What's it like living with a BMW M5? | Top Gear
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Monday 25th September
Best of 2018

What's it like living with a BMW M5?

Eight months living with a stupendously fast super saloon. Hint: it's wonderful

  • Drag racing

    We recently did a drag race between the M5, Merc-AMG E63 S and Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. It didn’t feature the lifer because it was away being fixed (I wrote about it last time and so far no repeats). If you want a surprise, watch the film online before you read any further.

    Done that? Good. The M5 walloped ‘em. Least powerful but lightest, it also possesses the most phenomenal launch control – when it works. Sometimes it will engage, sometimes it won’t. I suspect the system gets hot after a few runs, and then removes the temptation from you. So fast was it that we redid the figures when our car came back. And yep, the result wasn’t a fluke – it managed a two-way average of 2.99secs to 60mph. So that’s a full-size saloon that seats five, has a 505-litre boot, massage seats and kick-ass stereo getting to 60mph in under three seconds. That’s nuts. The fastest super saloon ever, surely?

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  • Tesla

    And then we remembered the Tesla P100D. It’s not a sports car, it’s pretty dull to drive in fact, but it is outrageously fast. You can compare the figures here. Only at high speed does the M5 regain the upper hand.

                            M5                         Tesla

    10                   0.41                         0.45
    20                   0.85                         0.83
    30                   1.31                         1.21
    40                   1.82                         1.59
    50                   2.37                         2.06
    60                   2.99                         2.68
    70                   3.74                         3.40
    80                   4.63                         4.22
    90                   5.67                         5.19
    100                 6.77                         6.46
    110                 8.06                         8.01
    120                 9.49                         9.97

    ¼ mile            11.10s/128.9mph     11.08s/124.0mph

  • Brakes

    And under braking. The £7,495 ceramics might be way too grabby in daily driving, but they stop the car from 100mph in just 81.23 metres – that’s less distance than a 911 Turbo S (81.88m). The Tesla takes longer to stop than a Mercedes G-Class. Not even kidding. 96.23m plays 95.39m. Anyhow, the M5’s brakes deliver massive back country confidence and for that I’ll forgive the fact that if you so much as think of the pedal in town the M5 attempts a nose stand.

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  • Engine is a masterpiece

    The more time I’ve spent with the M5 – over 12,000 miles now – the more I’ve become convinced the powertrain is a masterpiece. Yes, it had the fuel pump issue earlier on and even after a gentle motorway run home the heat it needs to get rid of is astonishing. The fans run for ages and if you’re carrying a passenger they are subjected to a blast of heat soak from underneath when they open the door. Blame the need to get the cats super-hot to reduce emissions and meet regulations (still, it’s not something other supersaloons do). Also, the first gearshift of the morning can be a bit sudden and the Merc E63 makes a better noise. Sad to say, but it does – more volume, more intensity, more raucousness.

    However, for effortless speed, rampant torque and peerless gearbox integration, the M5’s 4.4-litre twin turbo and eight-speed auto is unbeatable. It makes the whole car feel massively forceful. It digs deep at 1,000rpm, makes a mockery of turbo lag and simply hurls itself onwards. If only it was a bit noisier inside. It also takes the sting out of driving. It’s so undemanding in town it could be a 520d and, if you go gently, you’ll top 30mpg on a long haul. 27 is probably a better indication, and overall mixed driving yields about 22-23mpg. Or 13 if you get carried away.

  • Up against the Alpina B5: part 1

    But is it the best fast BMW? After all, what do you actually want, if you’re buying a super saloon – speed alone, or speed and handling? This is a question you’d do well to ask yourself before deciding the BMW M5 is the car for you. Now personally I think BMW has got the M5 bang on this time – I like the underlying positivity of the ride as a reminder this is no run-of-the-mill motor – but I’d understand if you wanted something more… effortless.

    At which point I’ll introduce the Alpina B5. At £89,000 it’s pretty much identical money to the M5, and although it’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 has humbler originals (it’s not a modified S63 M5 engine, but a tuned N63 unit), Alpina has wound it up to a point where it actually develops 9bhp and 37lb ft more than the M5. It’s 160kg heavier, so not quite such an impressive sprinter (60mph in 3.39secs, 100 in 7.48), but it does get to play the derestricted trump card: a 205mph top end.

    I imagine it must be just the ticket for the autobahn, but in the UK best read that as just the speeding ticket – surreptitious speed is the B5’s thing, it’s always trying to snaffle a few extra mph on to the speedo. And you don’t notice because the ride is so serene, the air passing over the bodywork so quietly dealt with. It doesn’t do anything so uncouth as popping and banging on the overrun and although there’s a big difference if you switch from Comfort to Sport, body control isn’t in the M5 league.

  • Up against the Alpina B5 part 2

    While the Alpina pampers you, the M5 nudges you, reminding you that it’s actually quite super and would like to be doing super things. Its seats give you a tighter squeeze, the red M buttons are directly in your eyeline, the suspension communicates, the throttle bites. It’s a more overt sports car than the B5 – or the comparatively portly previous M5 for that matter.

    I’d have M5 over B5. Not everyone here would, some preferring the Alpina’s more understated, exclusive approach. For me, though, there’s one crucial reason why you might have the B5 instead: it’s also available as an estate.

  • RWD

    Here’s the M5 in rear-wheel drive mode. Getting to this setting involves maximising the schportiness of every control and then disabling the stability system completely. But that’s not the reason I haven’t used it that much, not least because you can – and I did – have it set-up on the steering as a default M-button mode for a while.

    But I don’t any more because it was just bananas. Now, I love rear-drive cars, but let’s be pragmatic for a second. When you’re talking about a 600bhp, two-tonne super saloon, 4wd is transformative. Yes, I love the indulgence of having a secret rear-drive mode. But for one thing. Why can you only have throttle-steer mode with everything off? I’m guessing BMW sees it as a drift mode, to be indulged when you’re at that empty airfield you’re always going to. But I like to use rear-drive on the road, to see how it feels, what difference it makes. And I’d rather do that with some form of traction control on.

    Sometimes I let it off the leash anyway, but as you can see here, it’s a wild ride. The M5 feels very big, very quickly when it lets go. Which it does abruptly, and for sustained periods. Once those back wheels overcome their adhesion, 516lb ft ensures it’s not regained for long enough to be very unsettling. Owners: bet you’ve tried it once and never again, right? I’ve used it far less than those who know me well might imagine.

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  • Head up display

    Bugbear time. I’m not a fan of head up displays. Give me a set of proper, clear clocks any time. But the M5s dash has too much going on to be easily read (it’s a common issue these days), so I need the head up display for speed, gear and revs. But the rev bar sits too high in the screen. And that centimetre of extra height makes a big difference to forward visibility. And if I drop the display down the speed disappears off the bottom.

  • Rear seat space

    And another. The front seats are superb. If you’re sitting in them. If you’re behind them however, they do a bang on job of dominating your view forward, replacing light with black plastic. Those in the back often complain they feel hemmed in and how dark it seems. And this in a car with pale grey Silverstone leather.

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  • Surround view

    This has been a source of constant amusement in the office. Using the on-board surround view cameras, the BMW phone app now lets you have a look around the car in real time. So if one of your colleagues has borrowed the car for the weekend, you can freak them out by sending them pictures, criticising their parking and so on. Highly helpful.

  • People Just Do Nothing part 1

    The chaps from Kurupt FM popped down to the TG test track recently. The M5 was roped in for Decoy to drive, filled with enough cameras to make seeing where he was going very difficult indeed. He normally drives a MkIII Golf GTI. 600bhp took a bit of getting used to.

  • People Just Do Nothing part 2

    So we got our own handy driver to show them how it was done.

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