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      06-06-2012, 08:47 PM   #1
gcmr
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New F10 M5 review Toronto National Post

It may be hard to believe but BMW’s latest M5 is compromised. The part about said compromise that is hard to believe is that the company’s top-ranking performance sedan boasts 560 horsepower. That’s a stupefying number in any automobile, almost alarming in something that purports to do double duty transporting kids and grannies on local errands. Ferraris and Corvettes with 560 ponies seem excessive; a four-door sedan so endowed seems like a wealth of riches too far.

But still there is compromise. If BMW were completely unfettered, I suspect this M5 would have more pistons than the eight it boasts. The company, if you’ve been reading anything auto related of late, is in the midst of converting all its cars to turbocharged engines, the idea being that they can generate as much horsepower as the larger normally aspirated engines they replace but with the superior fuel economy governments demand.

Without that mandated miserliness, we may well have seen a V12 in this latest rendition of the iconic M5. After all, it had already grown from an in-line six through a V8 to the latest screaming V10; it would hardly be a huge leap of technology to add two more pistons. And, indeed, were BMW going to resist its steady march toward turbocharging, it would have been in the M Division, where purebred sportiness is more fervently worshipped than in the rest of the lineup. Its engineers have long proclaimed themselves lovers of high-revving engines, the very best of which screamed out their lethal intent with flurries of revs and much commotion.

So, from that perspective (and that alone), the new M5 is a disappointment. The engine revs to but a smidgen above 7,000 rpm and, really, there’s not much need, even in the most dire of circumstances, for more than 6,000. At that speed, it sounds like a regular throaty V8, burbling muscularly. Impressive, yes, but not the hair-raising shriek of the previous V10.

What might be hair raising — especially if one were trying to emulate my closed-course shenanigans on public roads — is the alarming alacrity those 6,000 rpm bring. Besides those 560 ponies, there’s also 500 pound-feet of torque and, between the two, it seems the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre eight can seriously warp the time/speed continuem. BMW claims a zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time of 4.3 seconds, but that truly fails to capture the way the M5 rockets toward any horizon (BMW claims quicker acceleration for the similarly powered M6 Cabriolet, which weighs 60 kilograms more, so I suspect some conservatism in its claims. Car and Driver measured the M5’s zero-to-96-km/h time as just 3.7 seconds). Like every turbocharged engine blowing great heaps of psi (21.8 in all), it feels relentless. You shift because you think it might blow up, not because it stops pulling.

The paddle shifters make this easier. Purists can lament all they want about the loss of the previous-gen’s howling V10, but no one will miss the old single-clutch SMG manumatic. The new seven-speed, like all automatically shifted dual-clutch manual transmissions, is a model of both decorum and speed. It blips the throttle for you on downshifts, cuts the ignition for the brief respite required to shift gears and generally makes you feel like Michael Schumacher instead of Walter Mitty. Plus, having seven gears — the top gear ratio very much an overdrive — helps fuel economy immeasurably.

But the M5 has always been about more than just straight-line speed. For most of its early life, the engine was just a support system for the car’s delicious handling. The 2012 model does not disappoint. The tires are massive (265/35ZR20 fronts and 295/30ZR20 rears), the suspension firm (if it’s set to Sport) and the brakes look like they’d stop a bus. The only fly in the ointment, of course, is that the M5 is a sedan and a fairly hefty one (1,990 kg) so that, as phantasmagorical as everything is, it has to work in containing the vehicle’s avoirdupois.

Most affected are the brakes. Sufficiently large discs — 398 millimetres — and monstrous six-piston front calipers guarantee powerful braking under normal circumstances, even when subjected to the barely subsonic speeds of the autobahn. But, tortured on a race track, even those big binders will fade, not exactly becoming mushy but requiring more time to haul the big Bimmer down to manageable apex speed. The M5’s brakes would last about 10 laps of Shannonville Motorsport Park’s “long” track before signalling any lack of co-operation. Of course, none of this was helped by Yours Truly, enthused by the M5’s so easily accessed might, trying to chase down a slick-shod Porsche 911. Track-day hooligans will have to wait until next year for salvation when BMW starts offering a ceramic disc upgrade that should make the M5’s brakes impervious to such mischief.

Surprisingly, the suspension suffers little for the burden, mainly because the basic 5-Series has been given such a thorough going-over. Indeed, so much has changed that one suspects precious little of the basic 5 remains save the body pan: new aluminum components for the suspension bits acted upon by unique dampers, stiffer crossmembers with even more attachment points to the frame and the removal of some of the rubber dampers that usually hold suspension sub-frames to the main body. Throw in an electronically controlled locking rear differential and you have one very race track-ready sedan. Even the steering gets a more driver feedback-compatible hydraulic steering system rather than the eco-friendly electrically boosted system on basic models.

The result is still the best-handling four-door sedan (a lot of) money can buy. Cars that weigh 1,999 kg are just not supposed to turn in this well. Nor, again, are they supposed to corner this flatly with so little body roll. Oh, sure, the aforementioned Porsche ahead sways a little less through corners, but it doesn’t seem to help him much, the M5 tagging on to his tail with a tenacity remarkable considering I could have had a baby seat tethered in the rear. Besides, it’s sporting a roll cage and an engine that is all but spouting flames out its exhaust.

In the end, the M5’s handling limitations are its tires. New and unabused, the big Pilot Super Sports offer amazing grip. And to Michelin’s credit, they manage both my ham-handed driving and the BMW’s heft with laudable decorum. Eventually, however, they, too, have to succumb to the laws of physics. By the time I am finished hooning around Shannonville, little is left of their outer treads.

This leads to the only possible criticism of the M5. All its new-fangled technology weighs a little too much for its own good — almost 175 kg more than the outgoing V10’s. And, though it suffers little for the extra avoirdupois (and even less once the ceramic brakes become available), there is not a single aspect of the M5’s performance that would not be improved were BMW to put it on a carbon fibre and magnesium diet.

As is, the 2012 edition of the M5 still does what its predecessors have always so magically done: Nothing with four doors offers so much performance with so much civility. There are now more rivals for its throne, but there is just one king and it wears a BMW badge.

dbooth@nationalpost.com
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      06-06-2012, 09:14 PM   #2
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"...there is just one king and it wears a BMW badge.".

Perfect statement, enough said.
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      06-07-2012, 11:16 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kamichael View Post
"...there is just one king and it wears a BMW badge.".

Perfect statement, enough said.
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"...There are now more rivals for its throne, but there is just one king and it wears a BMW badge."
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