles, and once or twice I flashed vigorously at an oncoming driver who is likely still confused, or pointlessly rinsed a perfectly clean windscreen. But this could be because the stalks in my paddle-shift Ferrari are a yogic stretch away. The new M5 is a trifle dear at £73,000.
But the real problem is this – the M5 is so deceptively fast, and dispatching detractors going at well over the motorway speeds this easily is so intoxicating, you may as well drive yourself to the cop shop on M button #2 and hand yourself in. Or go back to the showroom for the 528i... And now for a little less sympathy and chin-scratching. Time for Ollie Marriage. And an E63.
The urge of the M5 is immense, of course, because it has 552bhp and a comical 501lb ft
of torque. It’s also surprisingly undramatic, because the new twin-turbo delivery is so
linear. It’s undoubtedly been done this way for emissions reasons, which have also taken away two cylinders, but that’s fine by me. Once again, an obstacle is placed in the way of the
car’s progress and it progresses more as a result.
Now we arrive at a great dichotomy. Do we want an event, or do we want effortless capability? They ought to go together, but somehow we think that the noisy Lambo is more involving, more demanding, more of a skill. Everything about the new M5 is disarming. The ride is good, the gearchanges are swift and painless, the cabin is quiet, and invaded only occasionally by a distant rumble of dynamic intent. I soon forget about M button #2 and leave everything as it is.
This is good. The old M5 offered 11 gearchange options, apparently, and in this one it doesn’t make any difference anyway, because the double-clutch shifts are so good. And we’re off, finally. There’s a head-up display! Fab! Of course you can configure this as well, but I have it showing the speed, the gear and... what’s this? Surely it isn’t an on-screen digital edition of BMW’s famous econometer? Can things be that bad? No, dolt, it’s actually the rev counter. Thank God for that.
And, anyway, what is the point of this? Saving the world? You may as well take a Kleenex to a tanker spill, if that’s what you’re worried about. Buy the one with the small engine and stop spoiling this one for me. Rant ends. More button stuff: there are now two ‘M’ buttons on the steering wheel, which you can programme – again in the abysmal depths of iDrive – to do all manner of things.
I set them up so that one is everything on comfort and the other is everything – traction control, suspension, blah blah blah – on balls-out. Actually, the man from BMW did this for me while I had a small cigar. I can do this stuff and I’m a fan of iDrive, but a small cigar is a smoke. There is also a switch behind the gearstick that alters the severity of the gearchange through three levels.
So part of the fun of driving the new 552bhp M5, absurdly, is in outwitting it and keeping
the engine idling. I played this for a bit and then discovered an even better game – pressing the little button that disables the system entirely. I recommend this, followed by sealing up the button with copious quantities of cyanoacrylate adhesive, or superglue. I’ve spent too much time in old cars to be able to relax in a £73,000 super saloon designed to break down at roundabouts.
Pulling away, the initial bite of the double-clutch transmission does perhaps require a
bit of gentle footwork, but it’s quiet and silky. Then it cuts out at a junction. It has stop/start.
It’s programmed to work thus. If you come to a stop and keep your foot on the brake, the system assumes you’re at something like traffic lights, and stops the engine. It starts again when you set off (obviously). If you come to a halt but then take your foot off the brake, the system assumes you are in very slow-moving traffic, and the engine keeps running.
Cars with too many buttons and knobs, there to make the driver feel better about not really being a fighter pilot, despite having the watch, annoy me. This is just enough stuff, and less than you’d imagine considering that this is, to some extent, a reconfigurable car. I’d worked out what most of the important bits did within 10 minutes, but it should be remembered that deep in the sub menus of the iDrive system lurk unimaginable options governing bits of the car you may never have heard of. At the other end of the spectrum of comprehension, there is some rather nice suede-style trim on the A pillars.
It looks like a 5-Series, so that – and I don’t want to bang on about this too much – is a
good thing. It’s a bit more swollen here and there, and it has these superb wheels, which are undoubtedly going to be smacked on a kerb pretty soon, and that’s a tragedy. But while it’s new, they look terrific. And the brake calipers are the colour of a very deep bit of the Adriatic. Yellow or red would be totally inappropriate for this most contemplative of M cars. In fact, the blueness of its calipers is as good a reason as any for choosing it. It tells you everything.
It’s altogether pretty unobtrusive unless you study it a bit more closely, and then it starts
to look quite menacing. It’s a bit like Ronald McDonald in this respect. Inside, I’m reassured by the usual combination of ruthless BMW logic and austere good taste.
It helps that I’ve never driven a bad one. Back in my early days in this job, there were
big cars with 2.0-litre engines, here to avoid company-car taxes in some way or another.
The 520 was pretty feeble, to be honest, and there was even a 518. But they were still lovely cars. They were just nice places to be.
If you’d like a 5-Series – and I think I might like one pretty soon – then the middle-ranking 528i is really rather excellent. That gives you 245bhp and you can have it as the M-Sport version for £37,000. So what do you get for £73,000, that’s still the same shape? You get 552bhp, and I have to ask, in the interests of a fair and balanced appraisal, if that’s really necessary. So let’s take a quick look at this mother and see what all the fuss is about.