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Superlative super saloon. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

Superlative super saloon
I apprehensively got off the plane in France and made my way outside to a line of shiny new BMW M5s, excited, but anxious to know if the BMW M5 was really as good as it promised to be.

   



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You never know where a new relationship is going to go. The first moments together are usually tentative and exciting. Will it last? I apprehensively got off the plane in France and made my way outside to a line of shiny new BMW M5s, excited, but anxious to know if the BMW M5 was really as good as it promised to be.

The attraction was pretty instant when we first received details of the new M5 from BMW. How could you not fall for the idea of a super saloon powered by an all-new 5-litre V10 engine with over 500bhp? At the Paris Motor Show, the flirting began in earnest when I took a tour around the car in the metal for the first time. As with all the most subtle cars, pictures do not do the M5 justice. I think the best way to explain it is that the 5-series Sport is easy to briefly mistake for an M5, but when you see an M5 you know exactly what it is, despite the relatively restrained styling changes. At the front, the aggressive 5-series snout is given a sharper bumper incorporating a shapely chin spoiler. Further back, the M gains vents in the wings with that evocative M5 badge. Below are a set of gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels, which may be similar to those fitted to the Sport models, but in the metal are much more impressive. An understated spoiler also graces the bootlid, but there is no doubting this car's intent when you notice its quartet of shiny fat exhaust pipes dominating the rear view.

Appetite well and truly whetted, I nearly bit BMW's hand off when offered an invite to attend the launch of the M5 in France, with time on the undulating Pau race circuit and a drive back to Britain in order to have time to get to know the car. Jenkins came up with the idea of bringing the M5 to Germany to complete a few hot laps of the infamous Nordschleife circuit, where the M5 carried out much of its chassis development. BMW had no problem with that, but nervously used the words "Don't crash it..." It's not often a budding relationship starts with such a dirty weekend!

Before the fun and games could begin, it was time to get to know my new partner. Forget I-drive, the M5 has so much more to get used to than that. One of the BMW representatives on hand talked me through the bewildering number of driving options in about 60 seconds flat and waved me on my way. I'll go into the systems in more detail later, but the driver can choose manual or automatic, gearchange speed, level of traction control, level of damper stiffness, full power or 'just 400bhp' and on the test car, how much side support the active seats provide! Looking at the route to the race circuit it was clear that there was not enough time to experiment, and not one to wait for my wedding night, I hit the 'M' button on the steering wheel, which had been programmed with the most aggressive settings for all of the above, and unleashed the M5 on the French countryside.

Ten minutes later, eyes wide in wonder, and a little fear, I arrived at the circuit and parked up. I was slow to relinquish the keys, but was reassured that, yes, I would have them back. On the sun blushed pit lane, I waited with the other pasty white journalists for my turn. My instructor came over and introduced himself. I popped on a crash helmet and keenly jumped into the driving seat of another waiting M5, which someone had kindly warmed up for me. It was explained that we were not there to improve as track drivers, but to get a chance to understand the M5's dynamics in a safe environment.

The first couple of laps were done with the 'POWER' button turned off, which restricts the engine's output to 400bhp. Most people present thought that this was a waste of time, as 400bhp is as likely to get you into trouble as the full 507! Switching the button does serve to illustrate the difference the extra 107 horses makes though. For those laps, the dampers were at their most pliable and the traction control was resolutely turned on. As good as the car is, this set-up is completely unsuitable for track use, especially when one of the automatic gearbox modes is selected. Thankfully I was encouraged to switch on full power and use the manual mode pretty quickly.

Even then, with a degree of traction control still enabled, the M5 felt as if it was holding me back, protecting me from myself more like! Finally I got to press the 'M' button once more and suddenly it all made sense. The M5 flows from corner to corner in this mode, eating up the straights and attacking the edges of the track as you ease on the power, producing controllable, quick slides through the apex, encouraging you to push harder and harder. Given the power on tap, and the weight of this car, it amazed me how friendly the M5 was to drive on track, yet utterly rewarding if you push to the edges of your own abilities. Things looked good for keeping the car on the black stuff at the Nurburgring...

You know when you meet someone and they have quite a distinguishing characteristic, which may be cute when you first meet them, but may turn into an irritation? Well, I wondered if the M5's gearbox would have that effect on me. Automatics in sporting cars generally leave me cold, and of the modern day clutchless manuals, the Ferrari/Maserati system is the only one I could put up with, no matter how clever the DSG system in the Audi TT is. The only gearbox option in the M5 (for the moment at least) is BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG). In its third iteration, the SMG has seven speeds, and 11 gearchange modes, though five of those are simply different gearchange speeds in fully automatic mode. Left in 'D' mode, the car acts like a true automatic, seamlessly changing up and down, and even setting off in second gear in some modes. If you are a regular reader you'll know that we didn't select 'D' often.

Once I experimented with all the modes, I found myself naturally drawn to the 'S' mode, and for anything other than motorway work, chose the fastest gearchange speed. As with Ferrari's 'F1' gearbox, full acceleration changes verge on assault, with chirps from the rear tyres into fourth gear. You can actually assist the 'box to make seamless changes by simply backing off the throttle a fraction when you change up. Downchanges are not an issue, and thanks to the gearbox's built-in double declutch and throttle blip, you'll find yourself dropping into a lower gear for no other reason than to hear the engine rev, especially in tunnels, villages, etc. Though you may scare small children and animals with the noise emanating from the exhausts.

No matter how impressive the rest of the M5 is it was always likely that the engine would take centre stage. The 5-litre V10 is one of the first ever road cars to feature such a configuration of cylinders (the other being Porsche's Carrera GT supercar), and though it is nominally of the same capacity as the previous generation M5's V8, it produces a stonking 27% more power. It may not have escaped your notice that the V10 layout is the same as currently used in Formula One, but BMW admits that the M5's engine shares nothing with the racer's powerplant other than using it for inspiration.

The V10 is a very different beast to the outgoing 5-litre V8. As well as much more power, its torque peak is higher (at 6100rpm vs. 3800rpm), though 332lb.ft (of the 384lb.ft peak) is available from just 3500rpm, so the new car still feels a lot quicker most of the time. It really is an incredible unit. You can burble around in a higher gear if you fancy, relishing the bassy rumble from the exhaust and the torquey overtaking ability, or you can do what any self-respecting car nut would do: drop a couple of gears using the paddle shift, relish the throttle blips and then put your foot all the way to the carpet. The noise emitted is only just eclipsed by the sensation of gathering pace. Above 5000rpm the engine seems to hit its sweet spot and before you know it is gently bouncing off the 8250rpm rev limiter. Shift up and do it all again. This is a thoroughly addictive activity and if you do it in the wrong place at the wrong time you will soon be without a driving licence... Through all of this, the V10 is silky smooth, yet ferocious, a kind of 'karmageddon.'

Standing starts are impressive enough in the M5, and there is even the option of full on launch control that borders on scary, but the M5's pace is at its most impressive when well into three figure speeds, seemingly teleporting its occupants from 100 to 140mph (where legal...), and not long after hitting its speed limiter at an indicated 169mph. It was a little unscientific, but on a track, in a straight line, our M5 outdragged a Honda CBR Fireblade all the way from 100mph to the car's speed limiter. Regular autobahn drivers will be glad to know that the M5 feels just as unruffled at this speed as it does at 70mph.

Having read that paragraph you may have to remind yourself that we are talking about a large saloon car capable of carrying five adults and their luggage. Straight lines are easy of course, but the M5 doesn't disappoint through real-world corners either. As well as the smooth sweeping Pau circuit, we tackled the Nurburgring and were amazed at the M5's composure. Back on UK roads, and more specifically some of our favourite testing B-roads, we expected the BMW M5 to feel a little overweight and for its brakes in particular to not cope. I discovered that in fact, the M5 holds its own on a road more suited to a light sportscar or four-wheel drive rally replica, shrinking around the driver and actually allowing a few cheeky controllable power slides out of tighter corners.

I may not personally have just over 60,000 to spend on a car, but for that cash there are few real rivals for the M5 and it actually looks like real value for money, especially when you realise that the standard equipment level is very high. Of course, there are some downsides, such as a thirst for fuel (15mpg over 2000 miles is a dismal result), and if you did drive it on track often the tyres and brakes bill could have the bank manager knocking on your door, but as a highly desirable sports saloon that offers up a thrilling driving experience, it is untouchable. As you can see, I was pretty taken by the M5, more so than I could possibly have predicted. The initial lust and infatuation has turned into deep respect and long-lasting desire.

Shane O' Donoghue - 29 Jun 2005



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2005 BMW 5 Series specifications:
Price: 61,760 on-the-road (our test car was additionally fitted with a Bluetooth connection system and active seat bolsters).
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 19.1mpg
Emissions: 357g/km
Kerb weight: 1830kg

2005 BMW M5. Image by BMW.2005 BMW M5. Image by BMW.2005 BMW M5. Image by BMW.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by BMW.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 BMW M5. Image by BMW.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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