WIRLY-patterned prototype camouflage covers the bodywork of the BMW, but not its underside. Raised a couple of metres above the floor of this workshop well inside the security perimeter of the German company’s south of France proving ground, everything that makes the new M5 a very different car from its predecessor is plain to see… Dirk Häcker ignores the all-wheel-drive hardware; the transfer case, front differential and driveshaft connecting the two. BMW M Division’s engineering chief instead points to the compact block of hydraulics and electronics bolted to the car’s underside just behind the left front wheel. “The most important thing with the M xDrive,” he says, referring to M Division’s version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive tech, “is not the components and the actuators, it’s more the software. The software is in here.
“It’s the same DSC unit like in the 7 Series or in the 5 Series,” he says. “It’s a hydraulic part and an electronic part, and the brain – the M xDrive brain – is integrated in this control unit.
It’s specific [to] BMW M and is not available for other customers of this supplier.”
The reason for the focus on software becomes obvious as Häcker moves to discussing the hardware. There’s nothing here that BMW or M Division isn’t already using in other models.
The transfer case is like the one used in the 7 Series with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, Häcker says.
“It’s very similar, but it’s adapted for the M5; some geometric aspects, but also for the higher torque.”
Between the car’s rear wheels is something even more familiar. “This active M Differential is well-known from the predecessor; the F10 M5. But also from the M3 and M4,” the engineer says. “It’s nearly the same system. It’s an electric motor, a clutch system, and you can modulate the transfer between left and right between zero and 100 percent. That means completely open or completely locked.”
Häcker heads forward. “The front differential is an open one. Open is very important for the right steering feedback.” The differential is basically the same as used in V8 versions of X5 and X6, he says.
Like the G30 5 Series it’s based on, the new M5 has electric power steering.
It’s a variable-ratio rack, Häcker explains, and
The next M5 has some big boots to fill, with a legacy of five generations of talent spanning more than three decades.
Some were good, others great, but plotting the timeline provides an insight into how technology and tastes have shifted, sometimes subtly; occasionally with huge generational strides.
LIFESPAN: 1985-88 BUILT: 2191 ENGINE: 3.5L IN-LINE 6 OUTPUT: 210kW/340Nm The M5 never claimed to be the first hot sedan but it did redefine the genre, delivering dynamics normally associated with exotica. At the time of its global launch, only four cars on Wheels’ price list packed more power: the Porsche 928S, Th del wit lau pac the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Lamborghini Countach, none of which had four doors and a boot. It’d be five years before a home-grown sedan eclipsed this figure, by which time BMW had moved the game on again.
LIFESPAN: 1989-95 BUILT: 12,254 ENGINE: 3.5L IN-LINE 6 OUTPUT: 235kW/360Nm ENGINE: 3.8L IN-LINE 6 OUTPUT: 250kW/400Nm Bigger and more polished, the E34 cost a heady $169K back in 1995. Wheels’ renta- racer Kevin Bartlett pronounced it “the best road car I’ve ever driven – close to perfect” in our September 1990 comparo.
The engine was uprated to 3.8-litres in 1992, restoring the BMW’s power advantage over the Porsche co-developed Mercedes-Benz 500E introduced the previous year. But a new wave of turbo tearaways had already prompted an underbonnet revolution...
LIFESPAN: 1998-03 BUILT: 20,482 ENGINE: 4.9L V8 OUTPUT: 294kW/500Nm To many, the E39 was the sweet spot in the M5 timeline and it’s easy to see why. An operatic 4.9-litre V8, elegantly understated styling and a chassis of near-genius were the constituent parts. It also featured tech like stability control, floating brake discs op sty th lik and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. It arrived after a hiatus of four years where the E36 M3 sedan had temporarily filled the M5’s boots, but there was something wild and exotic about the M5 that set it apart.
LIFESPAN: 2005-10 BUILT: 20,548 ENGINE: 5.0L V10 OUTPUT: 373kW/520Nm Formula One’s V10 era lasted from 1989 until 2005 and spawned some of the most ear-splitting engines in the sport’s history. The M5 got its own atmo tenpot in 2005, the all-new S85 engine and Getrag semi-automatic gearbox making the old E39 instantly look a bit quaint.
The Bangle-era styling was less of a hit but has aged relatively well. It got an array of drive modes, launch control and the contentious iDrive, but the M5’s atmo zenith was never shy of charisma.
LIFESPAN: 2011-16 BUILT: 19,533 ENGINE: 4.4L V8TT OUTPUT: 441kW/700Nm Post GFC, the M5 needed to inject some measure of pragmatism into its genetics and the twin-turbocharged F10 was the result. Lower key but harder-hitting than ever before, the F10 was also more fuel-efficient. The blown V8’s acoustics were given a boost by an in-cabin audio symposer, and torque vectoring helped it to shave a healthy 18 seconds off its predecessor’s Nurburgring mark. But it lacked attitude, which next year’s M5 looks set to sort...
much more direct than in the F10 M5.
The transmission is a ZF eight-speed Steptronic auto, modified for use in the M5. It’s able to match the seven-speed dual-clutch of the F10 M5 for shift speed, but brings greater smoothness and comfort in everyday driving, Häcker says.
One of the changes is a deeply finned cast aluminium oil pan, instead of the plain plastic component used in less demanding applications.
It keeps the transmission oil 10 degrees cooler.
According to Häcker, the M5 must be able to run around a racetrack on a very hot day without warning lights beginning to flash. “This is a big demand, a big challenge, for a car with 600 horsepower.”
Häcker and the other M Division engineers present have obviously been told not to discuss the engine and its outputs in any detail (see sidebar p105). The purpose of hauling 18 carefully selected journalists from around the world to the Miramas proving ground, it’s becoming clear, is to tell the M xDrive story.
And it is an interesting tale. “When we started with the car, about four years ago, there was a discussion,” Häcker recalls. “Shall we do a [rear-drive] car, shall we do an all-wheel-drive car, or shall we do both variants… or do we have any other idea?”
“This is the other idea; the new idea,” he says, indicating the M5. “The new idea I think is a very special one.”
The new M xDrive system gives the next M5 the choice of all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel drive. It’s simple to access, too. All it takes is a long press on the DSC button in the centre console to deactivate the electronic stability control, then a tap on the centre screen menu or a twirl and press of the car’s iDrive wheel to select ‘2WD’. This completely disengages the clutch in the transfer case that otherwise directs torque, as required, to the front axle. Compared to the deliberately complex procedure to do the same thing in the car that will be the new M5’s deadly rival, Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, it’s a quick and straightforward process.
But ‘DSC Off 2WD’ is just one of the M5’s five driving modes. The start-up default selection is ‘DSC On 4WD’.
It’s the setting for everyday driving. A short press on the DSC button selects both ‘M Dynamic Mode’, which makes the electronic stability control less inhibitive, and ‘4WD Sport’, which further increases the M xDrive system’s ever-present torque-distribution bias to the rear wheels. In ‘DSC Off’ all three M xDrive modes – ‘4WD’, ‘4WD Sport’ and ‘2WD’ are available.
So the new M5 is basically an all-wheel-drive car, with a sideways and smoking rear-drive option.
According to Häcker, the G30-based M5 is quicker in ‘2WD’ than the rear-drive F10 M5 it replaces. Part of the reason is that despite the addition of all-wheeldrive hardware, the new M5 is lighter. By exactly how much he’s not telling.
What Häcker will say is that the new M5 can rip from zero to 100km/h in “less than 3.5 seconds”. This is around a second quicker than the current M5, which Wheels has clocked at 4.4 seconds. And a sub-3.5 second time also happens to be right in the same near-supercar acceleration league as the E63 S.
‘Finesse’ is the first word into my notebook after driving two prototype M5s, one with 19-inch winter tyres on a tight wet test track, the other with 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport rubber on a dry handling circuit.
There’s great harmony in the way the new M5’s chassis and drivetrain interact, making it terrifically user-friendly. Dynamics this cohesive never happen by accident… Throttle response is precise for a turbo, making the M5 easy to manage even in 2WD mode in the wet. In the 4WD modes the quick steering’s feel is utterly unpolluted by the activity of the all-wheel-drive system.
During laps around the Miramas handling circuit in the dry, the steering is a huge improvement over the F10 M5, and the teamwork of engine and auto is flawless. The car’s drive out of slower dry corners is huge, its ceramic brakes are tireless and the stability at high speed is superb.
Selecting MDM and 4WD Sport makes the M5’s limits amazingly approachable. This mode permits quite large rear-tyre slip angles, but managing the oversteer isn’t a problem.
The M5 inspires confidence. Too much, in my case.
Working step-by-step through the different driving modes, we finally arrive at ‘DSC Off’ and ‘2WD’… and near the end of the lap I half spin after a failure to completely catch the drift driving out of one of the slow corners.
While a proving ground is the perfect, consequencefree place to make mistakes, it’s not the right environment to arrive at a definitive verdict on a car.
For that you’ll have to wait for the new M5’s arrival in Australia in March or April 2018, and the Wheels comparison that will inevitably follow.
But what I’ve seen, heard and experienced at Miramas makes me suspect that BMW’s M Division has created a winner.
Ask M Division engineers about the new M5’s maximum outputs and the answer will be the same every time. “We have about 600 horsepower and 700 Newton metres.” The reluctance to disclose is understandable. The men from Munich don’t want to provide the guys at Affalterbach, home of Mercedes-AMG, with a firm target to trump. That 600 horsepower figure translates to around 450kW, exactly the output of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 in the AMG E63 S. It’s also an increase over the most potent F10 M5, the 441kW 30 Jahre. The new M5’s engine is an update of the current V8, with new turbochargers and fuel injectors, plus a redesigned exhaust system. More than this, the M engineers aren’t telling…
This thing is tiny. It takes up less space on the road than a modern M2 and like all E28s there’s an upright screen, thin pillars and slab of a dash.
The wheel in right-hookers is quirkily canted but otherwise it’s a great place to sit. Pedal it with a bit of verve and you’re instantly impressed with the sheer linearity of the engine, helped by a very long travel but instantly responsive throttle pedal. The note is smooth with a gravelly overlay.
At loping speeds it sounds like a marmoset on codeine. It’s only when you approach the redline that it really gets a bit testy.
The gearchange isn’t to be hurried through the gate and the pedal positioning isn’t great, but the assisted steering is a joy, making it really easy to place the front end. The ride and body control are better than you’d expect given the E28’s advanced vintage. Only the brakes betray the car’s age. It’s nowhere near as scary as we thought at the time, but it still demands respect. It’s a bona fide performance car hall of famer. AE