The 2015 BMW M5 is closer to "the Ultimate Driving Machine," but it took a whole lot of tech to get it there. The M5 can be so comfortable that you'll actually want to drive it all day, and suddenly, almost scarily powerful and capable. The sedan makes no compromises to its M-badged pursuit of performance for daily driveability. And unlike its siblings, the M3 and M4, the 2015 BMW M5 feels like it was built for driving, not racing.
The M5 can be both genteel and brutal thanks to a collection of toggles that allow the driver to instantly customize the sedan's performance and character to an almost ridiculous degree. The engine, suspension, steering and transmission each have three individually selectable modes that transform aspects of the sedan from street-friendly to race-ready at the touch of a button
Peek beneath our example's Sakhir Orange Metallic bonnet and you'll find a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that generates a stated 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. The engine is force-fed fuel and air via direct injection and a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers mounted in a "hot inside V" configuration. This means that the turbos are nestled between the engine's cylinder banks, rather than hung off the sides, for more compact packaging, more responsive spooling, and better control over thermal efficiency.
From there, our M5 has been further augmented with an optional $7,300 Competition package that adds yet 15 more ponies to the mix, bumping the final total to 575 horsepower. The Competition package also fits the sedan with black chrome tailpipes and 20-inch alloy wheels with performance tires and further tweaks the suspension, steering ratio and M Dynamic driving mode.
The engine has settings for Efficient, Sport and Sport Plus that tweak the output of the turbocharged mill and the responsiveness of the throttle.
The standard seven-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission (DCT) has three settings of its own that adjust its programming and the aggressiveness of the shifts. In its lowest setting, mode 1, the transmission feels a bit lazy and emphasizes smooth and early shifts. Moving to mode 2 and 3 progressively speeds up the shifts and adjusts the shift points to allow the engine to build more power before moving on to the next gear.
Around town, I found this setting to be awkward for a few reasons. Primarily, the gearbox attempts to mimic a manual transmission and doesn't creep forward when idling, slips the clutch when accelerating from a stop, and rolls backward slightly when starting on an incline. When paired with the M5's anti-idling engine stop-and-start system, pulling away from a stop light was an inconsistent and sometimes jerky affair. Fortunately, the stop-start system can be disabled and the gearbox set to a more solid setting.
I also was a significantly annoyed to find that BMW's odd new shift lever doesn't feature a "Park" position, which led to quite a bit of confusion when the time came to get out of the M5 at the end of my first drive. I tried putting the transmission in neutral and setting the parking brake, but the dashboard flashed a warning light and a message stating that the vehicle could roll away. Baffled, I checked the digital owners manual found in the iDrive infotainment system and found that I had, in fact, done the right thing and that the car would automatically shift to Park when powered off. However, I found it annoying that the car would still nag me with warnings and messages every time I went to park. Much later, colleague and Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham informed me that the proper M5 parking method, according to his contacts at BMW, is to leave the car in Drive, engage the parking brake, and shut down the engine. This was not what the manual stated, which left me even more confused. What happened to just putting a car in Park and being done with it?!
Once the M5 gets rolling, however, the seven-speed DCT is a gem. Shifts are banged out with lightning speed and an unbelievable precision. Standard paddle shifters allow the driver to manually move through the gears, but the computer did an excellent job downshifting where logical and making the most of the turbo V-8's wide powerband.
Of course, the Ultimate Driving Machine is available with an optional six-speed manual transmission; a zero-cost substitution for those who'd rather row their own ratios.
The M5 features a standard three-mode adaptive suspension system with settings for Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus handling. In all three modes, the M5 did a fantastic job of remaining relatively flat and composed when cornering, the only difference that I was able to notice was that the Sport and Sport Plus modes offered a firmer ride that seemed to communicate more road feel through the seat of one's pants.
Like the suspension, the sedan's steering is also customizable with yet three more modes that offer progressively heavier feel and more feedback from Comfort to Sport to Sport Plus.
Finally, our example was equipped with the optional M Ceramic Brakes upgrade. This $9,250 set of stoppers is, in my opinion, total overkill for the streets but a worthwhile upgrade for the track, owing to their ability to repeatedly slow the 4,300-plus-pound bullet with reduced fade and increased feel.
In a perfect world, every mile behind the wheel of an M5 would be spent on a legendary race track or one of the world's best driving roads. However, the reality is that most M5s will spend most of their lives in traffic...commuting. (Yech.) Fortunately, the Ultimate Driving Machine is more than up to the task.
I've mentioned four different three-mode toggles to tweak the M5's performance. If I'm doing my math right -- and I'm probably not -- that's about 81 different combinations to choose from. To make things easier, the M5 has a pair of steering-wheel buttons labeled "M1" and "M2" that allow the driver to store a pair of presets for easy access. I chose to do most of my commuter-type street driving with the engine and transmission in their Sport settings and the suspension and steering in Comfort, so I set that combination to M1. For spirited driving, I stored all Sport Plus settings to M2.
Around town, I found that the Efficiency mode was just a tad too docile for my tastes, feeling laggy and just plain weird, which is why I stuck with the more responsive Sport setting. However, the Comfort suspension and steering settings left little to be desired, effortlessly taking the edge off of the bumps, cracks, and joints in the road without sacrificing agility when I needed it.
I've often used the term "effortless" to describe the acceleration of big, torquey engines. The M5 isn't just effortless, it's insistent. On multiple occasions, I'd glance down at the gauges and realize that I was casually approaching a triple-digit velocity; the engine not even breaking a sweat and the chassis as composed and unflappable. I kept having to consciously force myself to slow down, but the M5 is so capable and so comfortable at speed that it was simply too easy to let the needle swing. The car just always wants to go faster and has no problem doing so.
Tapping M2 to put the M5 into full Sport Plus mode transforms the car, taking it from quiet racing yacht to a loud and agile speedboat.
On a back road and in its sportiest settings, the M5 remains planted even as the speed continues to soar. The V-8 engine's flat torque curve means that the sedan never really has to work hard to put my license in jeopardy, there's simply more power available than anyone should really have on public roads. Passes were, well, effortless and met with a satisfying roar of an engine note.
The grip that the M5 has is also simply amazing. The rear-wheel-drive sedan stuck to the road like no car of this mass should, with remarkably neutral handling. The adaptive suspension doesn't totally cancel body roll, but I got the impression that it was doing a very good job of controlling the large sedan's movement. and more importantly, keeping the big contact patches in on the road.
However, though the M5 is ridiculously overqualified for public roads, it never felt out of place on the street. Aside from a bit of wonkiness from the dual-clutch transmission, the M5 felt in its element whether in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on a highway cruise, or being chucked into a sweeping bend. I was pleased to find that the M5 -- which felt so casually removed from the sensation of speed on the highway that I kept accidentally speeding -- could also feel so connected to the road and alive with the touch of a button and a flick of the wheel toward an apex. This is no boy-racer with a goofy spoiler and a punishing, overly firm suspension; it's a gentleman's sports sedan.
Accordingly, the 2015 BMW M5 commands a gentleman's price tag. Starting at $93,600, our example rolled into the Car Tech garage with a $114,700 as-tested sticker. That lofty price includes a $950 destination charge and a $1,300 Gas Guzzler tax before adding the aforementioned Competition package, M ceramic brakes and a $2,300 Night Vision camera with pedestrian detection.
A $1,900 driver-assistance package is available with a full suite of tech options (blind-spot monitoring, full-speed adaptive cruise control, side- and top-view cameras, and more), but it requires a $6,400 Executive amenities package as a prerequisite. Ours was not equipped with either and simply made do with the standard rear camera.
In the UK, the BMW M5 starts at £73,970. Australian drivers can expect to pay around AU$229,930. Packaging and options vary from market to market.