As discreet as it is fast—that’s the BMW M5.
M Series cars from BMW have always been special.
Yes, they have all had leading edge, for the time, power and handling while all looking not unlike the family BMW sedan Uncle Franz drives to work.
Yes, there have been wild looking and behaving specials from aftermarket hop-up providers like Alpina and Schnitzer but they looked like something for those whose vanity was greater than their self-confidence.
No, the real mark of a M Series is the great pains BMW’s in-house M engineers and designers take to not let the guy in the next car know what they’re up against until the moment of truth.
There’s not much to tell the 2012 M5 from a normal 5 Series other than the M5-badged air outlet/turn signal repeaters above each front wheel, the big M5 alloy wheels with meaty tires and the four exhaust pipes with small centre diffuser at the rear.
The 2012 version has been wisely toned down from the V10 model it replaces which is very much in the spirit of the car.
The last M5 I drove was way back in 1992 with a 3.6-litre inline six-cylinder engine producing 307 hp and 266 lb/ft of torque.
Compared to the two, first generation 1.8-litre four-banger 3 Series I have owned (not to mention the 2.5-litre V6 Mazda minivan I was driving at the time) it was a rocket.
Fast forward two decades to the M5 tested here with its mighty TwinPower turbo V8 that pumps out 560 hp, almost double the 1992 not to mention the 500 lb/ft of torque.
There aren’t too many cars on the road, and I mean supercars, that can match that kind of power.
The Porsche 911 Turbo S comes in at 530 hp. About the only thing that matches M5 is the Audi R8 GT with a 5.2-litre V10 producing 560 hp.
But while the 911 and R8 seat two, you can get four in the M5 for a starting price of $101,500. The 911 Turbo S starts at $183,400 while the Audi R8 GT opens at $173,000 and that’s all before options.
About the closest you can come to the M5 is the Mercedes-Benz AMG 63 with 518 hp and starting at $99,500 before a host of AMG options. The Audi S7 Sportback I recently drove has 420 hp, but pricing has not been announced at this writing.
On the M5 there aren’t too many extras to choose from because most of what you need is already included in the list price.
So for the record, the 2012 M5 tested here comes with the $4,500 full Merino leather interior and the $9,500 Executive Package for an as tested price of $115,500 not counting the $1,995 shipping fee.
The Executive Package includes ventilated seats, side sunshades, electric rear sunshade, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, surround view camera, heads-up display, smartphone integration and BMW Apps and several creature comforts.
So now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to come to that age-old question—what’ll she do?
The answer is more than you would expect, and in many ways, able to take advantage of.
You can’t go let loose because there are far too many driver/safety aids in place to let you do anything foolish. There are ways to defeat most of them, but not for the average driver.
I’m not trying to scare anyone off the M5, far from it, but any serious buyer should investigate BMW driving academies where, with the proper instruction, a whole new world of performance will open.
On the left spoke of the steering wheel are two M Drive buttons. M1 is for Sport driving and M2 is biased more towards Comfort.
M Drive allows for driver to adjust six parameters including engine response, shift changes from the seven-speed dual clutch transmission, pitch and yaw settings and active damping.
And looking just at the transmission, there are three shift patterns accessed by a rocker switch on the centre console. It allows for D1 automatically at startup for the most efficient operation. Go to D2 and it changes shifting for cruising and comfort. Hit D3 and it delays the shift until the engine is in a higher rev range.
The Active M Differential limited slip is computer connected to the stability control system and they share data to calculate the locking forces needed for the best traction in microseconds allowing, in extreme circumstances, for 100 per cent torque being sent to either wheel.
The electro-hydraulic dampers also have three settings—Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus with the latter needing more steering effort for higher speeds but Sport, which provides “feel” across the steering spectrum is all most people will need.
With all those buttons, it would be simple to punch a bunch and drive off to see what happens but I just set everything to Sport which is probably what most owners would do until they had time to sample all the settings.
Even though this is a turbo, throttle response is quick and potent. Like all modern turbos, engine noise is (sadly) lacking but the sense of picking up speed is immediate.
As for performance, how about 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds and 0-200 km/h in 13 seconds?
There is so much torque that you can just leave it in Drive for most situations. But switch over to the manual DSG operation in M1 and this car just sizzles but without histrionics.
While I never had the chance to try all the drive modes, one button on the centre console was perhaps the most fun.
To the right of the shifter is a switch with a movie camera icon and it controls the surround video cameras. In addition to the normal backup unit there are tiny video cameras embedded in each leading edge of the front wheel well which gives a 180 degree view to the front.
I wish I had more space to talk about the superb fit and finish, particularly the wonderful Merino leather seats that wouldn’t be out of place in a members-only club.
But if you love performance that is way over anything you’re used to, then be discreet and drive the M5.
BMW M5 2012
Body Style: Premium performance sedan
Drive Method: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive.
Engine: 4.4-litre DOHC twin turbo V8 (560 hp, 500 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: Premium, 13.2/8.6/11.1L/100 km city/highway/combined
Cargo: 0.52 sq m (18.4 cu ft)
Price: Base, $101,500, as tested $115,500 not including $1,995 shipping fee