Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan / BMW
Published: December 3, 2017
LISBON, Portugal - The super sedan. At least that’s what they called it back in 1984 when BMW unleashed the first M5 to the world. Codenamed the E28, it was the natural successor of the E12 M535i, and was the fastest production sedan at that time, offering an unprecedented balance of five-seat practicality and sports car performance. The E28 M5 used a standard 5 Series chassis and plunked in the same engine as the mid-engine M1 supercar, a 3.5-litre straight six delivering 252 hp.
That was a big deal back then, and I was lucky enough to pilot every successive generation of M5 on short test drives around Portugal, in advance of my time behind the new kid on the block, the 2018 BMW M5, codenamed F90. I was given rare access to the original E12 M535i, E34, E39, E60, and F10 M5, allowing me to experience and document the genetic evolution of this iconic super sedan and how it transformed and kept the spirit of the original alive for decades.
The smell of old leather, the feel of the worn-in steering wheel, the confusing dogleg manual transmission, and the unfiltered roar of the straight six sent chills down my spine. Even in this day and age, the E12 M535i feels like a genuine rocket. In a near meticulous showroom state, this E12 has been on this Earth longer than I have, yet it still performs like it just left the factory. There’s such charm to the way it howls and thrusts with purpose, and it reminded me what it actually meant to “roll up the windows.”
While I would have enjoyed some time in the iconic E28, it developed a bit of mechanical issue and the folks at BMW Classic had to retire it for the day, so I eagerly sampled a Daytona Violet E34 M5, which luckily used the same straight-six – a sweet honeypot that was arguably one of the smoothest engines at the time.
Then came the ferocious E39, the first M5 to house a V8 engine. This one produced a neck breaking 400-hp and subsequently introduced the M Division to its signature quad tailpipe design. The scenic and exhilarating drive with the E39 engulfed my senses enough that I spent the following morning daydreaming about owning one myself and straight-piping it into auditory heaven.
Now the E39 was a rather tough act to follow, so BMW upped their game and gave us the 500-hp E60 M5, the first production sedan with a V10 engine, but it wasn’t just any V10. This naturally aspirated masterpiece tore a hole in space-time, shrieking until an intoxicating 8.200 rpm redline, and legitimately sounding like an F1 car. The E60 reminded us how much we longed for a V10, but also how much we despised its sluggish SMG transmission.
Then somewhere along the way, BMW slumped with the successive F10 M5, which we all have to admit, was a bit of a heavyweight blunder. It weighed more than a herd of cows, it didn’t sound that great, the steering was anesthetized, and though its twin-turbo V8 engine was tuned to produce an eye-opening 560-horsepower, it was limited by traction and had a difficult time translating all that power to the ground. It was hardly the four-door rocket sedan that we always yearned for from the storied M5 badge, and the E28 legacy seemed to be lost in this foggy transition.
Enter the new 2018 BMW M5 (MSRP $113,300), which aims to remedy the ailments, patch the wounds, and keep the spirit of the E28 alive. How does BMW plan to do that? Well they added in a defeatable all-wheel drive to start, solving the aforementioned traction issue and making it the first non-SUV M vehicle to send power to all four corners. They’ve also bumped up horsepower from 560 to 600 hp, the torque from 500 to 553 lb-ft, shed 8 kg of weight with the use of more aluminum and a carbon fibre roof, ditched the clunky dual-clutch transmission in favour of a smoother 8-speed ZF torque converter automatic, and further retuned the chassis and suspension.
But you’d hardly notice it from the sheetmetal. The epidermis does not appear very distinct or unique from the standard 5 Series. In fact, a casual enthusiast might not even realize it’s an M5 in the litter of traffic without spotting the flurry of M badges or exclusive colours like this Marina Bay Blue. A guidebook to the exterior changes include a new front splitter, rear spoiler, side skirts, badges, unique wheels, calipers, and classic quad exhaust pipes.
The interior receives a subtle makeover as well, with beautifully tailored seats that not only look great but also offer excellent amounts of shoulder support during spirited bouts. You can’t adjust the headrest, but the two panels of the backrest can be adjusted separately for a cozy driving position. A brand new gear shifter that can easily double as a Power Rangers toy embraces the center console and though it may initially seem complicated to operate, takes only a few seconds to learn – there’s a rocker switch on the top to control transmission shifting speed and there’s now a park button as well.
Other specific M5 features include a new digital instrument cluster, M head up display with a tachometer reading, a red engine start button, and red M buttons that flank the steering wheel, allowing the driver to program their desired settings for the engine response, suspension, and steering. The cabin is clearly not as clean-cut or as technologically vibrant as the rivaling Mercedes-AMG E 63 with its magnificent dual-screen setup and ambient lighting, but the M5 will be a familiar and warming atmosphere to previous and current BMW owners.
And while the aesthetics of the M5 are important, we are more concerned with the driving dynamics, where the outgoing F10 left us with a bit of a sour note. Out on the pine-covered hills of Sintra, the M5 felt right at home. Power from the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 (codenamed S63) came effortlessly and while some may be disappointed by BMW’s decision to use the same engine as the F10, the increase in torque thanks to the new turbochargers and cooling system makes a significant difference. It is enough to send the new M5 from 0-100 km/h in a blistering 3.4 seconds, dethroning the M760Li as the quickest BMW on the market. Thrust is also more abundant throughout the rev range, meaning you really don’t need to shift as much anymore to get the M5 bulleting down the freeway, which brings me to the transmission.
The exile of the dual-clutch in favour of the 8-speed automatic raised many eyebrows but I’m rather glad. I was never fond of the 7-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) in the M cars. Yes, it was lightning quick and astounding in high-speed situations, but it jerked and clunked around in low gears with low throttle application, and it wasn’t the smoothest when commuting anywhere else but the track – hardly where M5 owners spend the majority of their time. This newly tuned 8-speed is silkier and nearly as quick. Downshifts are just as hasty and it’s friendlier in both low- and high-speed situations – and isn’t that what M5 owners are looking for, the utopian balance between comfort and performance? That’s where the new F90 M5 nails it.
With the outgoing M5, I never noticed much of a difference between the three adjustable suspension settings, but the new M5 distinguishes them well. The Comfort setting is modestly stiffer than the M550i, but still shows the ability to soak up cobblestone roads and gently settle the body without too much roll. The middleman Sport Mode is perhaps the best compromise, offering the perfect concoction of damping and tolerability. Sport Plus was just too stiff for daily driving – even on the perfectly paved highways we felt every imperfection and undulation, more so at higher speeds. Be that as it may, the M5 remained incredibly stable at the limit and gave us quite a big pool of confidence to work on.
Soon we found ourselves at the Autodromo do Estoril, the famous circuit that was once home to the Formula 1 Portuguese Grand Prix. On the track, we tinkered around with the M5’s three driving modes: 4WD, 4WD Sport, and 2WD - yes, that last mode completely disconnects the front axle, satisfying the needs of hooligans and AWD-naysayers. 4WD mode still exclusively sends power to the rear wheels, and will only relay a portion to the front when the rear is compromised. 4WD Sport on the other hand allows a little more slip to get us sideways, and was my preferred mode for getting around the many slow and up-hill corners around Estoril.
But it didn’t matter if we were bombing down the main straight at 250 km/h or carving out the picturesque hills of Sintra, the M5 barely broke a sweat. The 4WD system made quick work of translating all that power into forward motion, the grip limit with these Pirelli P Zero tires was incredibly high, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t stressed, and the M5 remained composed without a whisper of hesitation. Sure it may still feel and act like a big car, but the M5 remains cosseting and comfortable, and now has both feet firmly planted and the choreography memorized to the tee. The electric steering is much better this time around and while it’s 25% quicker, the weight also builds up nicely under rotation and feels much more linear.
The exhaust system for the M5 is brand new, made from steel, and has two mechanical flaps to control the noise. There's even a separate exhaust button now, a BMW first. While the stale soundtrack of the previous F10 M5 never impressed me, this F90 M5 sounds much better. It’s louder, more aggressive, and a more complete and cohesive symphony with deeper tones and frightening backfire crackles – rather similar notes to the E 63 AMG. It’s no V10 engine, surely, but I’m certain 99% of customers will be satisfied with it. It’s still worthy to note that some of that exhaust noise is synthesized through the speakers in real time. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above for the full auditory experience.
The new F90 M5 is more evolution than revolution, and we can attest to that after driving all six genomic chapters. It solves our previous complaints of the outgoing F10 M5 with a lighter aluminum chassis, defeatable all-wheel drive system, more torque, a better balance in suspension damping, and a friendlier 8-speed transmission. The new M5 may not change the game but it does solidify itself as a momentous and symbolic competitor for the super sedan throne. And after an eye-opening journey from start to finish, from the groundbreaking E12 M535i to the contemporary F90, it’s safe to say that the spirit of the original lives on in this blue Bavarian vessel, and what a fascinating journey through space and time it’s been.
Photo Gallery (BMW photographers on location):
型号 Model: 2018 BMW M5
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $113,300
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,982
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,966 / 1,903 / 1,473
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,982
引擎 Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
最大馬力 Horsepower: 600 hp @ 5,700 - 6,600 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,700 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 8-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, M xDrive (switchable AWD, RWD)
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: TBA
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front 275/35ZR20; Rear 285/35ZR20