A Week with the 2018 BMW M5

After my week with the 2018 BMW M5 ended, I didn’t find myself thinking about how much horsepower it had or how fast it was. I already knew those things. Instead, I pondered the concept of “more.” More is typically accepted as a good thing, but depending on who you talk to and what you speak to them about, what constitutes more can vary. When it comes to makeup, some people are of the opinion that less is more, but on the other hand, as far as money goes, more is more.

That’s how it is with the all-new 2018 BMW M5, which has been reworked from its Nürburgring Nordschleife-tuned chassis to its muscular body, from its engine to its drivetrain. Last year, I drove the new BMW 530i. It didn’t matter that it was the base model in the 5 Series range and only had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. I loved it. Its 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque were satisfying and delivered quickly and smoothly. When it was time to slow down, the brakes were easy to modulate. The 530i’s ride quality was serene, and its cabin was mostly devoid of outside noises at high speeds. Ultimately, the 530i just felt right.

When it comes to the M5, the engineering team behind my test car managed to keep all of the loveable traits and natural charm of the regular 5 Series while adding a turbo, four  cylinders, all-wheel drive, and gobs of additional horsepower and torque. The M5 is more by every measure. In this case, that’s a good thing.

The Car

BMW was generous when it came time to equip the M5 I would test. The base price for the 2018 M5 is roughly $102,000. By the time BMW was done adding options, my M5 evaluation vehicle had an “as-tested” price of $129,795.

A couple of those options made the M5’s interior pleasant to be in, whether I was trundling along over uneven pavement or blasting down a curvy backroad. The $3,500 Aragon Brown Merino leather seats made for a nice surprise waiting inside of the beautiful Marina Bay Blue shell. Thanks to the $4,000 Executive Package, my week with the M5 was filled with additional conveniences and luxuries. Another $3,400 equipped my M5 tester with the 1,400-watt, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system.

The $2,500 M Driver’s Package gave me another reason to wish I lived near the Autobahn by raising the M5’s top speed from 155 to 189 mph. BMW didn’t allow me to take the M5 to a local track for evaluation laps, which meant I wouldn’t get a chance to really test the $8,500 M Carbon Ceramic Brakes package.

On the Outside

In its mildest form, the design of the 5 Series is a well-proportioned blend of curves and definition. Handsome lines form the visual foundation of the M5 while cosmetic add-ons make it clear that it’s the most potent and performance-focused 5 Series. Massive air intakes below the signature twin-kidney grille and adaptive LED headlights span nearly the entire width of the front bumper.

BMW swapped out my test car’s stock wheels for 20-inch two-tone wheels wrapped in Pirelli Z-rated rubber, their spokes only partially concealing the massive 16-inch front, and 15-inch rear M Carbon Ceramic brake rotors. In addition to handling heat better than conventional brake hardware, they also reduce unsprung weight by 51 pounds.

According to BMW Product & Technology Spokesperson Oleg Satanovsky, “The roof is made of CFRP [carbon fiber reinforced plastic] which not only reduces weight but more importantly, moves the center of gravity of the vehicle down towards the ground.” Engineers even put the exhaust system on a diet, cutting weight by 11 pounds. A lip spoiler and rear diffuser put the finishing touches on the M5’s super-sedan outfit.

On the Inside

These days, manufacturers are quick to put flat-bottomed steering wheels in cars with the slightest hint of extra power to show how sporty they are. Everyone knows the M5’s credentials, so it can get away with a regular round wheel.

iDrive 6.0 is learnable, but I can’t quite call it effortless. A couple of times, I had to rely on my previous experience with iDrive in other BMWs or the electronic owner’s manual to help me access a feature. On the plus side, the handwriting recognition feature built into the top of the control knob made entering a search keyword or address as simple as spelling it out with a fingertip.

The upgrades in the Executive Package include soft-close doors, a 360-degree camera system, onboard WiFi, sunshades for the back windows and rear glass, and front seats with heating, ventilation, and multiple massage modes. They showed me you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to get the M5’s added performance. The back seat had plenty of legroom and headroom for all 5’10” of me.

Under the Hood

Like its F10 predecessor, the F90 version of the M5 is powered by a 4.4-liter V8 and twin turbos. However, the new M5’s turbos are twin-scroll units. Satanovsky told me via email, “Electric(vs. vacuum) wastegate control valves are used to allow quicker response and more accurate control of boost pressure. Fuel injector pressure has been increased … to 350 bar(5,075 psi) for improved engine response. Air-to-coolant radiators are used for cooling the air going into the turbochargers which is much more effective than air-to-air intercooling.” The end result of those improvements is 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque.

Instead of a dual-clutch gearbox, the 2018 M5 uses a more traditional eight-speed automatic. Three levels of shift speed are available in both full-automatic and paddle-shift manual modes which can be selected via a switch on top of the M5’s unique gear lever.

Don’t expect a manual gearbox option to pop up at any point in the new model’s lifespan. Satanovsky referred to the row-your-own transmission as a lighter piece of hardware that can intensify the connection between a car and its driver, but pointed out that its shift performance and fuel consumption is inferior to that of the new automatic. He added, “This second generation of ZF 8-speed transmission also allows for technology that would not be possible with a manual such as GPS and camera integration. In this case, the transmission is constantly using input from sensors and GPS mapping to preview road conditions ahead and make sure the car is always in the correct gear in advance.”

Perhaps the most significant change to the M5 is the switch to all-wheel drive. Although the M xDrive setup may seem sacrilegious, it is rear-biased and offers three settings (4WD, 4WD Sport, 2WD) with varying levels of Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) intervention. The 4WD setting defaults to full DSC, but can be used without it. 4WD Sport automatically engages M Dynamic Mode (MDM), which backs the DSC off slightly to transfer more power to the rear end and allow for more wheel slip and sideways fun. It can also be used without DSC. You’re on your own in 2WD; when the front axle goes offline, so does DSC.

Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M GmbH, seems highly aware of the love for the days when the M5 was rear-wheel-drive only. He said, “The new M5 with M xDrive drives like a rear-wheel-drive car, just with more traction. The front axle is only involved if the rear wheels are at their grip limit and more traction is required. We made use of a central intelligence unit that processes measured and calculated data and then uses this data to control the center differential as well as the active rear M Differential. Now with this, we can distribute the torque and power between the front and the rear as well as between the left and right.”

Timo Glock, who races in the DTM series for BMW Motorsport, knows the new M5’s handling behavior well after testing it for the automaker. He said, “Thanks to M xDrive, the new BMW M5 … serves up a noticeable boost in traction and controllability, both in everyday situations and at the dynamic limit.”

Other systems in the M5 are also adjustable. The engine can be set to run in Efficient, Sport, or Sport Plus mode. The suspension and steering offer Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus settings. Accessing a combination of the preferences for all of those systems, the transmission’s shifting speed, and the M xDrive setup takes a simple push of one of the two red buttons on the steering wheel.

On the Road

The winding roads of the Texas Hill Country gave me plenty of opportunities to test the M5 in its various performance modes. To discover how well it behaved as a regular sedan, I put every system in its most relaxed setting, including the exhaust. It was hard to tell much of a difference between the M5 and its less potent siblings because it was quiet, relaxed, and comfortable. The only significant hints that I was in a high-performance sedan was the faint roar of the V8 and the brakes. Around town, they had a tendency to grab at awkward times. They were smooth up until a point, then snatched. At certain speeds, jabbing the brakes felt as if someone had erected a barn door as an airbrake behind me. I learned to be patient and use a light touch on the left pedal.

I set the M1 button to 4WD Sport/MDM, the fastest automatic shifts (D3), and Sport for everything else. After pressing it and uncorking the exhaust, I headed out to the sweeping curves of FM 967 and RR 12. The M5 was as ready as I was to tear through the quiet country towns outside of Austin. It accelerated with a smoothness that managed to keep me calm as I approached unspeakable speeds with a horrifying quickness. I became convinced that if the S63B44T4 under the M5’s hood were ever to take a human form, it would have the charisma to hypnotize crowds of people into gleefully doing dangerous things.

In the M1 settings, the electric power steering started to feel less controlled by the demands of the front axle and more willing to have fun. It didn’t want me to fight it; it wanted me to be its partner in backroad hijinks.

With every curve, I learned more and more about how well BMW’s M division had tuned the gearbox. It was able to read the road with GPS, but it also did a damn good job of reading the messages my right foot was sending. Traffic and speed limits sometimes prevented me from going as fast as the gearbox wanted me to so I would back off of the throttle slightly. The tranny would quickly sense what I was doing and accurately interpret that as a sign that it should upshift.

I tasked the M2 button with unleashing all of the M5’s aggression: 2WD, all-out manual-mode gearchanges (S3), and Sport Plus for the rest. What was once a mischievous friend became a party animal. I pulled away from a stop and turned onto a side road, then gave the throttle a firm push. I felt the back end writhing over the pavement, the wide rubber drums turning into so much butter melting and sliding across the surface of a hot pan. At that moment, I wasn’t concerned. I was smiling.

As I pushed further on, I became more aware of my responsibilities. I no longer had the front wheels or DSC reigning me in. The steering was even more communicative, telling me to pay attention and keep my hands at nine and three o’clock. The faster I went, the less manic the carbon ceramic brakes seemed to be, as if they could only be calmed by high speeds. I was happy to fill their prescription.

Once my time with the 2018 BMW M5 came to an end, it was hard to find serious faults with it. It had everything I loved about the regular 5 Series and higher amounts of power, grip, and performance potential. Most importantly, it could still be driven as a rear-wheel-drive performance car.

Whether less is more, or more is more will always be up for debate, but I’ve made up my mind about BMW’s latest fast four-door. More is more and, compared to the regular 5 Series, the M5 is more on every level.

About the author

Derek Shiekhi

Derek Shiekhi is a native Texan who grew up loving cars because of his father, who took Derek with him to buy early Mustang convertibles and Post-WWII pickups from GM. Throughout high school and college, he dreamed about cars, and returned to college to earn a second degree in journalism. After writing for the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, Derek joined the Texas Auto Writers Association, and is a member of the organization's board of directors.
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