Moderator / European Editor
Join Date: Apr 2006
BIMMERPOST Review: 2012 BMW M5 (F10) Short Term Road Test
BIMMERPOST Review: 2012 BMW M5 (F10) Short Term Road Test
Some people don't like change. But BMW isn’t some people (or even a person), so it’s no surprise that they don’t mind change. Take the new BMW F10 M5 for instance: The mighty yet rushed 1 Series M Coupe and some M trucks aside, the new M5 is the first true M car to get a turbocharged engine. So, is it still a true M? After 14 days and roughly 2,000km in a 2012 Frozen Grey M5, I think I can give my subjective answer.
The F10 5 series is neither small nor light, and the same holds true for the M version. At 1,945kg or 4,287 pounds, the M5 is 90kg (198lbs) heavier than its predecessor or more than 250kg heavier than an E92 M3 with DCT. But, as I got used to the car, these numbers faded away as more of “bench racing” figures more than anything else. It’s wrong to compare the M5 with the M3 to begin with. They’re meant to be different cars for different people and different needs. If you’re longing for the nimbleness of an M3 or even 1M, the M5 never was the right car for you – this is nothing new with the latest M5, it's always been the case for previous M5s. The same holds true the other way round. If you’re looking for the ultimate executive sedan to accompany you on a long business trip while doing fairly illegal speeds (by US standards) without breaking a sweat, don’t look any further. Compared to the M3, the M5 also shines when it comes to the understated sleeper car factor. I would be lying if I told you that no one stopped and stared at the M5, but from my experience, an M3 attracts quite some more people.
Speaking of understatement, the test car was Frozen Grey Metallic on the outside with Black Merino full leather inside. It was the first time I spent some days with a frozen-colored car, and it really grew on me. While it looks like a flat matte paint from a distance, once you approach the car, its metallic nature reveals itself. This isn’t an ordinary flat matte vinyl wrap that a local shop applied for a six pack and some chicken wings. This is a full and brilliantly rich metallic color with a matte paint top layer. I can’t quite tell how BMW did it but this paint is able to shine while it’s also matte, and I instantly fell in love with this oxymoron of a paint. While multiple frozen colors are available from the factory for the European M5, they are currently only available in the US via Individual orders [more on the BMW Individual order process] for approximately $5000 (the ballpark price for any custom Individual paint order), but I recommend the effort and cost. It’s worth it.
There's no replacement for displacement, right?
The new M5 is powered by the S63Tü engine, the evolution of the S63 engine found in the X5M and X6M. This 4.4-liter V8 engine is a masterpiece of BMW engineering. By the help of two twinscroll turbochargers, a patented intake manifold (sorry, Audi) and BMW’s latest version of Valvetronic, it produces as much as 560bhp and 680Nm of torque. Engine cutoff is at 7,200 rpm which is about 1,000 rpm lower than the old S85 V10 but still remarkable for a 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 engine. Yes, there are no individual throttle butterflies that BMW M enthusiasts appreciate about earlier M engines. But, when you study the idea of Valvetronic, an argument may be made that it's the next best (some say even better) alternative to every cylinder having its own throttle butterfly.
U.S. customers have a choice between the 7-speed DCT and a heavily reworked 6-speed manual transmission which was developed for the M5 alongside the DCT. As I was driving a German test car, I experienced the 7-speed DCT, and it’s a perfect fit for the M5. Both the manual (S) and the automatic (D) mode have 3 shifting programs each. In D1, the most comfortable automatic setting, the transmission shifts up as soon as possible. That’s good for economy and winter situations, but also shows the amazing flexibility of the engine. Even when pulling from a just a tick over 1,000 rpm, the car has enough power to get going. It’s a very good setting for relaxed driving as shifts are performed unnoticed. Kick down as known from traditional automatic boxes works fairly similar too, even though the transmission sometimes needs a moment to shift down to a lower gear. When at a full stop it mostly starts from 1st gear while sometimes using 2nd gear. I couldn’t seem to find a pattern when it chooses which gear, though. D3 is what I’d like to call the hardcore automatic mode. It holds any gear for as long as possible and very rarely upshifts to the next gear before you approach engine redline. It’s surely fun during a spirited run, but surely too rough for most daily situations. D2 provides a good compromise between efficiency and performance without the need to downshift often. It’s my recommendation out of the 3 automatic settings for most daily driving situations.
As for manual mode, when you flick the steering wheel-mounted DCT paddles, the car switches into manual shift mode. As with the automatic mode, S1 gives you the smoothest shifts while S3 is the quickest shifting. But it’s still not even remotely as violent as the M3’s DCT transmission in its fastest setting, so it’s my recommendation out of the manual modes for daily driving. Speaking of the steering wheel, compared to the fabulous thing that made it into the new M6 models, the M5 steering wheel is too big and clumsy-looking for my taste. Here’s hope that BMW offers the M6 wheel for the M5 at some point. If not, there are already M5 owners discussing the M6 steering wheel retrofit.
Size doesn't matter?
The combination of the S63Tü engine and the marvelous 7-speed DCT transmission makes for a breathtaking powertrain. Words hardly can describe the M5’s ability to cover speed. No matter where in the rev range you are, the engine always provides a silly amount of thrust. Unlike some other turbo engines, this thing keeps revving strongly all the way to redline. A perfect match for this experience is the head up display (HUD)'s M mode. Like the HUD on the E60 M5, it displays speed, gear and rev info. As you approach the redline, shift lights make you aware that it’s time to upshift. Being a turbo engine, the S63Tü provides plenty of torque for any driving situation. BMW apparently addressed the complaints of E60 M5 drivers who were asking for more torque. Being a gear or three too high for the current situation isn’t a problem at all, it gets going anyway.
So that’s the good news about a turbo engine. So, is there any bad news? There is some lack in engine response. BMW did whatever possible to keep the turbo lag low and unnoticeable, and they did a decent job. But, if you’re familiar with the high-revving S65 and S85 engines, you’ll notice the lack of engine response. Not to the extent of being annoying, but when you’re cruising along at low speeds and low in the rev range, the engine sometimes takes a blink of an eye too long to honor your request to accelerate. I first attributed the lag to the DCT sorting its gears, but as an M5POST member posted in his recent 6MT M5 review, the lag is apparent in the manual M5 as well. Some folks are more sensitive to throttle response and some are not, but if you're purposely looking for that ominous turbo lag in the M5, you’ll be able to find it.
An M car is supposed to equal more than the sum of its parts, and this holds true for the F10 M5. I've never experienced a car this large drive so well. The engineers at BMW M really know how to tune a suspension. The M5 negotiates corners in a way that makes you forget about its size, and by forget about, I mean this feels like an M3 at times. The rear axle is so solid that it virtually never steps out, as long as the roads are dry and you’re not trying to provoke it. The active rear differential adds much to this. It routes torque and power to a wheel when more traction is needed, but keeps itself unnoticed when not. If you have ever made an evasive maneuver in an M3 at high speeds, you would be able to tell the difference. In that situation, the traditional mechanical limited slip rear diff of the M3 may add to the drama rather than avoiding it. Not so in the active version of the F10 M5. It never gets in the way but only takes action when necessary. In a word: Brilliant. The same holds true for the suspension's active dampers. Considering this is a 4287lb 560hp car that needs to corner and handle well, the Comfort mode is as compliant as can be. My personal preference is the Sport mode which is a bit more dampened while still offering a fair level of comfort. Sport+ is the right choice for a Sunday at your favorite race track, but too stiff for regular roads. DSC works as you’d expect, even though it’s reducing power heavily once it detects a certain amount of slip. MDM mode is the right choice if you know what you’re doing (and not on public roads).
I haven’t been to the race track with my test car, but the brakes were up for any task on public roads. Some people hinted that brake feel is lacking, but I didn't experience this. The brakes in my test car had a good feel and were nicely progressive. The minor issue I experienced was from heavy braking at high speeds. While brake feel and performance remained the same, the brake pads squealed. However, this went away after a few more kilometers.
A sensitive topic surrounding late model BMWs is the steering. Unlike many other models of late, the F10 M5 still uses that good ole hydraulic steering rack, and it felt so good being back to this setup. If you read some of my other reviews, you know that I’m not against the idea of electric power steering (EPS) per se, and BMW really has done a decent job of improving it over the past couple of years. But, experiencing the M5's steering made me lament about a future devoid of hydraulic steering. The M5's steering is still more communicative and precise than any EPS I’ve tested. It's instantly noticeable. It allows you to position the car more precisely while getting all (well, most) of the feedback you need to know. Yes, hydraulic steering consumes 0.2 liter per 100km more and doesn’t filter out road vibrations, but I still prefer it. BMW hinted that future M models would get EPS steering (starting with the upcoming 2014 F80 M3 sedan), so I remain hopeful and confident that the M engineers will tweak it properly for M models.
Being the luxury executive sedan it has always been, the M5 can optioned to the hilt. As I've always stressed, HUD is a must (where it’s not standard anyway), and this applies even more for any M car because of the helpful and trick M mode. Personally, I also like the other techs such as lane change assist, speed limit info and lane departure warning, despite their inconsistencies. During 2 weeks of driving the M5, both the speed limit info and lane departure warning got it wrong at times. Sometimes, the systems would display an incorrect speed limit or improperly warn of departing a lane that’s not there (e.g. it doesn’t like those temporary lanes added in a construction zone). I would still order this stuff personally as they’re still helpful the vast majority of the time and the false positives don't really hurt.
U.S. production of the 2013 BMW M5 started last month, with the first deliveries to begin in September or perhaps as early as later this month as some US M5s are already at the port. We’ll have the opportunity to drive a US spec 2013 M5 next week, so stay tuned for a supplemental review focusing on the 2013 changes along with some feedback from the track. For me, two weeks with the M5 were enough to make me a huge fan. Richard Hammond was right a couple of months ago when he called it the best car in the world. If I had to choose one single currently available car to drive for the rest of my life, this would be it. It’s that good.
Photos by Christian Wimmer