The BMW M5 is the veritable chainsaw when just a butter knife will work. The sports sedan that was born from BMW's first supercar in the 1980s has evolved to be the pinnacle of the 5-Series mountain—instead of just a ultra-hardcore version as it was in the beginning. As a result, the new M5 is predictably heavy, stuffed-to-the-gills with technology, and more at home on the interstate than many racetracks.
The last comprehensive redesign for the M5 was in 2012 and the model has stayed roughly the same since. Under the hood is BMW's twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 that produces 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. Shifted through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic or an honest-to-goodness 6-speed manual, the M5 rockets from a standing start up to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds (4.3 seconds for the manual), according to BMW. The M5 is still only rear-drive—at least for now. All-wheel drive M5s have been spotted in Europe, and it's possible BMW may bring those M5 xDrive (BMW's marketing speak for all-wheel drive) to our shores later this year.
Like most M-division performance cars made by BMW, there are a few exterior hints to indicate the neutron bomb under its hood. The M5 is just as lean as the rest of the 5-Series, just as upright, and plenty of natural light makes its way into the cabin through its big windows. It wears mostly the same clothes as less-expensive 5-Series sedans, but the M5 adds a more aggressive front fascia with a deeper chin and a rear end with four, chromed, small-caliber canons jutting from the rear. The M5 wears bigger wheels—19-inch alloys painted with wide, ZR-rated rubbers—with blue-painted calipers peeking through them. Big, 20-inchers are available too.
The M5 gets a few colors not available on the regular 5-Series including Monte Carlo Blue and Sakhir Orange on the outside; Sakhir Orange and Silverstone white hides on the inside.
The M5 doesn't feel much like a driver-oriented, sports sedan on the inside. It's still driver-centered—just in a different way. Rather than a cockpit-like layout there's a rather low, horizontal dash layout and pushed-out corners that altogether helps maximize a feeling of spaciousness. Major controls and displays are angled 6 degrees toward the driver, and to store electronics out of sight, there’s a wide center console.
Up front, the M5 sports comfortable seats that could rival the much larger 7-Series. (A nit worth picking: We found that the M5's seats didn't keep us as snug as we would have liked during track testing a couple years ago. The only remedy? A $6,000 Executive package that includes active bolsters.) Attention is directed toward the M5's iDrive infotainment system that controls nearly every aspect of the car. Controlled via a click-wheel in the center console, the 10.2-inch high-definition screen relays 3-D map information with real-time traffic; audio and media playback options with 20 GB for stored music files; suspension, throttle and engine management; and connected features such as BMW's online suite of remote apps.
The 5-Series starts to show its age in the back seats, however. Like the rest of the 5-Series—which is now in its sixth year since a major redesign—the M5 isn't as spacious as its competitors in the back. Two adults will fit just fine in the back without much leg room to spare, but three people in the back probably isn't a good long-term strategy to keep friends.
With 560 hp on tap and 500 lb-ft of torque coming on early in the rev range, the M5 has the power to persuade others to be our friends; we'd prefer to sit in the driver's seat anyway. The M5 won't be confused with other, lighter-weight sports cars on the road, and in reality it's not. The M5 is always coming to grips with its 4,500-pound heft. On the track, the M5 felt longer and heavier than the M6 despite weighing the same and sharing identical dimensions. The M5 is 193 inches long, and 74.4 inches wide with a 52/48 weight distribution, front-to-rear.
Officials at BMW say the sprint up to 60 mph takes just a tick over 4 seconds, and the M5 uses 16.1-inch rotors up front and 15.6-inch rotors in back to arrest all of that inertia.
The M5 comes with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and a three-pedal 6-speed manual and the former is actually our pick for the better transmission option. The automatic is just easier on the street and quicker on the track. Rowing your own still has its perks: The 6-speed manual will automatically blip the throttle on downshifts, but the throws are just too long to satisfy us.
Regardless of transmission pick, the M5 sends its power through a rear Active M Differential that electronically monitors wheel grip—and slip—and separates the M5 from the rest of the 5-Series lineup. We don't expect many M5 buyers to exceed the limit of grip in a 4,500-pound sedan, but it's assuring to know that it'll catch you long enough for you to (hopefully) gather that drift back with the throttle.
The M5 hasn't been separately tested by federal safety officials or the IIHS, but it's mechanically similar to the 5-Series that has been comprehensively tested by both agencies. The scores are good, but not perfect, with a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and "Good" results across the board from the IIHS. A "Marginal" result in the IIHS small overlap frontal test is the only worrisome grade, however.
Although its scores aren't perfect, your chances of getting in a crash in the first place are likely considerably lower than in many other vehicles. The 5-Series has a great reputation for occupant protection in the real world; factor in accurate steering plus one of the best-tuned electronic stability control systems, and we expect that this sedan will be confidence-inspiring at critical moments.
As you might expect from a sedan that starts at more than $95,000, there are plenty of standard features to satisfy base-level buyers. The 600-watt Harmon/Kardon 16-speaker setup is standard here, as is a rearview camera, and three-spoke multi-function steering wheel. The M5 also features as standard 20-way adjustable, heated front seats; parking assistance; electronic parking brake; adaptive cruise control; xenon headlights; and M Dynamic Damper Control with programmed suspension settings for Sport and Comfort driving modes.
The aforementioned Executive package adds active bolsters, heated rear seats, full LED lights, a head-up display, and soft-close doors for $6,000. A Driver Assistance Plus package adds blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and lane-keep assist for $1,700 more—provided you've already added the Executive package.
Stand-alone options include bigger wheels, carbon ceramic brakes (for an eye-watering $9,250 extra), Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, rear seat entertainment, and night vision cameras.
Mileage isn't the M5's strong suit, which isn't a surprise. The EPA rates the M5 at 15 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined with the manual transmission, 14/20/16 mpg with the automatic.
- 2016 Audi A6
- 2016 Cadillac CTS
- 2016 Lexus GS
- 2016 Mercedes-Benz E Class
The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan is the most natural competitor to the M5, although Mercedes will replace that model soon with a new E-Class. Both are true super sedans, although the BMW has a slight edge when it comes to sportiness. The all-wheel-drive Audi S6 is a very good pick in the segment, and no doubt forced BMW to consider an all-wheel-drive variant for the M5. The Cadillac CTS-V is far newer than the M5 and raucous fun, albeit not as refined.