Automobiles

2018 BMW M5 review

In Chinese culture, the number six is an auspicious number meaning smooth and or well-off. Many people in China regard six as a fortunate number because it sounds like “flow” in Chinese. In fact, many businesses even display the number six to bring good fortune.

Why am I talking about number six? Well it’s because this review is all about the all-new sixth generation BMW M5 (codenamed F90), which is likely to bring good fortunes to BMW thanks to clever engineering, blistering performance numbers, and a huge dollop of character that has been missing for the last few years.

What is it?

Over 30 years ago, BMW engineers decided to borrow the motorsport derived straight six-cylinder engine from the legendary M1 sports car and transplant it into the chassis of their 5-Series executive sedan. The E28 M5 was born and it instantly became the fastest production sedan available.

With each successive iteration of the M5, BMW upped the horsepower, also adding more grip and features along the way.

Fast forward a few years later. After successfully getting driving enthusiasts to fall hard for two of the previous generations of M5s with their naturally aspirated V8 and V10 hearts respectively, in 2011, an all-new twin-turbo V8 M5 (codenamed F10) arrived.

However, die-hard BMW M5 arguably never fully warmed up to it. Despite its massive 560 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque, many thought that the car felt somewhat emotionally numb.

It didn’t help that this was one of BMW’s first applications of artificially “enhanced” engine sounds being piped into the cabin through the sound system. Critics and M5 purists cried foul and claimed that BMW seemed to be trying to replicate the sound of the V-10 from the previous-generation E60. While F10 M5’s performance numbers were very impressive, even an available manual transmission didn’t live up to the full expectations of the diehard M5 fans.

Model year 2018 brings us a brand-new M5, from the ground-up, codenamed the F90. BMW promises that they’ve listened carefully and fixed all of the shortcomings. Based on the excellent new G30 5 Series, BMW’s latest all-new German hot rod sedan is designed to rekindle the love affair between man and the ultimate driving machine once again.

And guess what? I’m delighted to report that it is as advertised as on the outside of aluminium can.

The Details

Yes, many of the initial spy vehicle’s rumours have been confirmed. The F90 M5 has no manual transmission option, a conventional automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive.

Impressively, despite the improvements in safety hardware, more tech toys, and the addition of the all-wheel-drive hardware, M division engineers have worked their magic and the F90 M5 is an impressive 20 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Overall weight is 4,268 pounds versus the previous generation M5’s 4,369 (1,936 kg versus 1,982 kg).

Power now comes from a new 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with an awesome 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque from just 1,800 rpms through to 5,600 rpms.

The engine characteristics can be tweaked at the push of the Drive Performance button, toggling from ‘Efficient’ to ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport Plus’. The latter two modes elicit a faster turbo response.

BMW engineers have implemented plenty of know-how from their racing experience, fitting the M5 with a variable oil pump designed for track applications, allowing owners the ability to experience high-G acceleration with no risk of oil starvation.

Despite the torque converter 8-speed M Steptronic automatic transmission, there is no lack of eagerness with BMW’s super sedan. Without an expensive and complicated dual-clutch gearbox, the automatic transmission should also prove to be a lot more reliable in the long run. Thanks to the torque converter locking up almost as soon as you get rolling, there is no slack in the gearbox either.

To attain the mind blistering 0-60 mph (0-96 km/hr) launch of 2.8 seconds, simply activate the simple launch-control function. Hold the brake and accelerator pedals while stopped and when the fluid temperatures are right, the computer allows the engine to rev to nearly 3,000 rpms.

The rear tires will start spinning first as if the M5 were rear-wheel drive, then the front wheels start clawing upon the brakes being released. The M5 is able to pound through the quarter-mile in only 10.9 seconds at 129 mph (207.6 km/hr).

These are ridiculous performance numbers that match McLarens, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris! More importantly, the M5’s direct competitor, the 603-hp Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ needs a couple tenths of a second more to do the same 0-60 mph run.

Turbo lag is also absent and the M5’s fantastic V8 feels similar to a much larger naturally aspirated engine, delivering an instantaneous wave of power.

M xDrive all-wheel-drive

The big news with this latest F90 M5 is the fact that power is now also sent to the front wheels. BMW’s M engineers made great driving dynamics and the best possible stability their goal in the chassis development of the new M5.

A bespoke version of the company’s xDrive system, called M xDrive, was developed to attain that goal.

Much of the M5’s testing took place on the in-house race track in Miramas in France, as well as on the toughest chassis test track in the world, the Nordschleife of the famous Nürburgring.

Unlike some all-wheel drive systems, the M xDrive doesn’t take away from the driving experience. The driver can choose between 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD modes for the drivetrain. The M5 essentially gets progressively more driver-focused as you toggle through the different modes, with the last mode really being only for use on track.

The main components of M xDrive are based on the intelligent all-wheel drive BMW xDrive system and Active M differential, controlled by a central M-specific vehicle dynamics control system. The drivetrain is stiffer and stronger than the previous model, while the transfer case constantly controls the torque distribution between the front and rear axles.

The Active M differential vectors the distribution of the torque between the rear wheels. With M xDrive, the DSC intervenes only when necessary in extreme situations, so that the high engine power can be converted almost without power loss.

Enthusiastic drivers can configure M xDrive at any time according to their needs.

In the default setting with DSC and 4WD switched on, the new M5 is similar to the typical M rear-wheel drive dynamic characteristics when accelerating out of a corner.

If the driver switches to M Dynamic mode (MDM, 4WD Sport), the M5 becomes sharper and more agile. More torque is fed to the rear axle and the rear wheels give more wheel slippage. This allows controlled drifts and playful handling, but with controlled oversteer.

The pure rear-wheel-drive 2WD mode is designed for track use by experienced drivers and is dedicated entirely to pure driving pleasure without any safety systems intervening.

Altogether then, there are six different gearbox modes you can toggle through using a switch on the shifter: three for automatic mode and three for sequential manual shifts.

How does it drive?

Inside, the driving experience differs from the very beginning at the push of the start button.

The M5 is exclusively equipped with a red start button, marking out its sporting intentions. Two red lacquered buttons, M1 and M2, next to the shift paddles on the M multifunction steering wheel, control the driving settings such as M xDrive and DSC stability control, as well as engine, transmission, damper and steering characteristics, plus the head-up display.

Slip into the wonderfully supportive M multifunctional seats and you’ll instantly notice how they provide much better support in the shoulder area compared to the standard BMW 5 Series seats.

With the M seat’s racing cup shape, the M multifunctional seat offers even greater lateral support for keen drivers. While some may find it a bit boy racer-esque, the illuminated M5 logos on the seats add another little bit of pantomime to the overall ownership experience.

Those familiar with the G30 5 Series will notice that the large digital display from the standard car was reconfigured specifically for the M Division. In the M5, it informs the driver about dynamic modes, the all-wheel drive M xDrive and the Drivelogic setting.

There is even a selectable shift light to inform the driver, in the heads-up display, when it is the optimal time to change gear whilst in manual shift mode.

BMW’s excellent iDrive touchscreen infotainment system is where almost all of the dynamics systems can be configured. The rest can be toggled with buttons on the centre console and M-Sport steering wheel.

The new M5 has incredible turn-in, coupled to excellent steering feedback. The electromechanical M Servotronic steering system provides the right steering torque for almost every driving situation. I can confidently write that this is probably one of the best electric power steering systems on the market.

As expected, in city traffic and parking manoeuvres, it also adapts to offer low steering forces.

The front double crossbar axle was significantly revised for use in the M5 with BMW M engineers re-designed all components leading to even greater driving stability.

In the rear, the five-link rear axle has also been adapted to M-specific requirements. Stiffer rubber pads, harder stabilizers and stiffer anti-roll bars have been fitted to meet the increased demands on driving dynamics and steering precision.

Since weight is the enemy of sport driving, the M5’s power domed hood is made of aluminium while the roof is constructed from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), similar to the BMW i3 and i8 – the first time such an innovation has been used in a BMW M5.

Final Thoughts

For more than 30 years, the M5 has been the epitome of the ultimate sports sedan. Launched in 1984, it was always a car that hid its amazing sporting capabilities behind a discreet yet powerful exterior. The latest model embodies that spirit and takes it yet further.

Because M xDrive brings the front wheels into play only when the rear wheels reach their limits of adhesion, not only does that add off-the-line traction, it means that there’s now a lot of extra security in tricky weather conditions. The M5 is truly now an all-year all-season supercar.

At the same time, it offers an environment to coddle four passengers, a large trunk and high levels of equipment akin to those of regular 5 Series sedan. The F90 M5 truly combines the best of both worlds as a high-performance sports car and business vehicle, and is one of my top vehicles for 2018.


Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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