Tried & tested: 2012 BMW M5

BMW M5

The new BMW F10 M5 is about to be released in Australia and soon you’ll be reading reviews around the traps. We’ve not been lucky enough to score a drive just yet but a long-term AUSmotive reader has.

Wayne was invited by BMW to attend a launch event at the Ascari Race Resort in Spain last November and we thought we’d take the opportunity to discover his thoughts on the car. He has plenty of experience with M product over the years, but isn’t wedded to the brand by any means. These are the thoughts of a car enthusiast just like me and you; albeit one with a bit more cash than me and you.

He’s a good sport and we thank Wayne for agreeing to the following Q&A interview. There’s also some first hand videos at the end of the article which complement the text nicely.

BMW M5

1. How did the opportunity for your M5 experience come about?
I was contacted by my dealer one afternoon, I wasn’t expecting it, nor did I know much about it prior to the phone call. I have to say, it was one of those opportunities that you just don’t say no to.

2. You’ve owned some nice cars, were you looking forward to trip?
Yes, very much so. As well as the M5, I was pretty keen on driving at Ascari race track. The 1M was also a big attraction for me. I had a 1M on order, but passed the order to a friend instead. Dumb move and I have regretted it since; even more so after driving it at Ascari!

3. What other M cars have you owned and have they matched the hype?
I have owned or had unfettered access to a number of M cars in the past, but mainly M3s. E36s, E46s, E90 and E92, but never an E30! I have also driven the E39 and E60 M5s on many occasions both on the track and in the mountains, so am well familiar with the handling characteristics of those cars.

Do they match the hype? Well, it depends on what your perception of the hype is. Many (especially younger) car enthusiasts I speak to seem to think that M cars are the best sports cars out there, particularly the M3. And it’s not really the case. M3s are wonderful cars—great value for money—but ultimately if you drive them back to back at the limit with a pure sports car, like any from Porsche’s two door range, you will see where Porsches still shine brighter.

To me, M cars are the best practical sports car out there, and perhaps best in each of the segment they are in. Even the X5M (which I have also had the privilege of owning), you could never really fault it. You could easily call it the best sports SUV out there; yes, even better than the Cayenne Turbo which is too laggy.

BMW M5

4. What characteristics define an M car to you?
Over the years, M cars have changed. This is more evident than ever when we drove the F10 M5. So the characteristics that defined an E36 certainly would not apply to an X5M or the new M5. For example, M cars used to be known for their wonderful high revving engines, but with emission laws around the world, this is no longer possible and we will now see all turbocharged engines in M cars.

If there is one characteristic that really shines through in an M car compared to its direct competitors, it would have to be the chassis balance at the limit. Take AMG’s C63 and E63 as examples against M3s and M5s, you will find that the M car chassis are much better honed when you push them hard.

On the negative side, M cars all tend to have inadequate brakes for the track. They bite well for about 2–3 laps. The M5 was the same, but perhaps that is down to the weight of the car. I don’t know why they just can’t work with AP Racing to come up with a better solution!

5. When you first saw M5 what were your thoughts?
I first saw the M5 at the back of the resort in Seville before they presented it to us that night. I liked the looks of the M5 and, in fact, I was pleasantly surprised by it. I thought it would just be like another M sport 5 series, but the little touches sets it apart. I was also surprised by the beefy 295 rear tyres! I didn’t expect that, but then again these cars are now very big, probably almost as big as the 7 series of last generation? It sure looks big in person, and certainly feel it when you drive the car.

6. What’s it like to be in the M5?
Actually that was one of the disappointment. It feels… just like any other 5 series. We currently have a 7 series as our family car and when you sit in the 7 series it feels special, more upmarket if you like. A base M5 costs more than a base 7 series, but it doesn’t have the extra touches of the 7 that makes it feel that much more exclusive and a nicer place to be. Some would say I am missing the point of an M5, but I guess I see the M5 as a luxury sports limo. Therefore, I expect it to feel a bit more special, instead it felt a bit like sitting in a 520d.

BMW M5

7. What was it like to drive?
Before I went to Seville, I had intentionally not read any of the M5 reviews that were just coming out in the days before I was due to drive the car. So my opinion is totally unbiased and is a bit different from all the glorious reviews I have since read of the new M5.

The reason is very simple, when I drove the car at Ascari, it was very wet. Couple this with a technical track with little opportunity to open up (think more Winton than Phillip Island for the Aussies reading this), the weight of the M5 struggled to keep up with the power and pure physics. The car really was sluggish on change of direction and felt very much like the two ton car that it is. If you are into drifting though, this car will satisfy your need with little issue, especially in the wet!

To make matters worse, we drove the M5 back to back with M3 and 1M, which made the M5 feel even more cumbersome than it perhaps would have been. I walked away from the track with the opinion that I would rather just buy a M3 if I needed a four-door car but still want to track it regularly. Everyone I spoke to that day had the same opinion, including one participant who races in the German VLN race series. The M3 (and 1M too) won the day with lots more fans!

Off the track though, the M5 performed its role much better. In the mountains of Andalucía it was fun, it was quick and there’s little body roll thanks to the active anti-roll bars. However, for those that expect serenity in the cabin, it is a noisy car. I have since read that BMW engineered the noise for “engine sound” in the cabin, but the reality is that this isn’t a nice V8 bellow like say the AMG’s ‘63’ engine. It’s more a muted sort of sound, like many turbo engines. The other noise comes from the diff. It clunks when it disengages, which annoyed me after a while. I recall having similar sort of thing on our DCT equipped M3, but it was never this loud. For a luxury tourer, I think the M5 failed right there. BMW should borrow a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and learn from it. 

BMW M5

8. What were your expectations of the M5 and were they met?
Overall, as a performance car, it did meet my expectations, it’s fast! However, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be an agile track tool like the 1M or M3. And I did expect it to perform better as a daily (luxury) driver. I think for me, it didn’t live up to my expectations on that front. As I said above, the M5 cabin didn’t feel that special and it is too noisy for my liking. 

9. Tell us three reasons why you would buy a new M5.
1. The torque and power from that engine!
2. It’s a good size for us as a family car and I can still have fun with it.
3. It’s a good looking car.

10. List three reasons why you would not buy a new M5.
1. It’s not as refined as I would have liked it to be and it’s not as sporty as its smaller sibling.
2. Its interior is too similar to any other 5 series.
3. It’s expensive relative to an M3.

BMW M5 at Ascari – Behind the scenes

In the first video below Brian Watts, Global Head of M sales, shows he’s better off sticking to motor cars and leaving the comedy routine behind. Then Wayne shares his thoughts on the new M5 before and after driving it.