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BMW M5 — long-term review
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 round – I like the underlying positivity of the suspension 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 its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 has humbler origins, 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 a rapid sprinter, 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 onto 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 same league as the M5. Velvety thrust, but aside from some Alpina trim and touches inside, you could be driving any 5-Series.
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 exhaust blurts, the throttle bites. It’s a more overt sports car than the B5 (or the previous M5, for that matter). Before it arrived, I was all set to be disparaging about the M5, but it’s grown on me very quickly. I really, really enjoy driving it, spending time in it – the M5 genuinely gives me a buzz when I walk out the door every morning.
I’d have an M5 over an B5. Not everyone in the office 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.