When BMW says it builds the Ultimate Driving Machine, it's specifically talking about the 2018 M5.
When BMW says it builds the "Ultimate Driving Machine," it's talking about the M5. The super sedan brings nearly every tech bell and performance whistle in the brand's arsenal to bear in the pursuit of speed. This is a car that doesn't know the meaning of the word "compromise."
And yet, closer inspection reveals that this new M5 may not be as hardcore as it might seem. I mean, yes, with 600 horsepower beneath its sheet metal, it's pretty dang hardcore. Indeed, this is the fastest production car BMW's ever built. But the designers of this latest generation M5 have taken a few steps to make this machine easier to live with, too.
That monstrous 600 horsepower is complemented by 553 pound-feet of torque from BMW's 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. That's enough power to launch from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds -- quicker than you can say "oh, hell yeah." Not bad for a 4,370-pound midsize sedan.
The V8 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, rather than the dual-clutch unit from the last-generation M5. BMW says that the torque-converter automatic was chosen for its smoother shifts and increased comfort around town. In its sportiest setting, the new automatic just about as quick as the DCT and doesn't get in the way of performance when hammered.
The F90 generation M5 is the first to offer standard all-wheel drive. The system, which still defaults to very rear-biased torque delivery under most conditions, helps the M5 more efficiently put its 600 ponies to the pavement. Effortless all-wheel launches without wheelspin may not seem very dramatic, but the G-forces the M5 pulls when accelerating bring a totally different sort of drama to the driver's seat.
However, the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system can also be toggled to a fully rear wheel-drive mode via the iDrive menu or the M Dynamic switches. This mode offers a more traditional M5 driving experience for BMW M purists, track enthusiasts and hooligans who just want to "send it!" and puts howling drifts and smokey burnouts just a few taps away. BMW recommends that you only use this mode on a track or closed course, and I have to agree. Unless you're really hanging the tail out, the rear-drive mode doesn't add a whole lot to the dynamics.
Keeping the two-ton M5 nice and nimble in the corners is BMW's Adaptive M suspension. A lightweight aluminum double wishbone setup in the front works with a multi-link rear configuration. Electronically controlled dampers are able to go from race-ready firm to daily-driver compliant at the touch of a button.
While I personally found the M5 to be very comfortable around town, other members of the Roadshow staff found the firm ride to be borderline unpleasant on really rough roads. One editor also experienced some unrefined behavior from the automatic transmission at low speeds, which is reflected in the BMW's star rating relative to the higher-scoring, super-smooth Mercedes-AMG E63 S.
The M5 dances around corners and through chicanes as impressively as it accelerates thanks to 275-millimeter-wide front and 285-millimeter-wide rear performance tires wrapped around staggered 19-inch wheels. Impressive looking and performing brakes shave off speed when needed and pull double duty assisting with stability control while cornering -- though you wouldn't know it, the assist systems are so transparent.
Settle into the driver's seat and a set of bright red buttons on the steering wheel will immediately grab your attention. These are the M1 and M2 M Dynamic selectors, which can be used to quickly call up preset drive mode profiles.
Tapping the Setup button on the center console brings up the M Dynamic menu where drivers can mix and match Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings for the throttle response, transmission program, chassis and steering and stability control. The M profiles can also store whether the M5 operates in all- or rear-wheel drive, though the latter requires disabling stability control.
Once the M1 and M2 profiles are set -- I assigned M1 to all Sport settings and M2 to RWD Sport Plus -- simply thumb the appropriate button to snap into either preset. If one of your profiles includes disabling stability control, you'll have to double tap the M button to confirm that you meant to select it each time. That keeps you from unintentionally selecting drift mode mid-corner and careening off an on-ramp.
Being able to quickly change the attitude of the M5 at a moment's notice added an extra thrill to, for example, thumbing into Sport mode for the good series of corners on my favorite back road and then right back into Comfort for the boring bits.
The cabin technology that doesn't relate to performance is the same infotainment suite as any other other 5 Series model with the same strengths and nitpicks.
The iDrive infotainment is now on version 6.0 with crisply rendered visuals, smooth animations and a new simplified home screen that offers quick access to the various functions. The system's 10.2-inch display is touch-sensitive, but is designed to work best with the console-mounted iDrive control knob, which features its own touchpad that can be used to write, swipe and pinch. Overall, I like the iDrive interface for how it surfaces frequently accessed features, but occasionally find myself lost deep in menus looking for less common controls.
In addition to voice commands, drivers can also interact with the system via a gimmicky gestures system. Twirling a finger in front of the dashboard, for example, raises or lowers the audio volume. Once the novelty of the gestures wore off, I found that I stopped using them with one exception: A pinching gesture that virtually rotates the surround camera view offering a better look at the area around the car when parking.
Overall, the iDrive tech pretty amazing, but the same nitpicks as ever keep me from really loving it. There's no Android Auto connectivity, leaving me stuck with a Bluetooth system that simply refused to consistently connect to my Pixel XL. Even the optional wireless Apple CarPlay functionality can be very finicky getting up and running.
The M5 is basically a top-spec 5er, so mine came equipped with all of the safety I could possibly need. Between the surround-view camera system and the parking assist distance sensors, parking the sedan is as easy as pie. There's also collision-mitigating automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and rear cross-traffic alert to help keep the sedan safe in at urban speeds.
However, driver aid tech isn't just limited to low-speed operations. Features like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, driver alertness monitoring and adaptive cruise control -- which even works in stop-and-go traffic -- help make highway drives safer.
Part large luxury sedan, part canyon carver and part race-ready tool, the 2018 BMW M5 is basically three cars in one -- which is good because it costs as much as five. Starting at $104,695 (including a $995 destination charge and a $1,000 gas guzzler tax), the M5 is a pricey proposition.
I'm tempted to recommend the $111,995 M5 Competition trim, but the performance upgrades are only really apparent on the track -- on the street, hitting 60 mph 0.1 second sooner isn't worth the the comfort tradeoffs. Available options that most buyers will want to consider for a daily driver include the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package, which adds features like adaptive cruise and lane keeping assist, and the $4,000 Executive package, which loads the M5's luxurious cabin up with even more comfort amenities.
Grabbing these options bumps the bottom line up to $110,395, but that price is still basically in line with the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, perhaps the M5's most direct and fiercest competitor. Many Roadshow editors who drove both preferred the E63's refinement and would pick it over the M5 as a daily driver -- high praise, I'd say. Cadillac's CTS-V is another compelling luxury performance option with the bonus of a price tag below six-figures, though its cabin materials fall well short of Bimmer and Benz.
It's handsomely styled, easy to live with and supremely comfortable in traffic, the M5 is a very likeable car. But it's also ridiculously powerful, crazy agile and capable of some unbelievable stunts. If the BMW M5 were a person, it would be Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson. If you've got deep pockets and are looking for the very best of everything BMW has to offer -- heck, one of the best cars on the road -- the 2018 BMW M5 is worth every penny.