DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

There are many certainties in life: water is essential to our survival, nasi lemak is something you can have for all four meals in a day (including supper), and whenever you think of a big sports sedan, the BMW M5 will always come to mind.

Since the first-generation E28 was introduced, the M5 has always adhered to a simple philosophy – pairing elevated driving dynamics with everyday usability in a sleeper-esque guise. This recipe was gradually improved after the E28, when the E34, E39, E60 and F10 followed, each being the halo variant of their respective 5 Series generation.

Given its reputation as being the barometer to which all competitors are benchmarked against, it was always a challenge for BMW to ensure the M5 remained ahead of rivals from the three-pointed star and four rings. With the F10 now retired after five years of service, and the W213 Mercedes-AMG E 63 stepping out of the shadows, the F90 M5 has arrived just in time to uphold the reputation of the nameplate.

To ensure it remains the go-to big sports sedan (discounting the M3, of course), there’s a bevy of new technologies that are considered revolutionary or controversial depending on who you ask. Nonetheless, does the overall package impress? We drive one in Portugal to find out.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

The essence of any M5 begins with a mighty engine, and this one is the mightiest in the model’s history. Under the bonnet is a S63B44T4 4.4 litre twin-turbocharged V8, which is an upgraded version of the S63B44T0 found in the F10, with a number of tweaks for more potency.

For starters, revised cross-bank exhaust manifolds work with new turbochargers to allow more exhaust gases to flow back into the latter. Meanwhile, the cooling and lubrication systems have been replaced with race-spec ones, featuring indirect charge air cooling and a new oil supply system.

The end result is a powerplant that churns out 600 PS from 5,600 to 6,700 rpm and 750 Nm of torque between 1,800 and 5,600 rpm. Compared to the outgoing F10, you’re looking at a 40 PS and 70 Nm increase, but that’s not the only highlight here.

Paired with the V8 is an eight-speed M Steptronic torque converter automatic transmission, which displaces the F10’s Getrag GS7D36BG seven-speed M Double-Clutch Transmission (DCT).

The transmission is based on the standard ZF-sourced unit used in the regular G30, and comes with Drivelogic, with three progressively aggressive shift mappings on tap. This generation of the M5 will only be available as an automatic, unlike the F10 that could be had with a six-speed manual in selected markets.

Even with the additional power and new gearbox, there’s one more ingredient that has gotten the most attention – the new M xDrive all-wheel-drive system. Yes, this is the first M5 to come with all-wheel drive, but it has been set up to be rear-biased to ensure extended powerslides remain part of the car’s skill repertoire.

The system works with the Active M Differential as well as M-specific driving dynamics control software to provide drivers with multiple choices of how to have fun. For instance, in its default setting (DSC on and 4WD), the car still allows for a certain amount of slip at the rear when powering out of a corner.

If more slip angle is required, M Dynamic Mode (DSC on and 4WD Sport) allows more torque to go to the rear for controlled drifts. Should you want to go full Ken Block, and have the system be in rear-wheel drive mode only, you’ll need to completely disable DSC to do so.

Performance-wise, it takes just 3.4 seconds for the M5 to get to 100 km/h from a standstill, and an additional 7.7 seconds to see 200 km/h. The car is limited to 250 km/h but an optional M Driver’s Package allows for an extra 55 km/h on top of that.

As power is nothing without control, the M5’s chassis also boasts significant upgrades from a regular G30. Steering is handled via an electric-powered system with M-specific Servotronic function and variable sport ratio, with three settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus.

There’s adaptive M suspension all around as well, with the front double wishbones receiving M- specific kinematic and elastokinematic characteristics. Meanwhile, the five-link rear gets new elastomer bearings and toe links with stiffer rubber mounts to cope with the added stresses of high-performance driving.

Elsewhere, firmer anti-roll bars, an additional steel X-brace and aluminium transverse struts increase the stiffness of the chassis linkages at the rear axle. Other enhancements that increase stiffness include an aluminium tower-to-bulkhead profile and two tower-to-frontend struts.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

There’s no all-encompassing driving modes to cycle through here, so drivers are given free reign to select individual characteristics for each system (powertrain, suspension and steering), along with an on/off function for the four noise tubes at the back.

Once you’re pleased with the settings, you can also save them as one of two available presets. The two labelled red buttons on the steering wheel allow for quick switching, and they are more prominent than those in the F10. There’s a wide range of combinations you can make, but personally, M1 should be set for maximum civility, while M2 is for when a track day beckons.

Walking up to the car, it is immediately known that this M5 is a little more showy compared to all of its predecessors. New bumpers, side skirts, a rear diffuser, boot lid lip spoiler and more prominent fenders are eye-catching cues that mark it out as the range-topper.

The Marina Bay Blue-painted example you see here also wears 20-inch seven-double-spoke wheels in polished black two-tone finish (black rollers are also available), which are an upgrade from the standard 19-inch set. Wrapped around them are 275/35 profile tyres at the front and 285/35 profiles at the rear. These contribute to an increased front track width of 40 mm.

If that isn’t enough visual presence, there’s even a carbon-fibre roof, which is part of a weight-saving exercise that includes the use of aluminium to construct the bonnet. Other smaller details include the standard array of ‘M5’ badges on the side gills, grille and rear boot, as well as the omission of the Air Breathers.

In contrast, the interior gets a subtler makeover, and features an M5-specific gear shifter and the aforementioned red buttons on the steering wheel. To the left of the former, you’ll find switchgear to control through the various system modes along with driver assist and DSC systems.

Those M sports seats come with an illuminated M5 logo on the integrated headrest, and drivers will get to play around with a head-up display that has dedicated M functions. Beyond these items, the cabin isn’t festooned with carbon-fibre parts, although optional M Performance Parts can satisfy such needs.

With the pleasantries out of the way, what’s the new M5 like to drive? Our first stint in the car involved a short drive around the small towns surrounding Autódromo do Estoril, packed with bumpy roads – perfect to see if the car still retained its daily usability.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

Put simply, the car drove almost like a regular G30 – comfortable and refined – with very little need to ensure it remained restrained. The slush box was smooth in its operation, and in its quickest shift mapping, it was very easy to confuse it with a dual-clutch unit.

The ride was pretty good, although more sensitive bottoms would be notified of it being slightly on the firm side. This was to be expected, and was most noticeable with primary ride, while the secondary was easily handled by the suspension. Despite this, it didn’t crash over bumps and the suspension did well to isolate unwanted shocks from the cabin.

Picking up the pace a little more, the M xDrive system started to come alive, ensuring there was enough traction at speed along the narrow and damp Portuguese roads that brought us between towns.

With the powertrain set to Sport Plus, the Drivelogic in level three, and everything else left in Comfort, the M5 simply charged through the twisty sections of road with deft finesse.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

While it may have been impressive on the road, the track is where the M5 truly shines. That’s exactly where we were directed to after the road test session, put under the guidance of someone by the name of Bruno Spengler. The man is no stranger to BMW M cars having owned a few in the past, plus he has his own DTM Drivers’ Championship, so his resume is highly credible.

We were only given less than ten laps in the M5 around the 4.182 km Estoril track, but it was more than satisfactory to experience just what it was capable of. First impressions, the build-up of speed was simply mesmerising, and while the V8 didn’t deliver the aural pleasure of the E60’s V10, it still put on a good show for the ears when the amber button on the centre console was lit.

On the main straight, the gearbox continued to impress as it cycled through the gears, each upshift arriving quick and without any excessive neck movement. The shift indicator in the HUD were a nice novelty, and before I knew it, I was near the limiter at the 250 metre brake marker. Stomping on the brakes for the tight Curva 1, several aspects of the car presented itself.

The first was the steering, which had good accuracy and provided sufficient feedback so precise placement of the car on the entry and exit apexes of Curva 1 was pretty simple. Second, downshifts aren’t as dramatic as one might expect (unlike the E60’s SMG ‘box), but there’s a satisfying throttle blip to go along with each one.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

The third was the vehicle’s heft, as slowing down a 1,855 kg was quite a challenge. Thankfully, the M compound brakes and six-piston front callipers (single-piston rears) were more than up to the task, with good feel on the pedal and minimal travel required.

Despite the weight, turning into Curva 1 was met with near absent body roll, with the suspension doing well to mask the mass. The turn in was pretty sharp too, albeit a little delayed as the cars were preset to have the steering in Comfort mode.

As it was adjustable, Sport and Sport Plus modes offered a significantly quicker steering response and weightage. The former was my setting of choice, as the latter made the car feel a little too twitchy and overeager. To each his own I guess, as Spengler himself preferred Sport Plus for quicker turns as his other hand was busy operating the radio to communicate with those behind him.

Approaching the near 90-degree right-hander at Curva 2, one could take the corner flat out in the M5 without any drama, riding over the right-hand-side kerb. Some hard braking was then needed for the uphill S-section of Curva 3, VIP and into 5.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

Those adjustable bolsters on the seats became a welcome relief here, providing good support and grip against the left-to-right cornering forces. Unlike in other vehicles, the bolsters themselves did not obstruct my steering motions, which is a constant nagging for a person of my body size.

The downhill left-hander of Curva 6 allowed the M xDrive system to flex its muscles a bit more, minimising any hint of understeer even if too much speed was carried into the corner. A nice boot of power on the exit also sent the tail sliding just a tad, before torque was redistributed to the front wheels to restore order. It was all incredibly progressive in execution.

Next was another uphill climb towards the right-hander of Curva 7 before tackling the slowest part of Estoril – Curva 8, 9 and 10. Following this was the tight Curva 11 and 12, which then lead to the final, long right-hander at Curva 13.

For us regular folk, the M xDrive system ensured the car maintained its trajectory, sending power appropriately to all four corners, allowing one to clip the late apex on the exit back down the main straight.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

After a few laps, the Canadian racing driver wanted us to get a little more sideways, and instructed us to hit the M2 button twice, once for the system to warn us that MDM mode restricts the function of the DSC, and the other to confirm you wanted it do so.

With “drift mode” in effect, the car was more inclined to let its tail hang out when more power was applied on the exit. In the corners this writer dared to test this out, namely Curva 2, 6, 7 and 10, it didn’t result in a brown-in-the-pants experience.

For Bruno, who drove the entire time in 2WD mode, it became a demonstration of how to properly go sideways in the new M5, which certainly made for good watching (you’ll see it in an upcoming video).

For this regular Joe of a driver, controlled powerslides were easily executed with little fear that it would go horribly wrong (i.e. the front wheels suddenly deciding to grab and go). The M xDrive system kept power going to the rear to keep the slide going, and once you were done (or frightened enough), correcting it with countersteer was a natural exercise, without the need to hack away vigorously at the wheel.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and during the cool down lap on the way back to pits, the car slipped back to being as docile as it had been when on public roads. As cliché as it sounds, this really was a ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ sort of car.

The new M5 was always going to be under intense scrutiny when it was first revealed, more so with all its substantial mechanical enhancements. An all-wheel drive M5 may be sacrilegious to the purists, but it is something that should be revered rather than scoffed at. If that weren’t enough, a lock-up automatic over a dual-clutch unit would be seen as a step back for the masses out there.

However, these new additions have in no way dampened or made the M5 “weak” in any sense of the word. In actuality, the car is leap forward for the most powerful letter in the world in terms of what it knows best – pairing driving dynamics with everyday usability.

DRIVEN: F90 BMW M5 review – the quintessential

On one hand, it offers a delicate ride on the daily drive, with none of the finicky inconveniences you would expect from a high-performance vehicle. On the other, it will absolutely slay tyres on a track, or if traction is more of your forte, the new mechanicals will help in that regard as well.

The new M5 has capabilities well and truly beyond the driving skills of most drivers, and you’re not test driving the car so much as the car is actually testing you. If you aren’t Bruno, who regarded every hot lap session in the car as a “casual Sunday drive,” you’ll be wowed and urged to push to enhance your skills further.

With the new systems, the car becomes a lot more approachable and quells any fear of trying to go quicker. Even if outright speed isn’t your cup of tea, the car offers drivers the opportunity to choose their fun. To this writer, the new M5 remains the quintessential sports sedan, and forget the two-car garage game, I’ll just have the one and only.

F90 BMW M5 international media launch official photos

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