Sunday
May192013

Test Drive: 2013 BMW M5

Back in 1988, the first-generation BMW M5 wowed driving enthusiasts with a six-cylinder engine producing 256hp and 243 lb-ft of torque - capable of reaching 60mph in 6.7 seconds, which was pretty damn quick for the time. Fast forward 25 years to 2013, and the latest fifth generation M5 is continuing to fulfill its original role as a four-door sedan with supercar performance, though it’s now going about it in a different way. The 2013 M5 is more than just another model generation with a new body and interior, it’s also the first M5 to use a turbocharged V8 after years of using normally aspirated inline-six, V8 and V10 engines.

It’s a safe bet that the BMW engineers that worked on the original M5 back in the 1980’s are surprised that today’s M5 makes as much power as it does, yet is so efficient. Thanks to technology like turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, the 2013 M5’s 4.4-liter V8 makes an incredible 560hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, well over twice what the original M5’s inline-six produced. What may be just as impressive as those power figures is that the 2013 M5 is a lot faster than the original M5 while getting better fuel economy, even though it weighs almost 1,000 pounds more.

M5’s have always been understated when it comes to their looks, which adds to their appeal. You wouldn’t look at this car and think it has 560hp and can knock off 0-60 in just a tick over four seconds, but it can. In fact, the M5 doesn’t look all that different from the standard 550i model with the M Sport Package, which at a rated 400hp is no slouch either when it comes to speed. Besides the M5 badge on the trunk, the dual quad exhaust and more slightly more aggressive front airdam and rear valence are the visual tip-offs to the car’s pedigree. While the 550i runs on run-flat tires, the M5 also goes with sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and has much larger brake hardware.

Inside, the M5 seats provide excellent support and the driver is given a lot of different options to choose from with throttle response, suspension damper settings and steering assist. The M double clutch (M DCT) transmission also offers various levels of shift speed for both its automatic and manual shift modes, with manual shifting done with either the gear lever or the paddles mounted to the steering wheel (a manual transmission is also available to U.S. buyers). All the settings that are available to M5 drivers may sound overwhelming, but they’re actually pretty easy to figure out and are less confusing than the even more extensive settings that were in the previous M5. Drivers can also use two different memory settings to program these various options and access them with the touch of a button on the steering wheel. During my week with the car, I had one button programmed for daily street driving with less aggressive settings, and one programmed with more sporty settings for driving on some of my favorite back roads near my home. Drivers can also choose to go with a more liberal traction control setting, or turn it off completely.  

One trait of the M5 that become clear after just a few miles of interstate driving is that it’s deceptively fast. That may seem like an obvious way to describe a 560hp car, but this car builds speed so quickly and discreetly that even though you know the car has loads of power, it still takes you by surprise. It became a common occurrence while I had the M5 to think I was cruising at 60-70mph but then look down at the speedometer and realize I was really doing 90-100mph. The new breed of BMW M car with turbocharged engines makes speed a little differently than M cars of the past. In the past (including the current E92 M3, which is at the end of its model life), M cars were known for high-revving engines that made most of their power at high engine speeds and you could get more a sense of the engine working to get up to speed. These new turbocharged M engines make a lot more torque than any M engine before them and are fairly quiet, so that’s where the deceptive part comes in.

Even though these new M engines have a different character than their predecessors, they are still fantastic. They prove to be more satisfying for cars that are daily drivers with all that torque, and they still like to rev, though not to the upper stratospheres of previous M cars. The new M5 and M6 also deliver better fuel economy than their predecessors or the current M3, and this is becoming a lot more important for car manufacturers to meet strict CAFE regulations. I managed to get 25mpg in a long drive on the interstate while cruising at 75-80mph, which is pretty good for a big heavy car with 560hp. I’ve driven the current M3 (which has a 4.4-liter normally aspirated V8 that produces 444hp) a lot and have never been able to get more than 22mpg at best.  So what we have here with the new M5 and M6 (which share the same engine), are cars that make a lot more power and torque and have better fuel economy than their predecessors, which is pretty impressive.

The new M5 is not all about straight-line power and speed. BMW M has also done a nice job with the suspension settings to deliver a ride that is both sporty and comfortable. Some of this is due to the adjustable dampers, but even in the softest “Comfort” setting, the suspension feels more sporting than a 550i. While this car is most at home on high-speed interstates with long flowing corners (think route 80 through Pennsylvania or I-68 through western Maryland), it can also handle twisty back roads with aplomb, though you do feel the size and weight of the car in those situations. Pushing the suspension setting to “Sport” helps to reduce some body roll and make the M5’s reflexes a little sharper, but the “Sport+” setting feels a little too frenetic on all but the smoothest roads. In both the Comfort and Sport settings, the suspension does a pretty nice job of dampening out rough roads.

It’s hard to find much to fault with the new M5. It’s very comfortable inside with supportive seats front and rear along with a generously sized trunk, and can handle daily driving duties like bringing groceries home or running the kids to school, but it can also deliver performance that’s on par with some serious sports cars and surpasses what the true supercars were putting out just a few years ago. The only faults I could really find with the car, which won’t be deal-breaker for most buyers, is that it seems a little soft for an M5. With all the extra weight and technology, it’s lost some of the edge that previous M5’s have had. As it turns out, BMW has an answer for that. Just as I was finishing up this story, BMW announced the new Competition Package for the 2014 M5, which boosts power output to 575hp and features new springs and dampers, stiffer anti-roll bars, a sport exhaust and remapped traction control that allows for a greater slip angle. If those changes end up being as good as they should be, the M5 may just be the perfect all-around sports sedan that strikes an ideal balance between comfort and performance. 

More info: www.bmwusa.com 

MSRP

$92,425 (including destination charge/gas guzzler tax)

Engine

4.4-liter turbocharged V8

Power

560hp @ 6,000-7,000rpm

Torque

500 lb-ft @ 1,500-5,750rpm

0-60mph

4.2 seconds (with M-DCT), 4.3 seconds (with manual)

Brakes

15.7-inch vented discs front/15.6-inch vented discs rear

Fuel economy

14 city / 20 highway

Curb weight

4,387 lbs.

Weight distribution (front/rear)

52.5/47.5%

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