Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Perhaps in the expectation of outrage from its legions of rear-wheel drive enthusiasts, BMW has added a pure ‘two-wheel drive’ setting to the M5 xDrive system. Use it, and the M5 behaves pretty much as you’d expect from any car that sends 592bhp to the rear wheels, producing lurid on-demand drifts and lots of expensive tyre smoke. BMW suggests the setting is for track use only, which seems sensible.
For the road there are 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, the latter adding a bit more rear bias to the set-up with the result that enthusiastic drivers might well forget they’ve got xDrive at all. Sending torque to the front wheels helps the M5 accelerate cleanly off the line, as well as under extreme conditions when traction is at a premium. However, the BMW retains the overall feel and balance of a rear-drive car, and it rewards enthusiastic drivers with agility and poise that belies its considerable bulk. Only the steering disappoints a little, for while it’s well-weighted and direct, it provides insufficient feedback or feel as to what the front wheels are doing.
As well as control of the xDrive settings, drivers get three increasingly sporty settings each for the steering, suspension and engine response, as well as three settings for the gearbox in both auto and sequential manual modes. In spite of all the performance, when you leave things in comfort mode there’s enough compliance in the suspension to let the M5 ride supremely comfortably over challenging British road surfaces – the only niggle being a slightly jiggly low speed ride thanks to the huge 20-inch alloy wheels.
Use the engine hard and the M5 rewards with a screaming exhaust note that sounds more highly-strung than the rival AMG E Class’s throaty rumble, and this becomes even more prominent in the M5 Competition which adds a sportier exhaust. We’d recommend the Competition version in spite of its cost, as it also adds a worthwhile additional edge to the suspension, resulting in more precise handling and body control that’s startlingly impressive. Coupled to the awesome accelerative power of the mighty V8, and helped out by the Active M differential that keeps cornering lines tight, the M5 can dispatch a twisting road at speeds that are other-worldly.
Ceramic brakes are a pricey option at £7,500, but they provide all the reassurance you could need in a car this big and this fast.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The BMW M5 is powered by a 4.4-litre V6 engine that features twin turbos and backs up its 592bhp with a mighty 750Nm of torque. With the help of its rapid-fire eight-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive traction the M5 screams to 62mph in the mind-blowingly quick time of 3.4 seconds. Top speed is 155mph, but choose the M Driver package and BMW will override the engine limiter giving you a top speed of 190mph. Selecting the Competition pack barely affects performance, but it does shave a tenth of the 0-62mph time – down to 3.3 seconds.