The M5 has always been a big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the sixth-gen model brings even sharper teeth and arguably its most-subtle ever overcoat

One second. In most of life’s moments, a second is just that. A moment. A single tick of the clock is an insignificant and
undetectable amount of time. But when you’re cutting a whole second from the 0-100km/h time of the already ferociously fast F10 BMW M5, it’s a huge deal.

The newly all-wheel-drive M5 (the F90) storms to 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds. That’s mighty impressive, but really just a product of all-wheel-drive traction, a tonne of power and torque, and clever electronics.

What’s truly mind-blowing is how hard the M5 continues to hit after it blows beyond 100km/h. The official claim is that the F90 nails 0-200km/h in 11.1 seconds, meaning that it takes just 7.7 seconds to record the second 100km/h. But the relentless acceleration doesn’t abate at 200 and the numbers in the digital speedo are suddenly massive.

At present, local F90 M5s will be fitted with the standard 250km/h limiter, though the brand is assessing whether to offer the higher, but still-limited, 305km/h top speed available in some markets.
According to Howard Lam, product manager for 5-, 6-, 7-Series models, part of the decision-making process around offering the higher limiter will be to determine at which circuits the 250km/h limit will be an issue. The chat with Lam is taking place in the pit lane of Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway, and we rattle off Mount Panorama, Phillip Island, Sydney Motorsport Park and Queensland Raceway. Twenty minutes later, I rumble back into pitlane and tell Lam to add Sandown to the list.

BMW M5

The point-and-shoot Sandown circuit features a couple of reasonable straights punctuated by a series of 90-degree corners. Unlike Phillip Island, Sydney Motorsport Park or Bathurst, it’s not an easy circuit on which to establish much of a flow. Doubly so when the car you’re driving tips the scales at 1855kg (impressively 15kg less than the F10, despite the addition
of the all-wheel-drive hardware). We’re in a conga line of two M5s following BMW’s track-focused M4 GTS. Oh, did I mention that the GTS is being driven by Steven Richards, four-time Bathurst 1000 winner and currently competing in the Australian GT Championship driving a BMW M6 GT3?

With a twin-turbocharged V8 producing 441kW from 5600-6700rpm and 750Nm at 1800-5600 revs, I know that I’ve got Richards’ 368kW, 600Nm M4 GTS covered for squirt. But he’s got talent on his side, along with sticky Michelin Cup 2 tyres and a chassis honed for this type of morning workout. The GTS is clearly quicker through the corners, turning in with conviction and carrying more speed at the apex, but the way that the new M5 lunges out of corners is crushingly effective. It can close down any gap almost before you’ve registered that the GTS has stolen an advantage. On the first run down the back straight, I’m forced to lift twice in order to not nudge the M4. I’d assumed that Richards’ was controlling the pace, but he later acknowledged that the GTS was pinned.

A few laps into my second stint, I make a meal of turn one and Richards grabs a healthy gap that he carries through the right-left complex at two and three. Off the 90-degree turn four, the F90 hooks up and munches through the gears, rapidly closing down the space between it and the M4 GTS. It’s my one and only full-blooded run at the back straight and the M5’s fury is finally softened by the limiter at an indicated 257km/h. It feels every bit as quick as that suggests.

BMW M5

Rummaging around behind my mental couch, the F90 M5 has recorded the second-highest top speed of all cars I’ve ever driven at Sandown. It’s put between 10-15km/h of clear air between it and the F10 M5 that I drove at Sandown for that model’s mid-cycle update, and about the same amount of speed on the previous-generation Mercedes-AMG E63 S. We later get a passenger ride with Steven Richards in BMW’s M4 GT4 racer, and even with the benefit of slicks and the subsequently higher cornering speeds, the best it can do down the back straight is 237km/h (and obviously Richards was able to go much deeper before hammering the brakes).

Oh, the fastest car I’ve driven at Sandown? That’d be the Bugatti Veyron, which was indicating 300km/h down the back straight with a wide-eyed factory minder sitting in the passenger seat. Beyond posting a big number at Sandown, the new M5 is surprisingly adept at picking apart the tighter sections of the track. From the driver’s seat, the F90 feels in control of its mass during direction changes, and this is confirmed when I get a chance to follow another M5.

It never looks big and ungainly. That said, our stints were limited to four laps a piece and the tyres were showing the strain after 12 laps, both in terms of shoulder wear and tread-block squirm. The tracked M5s were fitted with the optional carbon ceramic rotors ($16,500) and they held up well with a consistent and high pedal.

We were encouraged to work through the various chassis and drivetrain configurations, but were forbidden from sampling the rear-drive mode, as this requires ESC and traction control to be switched off (very much vorboten in today’s OH&S-laden world).

Still, sport AWD with ESC wound back a touch, reveals a distinct rear-drive bias that requires corrective lock should you get greedy on corner exit. The variable ratio steering itself isn’t overloaded with feel, but at just 2.15 turns lock-to-lock, it’s fast and accurate. And away from the track, that rack speed isn’t jumpy or hyperactive.

BMW M5

Though entertaining and surprisingly accomplished on the circuit (and I’ve a feeling that Phillip Island or SMP would allow the M5 to shine even brighter), the M5’s natural hunting ground is beyond the circuit gates. That said, the official Ring claim is sub-7:46

But as we nose out of Sandown into Melbourne’s traffic on the day before Good Friday, and as the city prepares for the Easter exodus, the M5’s duality immediately hits home. It’s quiet, loaded with luxury and tech (detailed last issue) and supremely comfortable both in the city and on the open road.

There’s little doubt that it rides with a more relaxed gait than the tightly wound Mercedes-AMG E63 S. The eight-speed torque converter automatic slurs through its shifts with almost imperceptible ease and the engine murmurs to itself in the background.

It’s the kind of car that would encourage you to forgo the grim mundanity of modern air travel and point the roundel on the nose to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or some place far flung. It’s the kind of car that the M5 has always been.

Specs
Engine: V8, 4395cc, twin-turbo
Power: 441kW @ 5600-6700rpm
Torque: 750Nm @ 1800-5600rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive (switchable rear drive), Active M Differential
Front suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Ventilated discs, 400mm front, 396mm rear
Wheels: 20in front and rear
Tyres: 275/35 ZR20 front, 285/35 ZR20 rear
Weight: 1855kg
Power-to-weight: 238kW/tonne
0-100km/h 3.4sec (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Basic price: $199,000 (Launch Edition)

Jesse Taylor