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First Drive: 2012 BMW M5 Review by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO

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2012 BMW M5

Blue Thunder

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
Te Auto Channel

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2012 BMW M5 front back

SEVILLE, Spain - September 23, 2011: This time, they are all Monte Carlo blue, a color that suits BMW’s super sedan indeed. But there may be reasons you want to be less conspicuous in the new M5, like when you drive a bit too fast on two-lane public roads and do not want to be caught by the police.

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2012 BMW M5 head on

Anyway, the bold blue makes it easy to keep track of my colleagues when driving through the gentle, burnt yellow landscape of southern Spain. Sunrise here is spectacular even though the M5’s are breaking the serenity with the robust sound of their engines.

Our goal? From our hotel in Seville to the Ascari Race Resort, some 75 miles further to the northeast, near Ronda. All of us wanted to be there as early as possible in order to make use of the offered track time with the new M5.

Better performance, more efficient
Let’s start with some details: The fifth generation M5 was unveiled earlier this year as a Concept at the Shanghai Auto Show; it made its public entrance on the eve of the 24-hour race of the Nürburgring in June, and its official world premiere was at the IAA auto show in Frankfurt last week.

    • SEE ALSO: BMW M5 and M3 CRT Make Their Debut During BMW M Party

From details provided at the Frankfurt show we knew already that the new M5 would not get the fantastic V-10 from the outgoing M5. As BMW is implementing its EfficientDynamics program, I was confident that they would come up with a different formula to satisfy even the most ardent M enthusiasts (although the unsurpassed howl of the V10 will be dearly missed).

Of course, to be fair, the M5 is not only about colors or engine roar, but about performance, dynamics, feeling and the M factor, which includes adjusting the car to your own likings.

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2012 BMW M5

The 4.4-liter Twin Power Turbo V-8, which is used in the X5 and X6, was the ideal starting point for the M-engineers. They already had some ‘practice’ by preparing it for use in the X6M, but for the M5 they fitted new heads along with new pistons to increase the compression ratio to 1:10.0. Furthermore they updated the twin-scroll turbochargers and the intercoolers and reshaped the exhaust system for a better flow, allowing the turbo pressure to reach 22 psi. Amazing detail: the small turbo’s reach a maximum of 180,000 revs per minute!

So, with all those measures, direct injection and Valvetronic, will the V-8 be a worthy replacement for the V-10? You’ll find part of the answer in the following specs:

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2012 BMW M5

The V-8 produces 560 hp and 680 Nm/502 lb-ft of torque, versus the V-10’s 500 hp and 384 lb-ft. The power plant is combined with the newly developed 7-speed DCT (double clutch transmission) and races from zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds, going on to 124 mph in just 13 seconds flat. The M5 reaches an (electronically restricted) top speed of 155 mph, while with the optional Drivers Package, the needle of the odometer goes to a blistering 190 mph.

The key in switching from the V-10 to the V-8 Turbo power plant is that the new M5 now uses 30 per cent less fuel, but has 10 per cent more power and 30 per cent more torque. What’s uncertain is if M5 owner would care about fuel consumption (or emission), but manufacturers have to at least put on a good show nowadays.

Passing power

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2012 BMW M5
On the outside, the M5 does not look extremely different than a standard 5 Series. The most noticeable changes are up front, where the large air intakes mark the nose. At the rear, the double exhaust pipes on both sides give away its performance potential, just like the blue brake callipers that are visible through the 19-inch wheels (fitted with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires - 255/40 R19 up front and 295/35 R19 in the rear).

What numbers tell, however, has nothing to do with the feel of the new M5. The enormous torque that spreads horizontally flat from 1,500 to 5,800 rpm combined with the new transmission makes the M5 an ultimate rocket sedan. Overtaking a slower vehicle (almost everything is slower, by comparison) happens in the wink of an eye, whether you are in automatic Drive mode or you do the shifting yourself by means of the steering wheel paddles.

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2012 BMW M5

To be honest, I never touched the stick in the console that you can tip back and forth. Why should I? The flippers have the right size, are placed at the right location and feel good with the rubber material on the back for good ‘grip’. The double clutch transmission, that has three modes for each auto and manual, is a huge improvement. In the automatic mode, it feels like it has brains, changing gears at the precise moment; it’s almost imperceptible. In manual it reacts instantly. A big benefit is the head-up display that in M-mode shows you which gear that you are in and what the revs are.

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2012 BMW M5

The road trip to the race track proved what the M5 is all about. This ultimate sedan reaches crazy speeds instantly. On several parts of the route to Ronda, you’re not allowed to pass, but in certain spots there often 150 yards or so where you give it a shot.

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2012 BMW M5 highway
And “shot” is the operative word, because when you push down on the throttle it’s like you are shot out of a cannon. The V-8 roars, the twin turbo whine, and you are ‘free’ again, leaving surprised (or shocked) Spanish drivers in the dust. It happens so quickly I bet they can’t even read the M5 logo on the car’s rear.

Driving slowly, is not too bad either. The M5 provides a calmingly quiet and comfortable ride. Interestingly, after pushing the throttle and going back to cruising again, you hear a soft whistle: the turbos are unwinding. It’s almost like a space craft SFX from a science fiction movie.

Watch TACH's exclusive BMW M5 promo video

On the track
Arriving early at the track means that the temperature was still reasonable (some 80 degrees farenheit). This is not just a benefit for humans, but also for the tires. I started my fast laps in the M2 mode, which you get by pushing the M button on the steering wheel, and with DSC connected. You immediately feel the weight of the car that is considerably more than that of is predecessor, up just over 250 lbs to 4,122 lbs.

Then it’s time to test the different settings. In the center console are buttons for three modes, each for throttle response and damper settings. Furthermore, you have a choice of ESP and gearbox modes, which may confuse some drivers until the get used to it. On the road I mainly used the Sport set-up. This proved to be very good in several of the 13 bends of the Ascari track. However, overall the Sport Plus is the choice for getting the best out of the M5.

With the new active M differential, traction is excellent. Without DSC engaged the M5 can easily get into a moderate slide, which can be a lot of fun. But with the tire pressure set up for standard road use, you soon feel the vehicle begin to ‘smear;’ generating understeer in tight corners, then changing quickly into oversteer. Fortunately the M5 is easy to correct, and very forgiving.

When talking to Albert Biermann, project leader of the M5 about this, he invited me for a ride in his demo car. Its tires have a lower pressure, making it feel much better. “We use tire pressure in ‘your’ car that is optimal for the road use,” Albert told me. “Here we wanted you to experience the car as it is. But taking it to the track, M5 drivers will also chose for another tire such as the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup.”

Albert’s demo car also has the upgraded optional Sport brakes, which offer a harder pedal feel. To be honest the standard M-brakes are quite efficient, although you have to push hard when you have to decelerate quickly. After my trip back to Seville, it was probably time to change the brake pads…

In general, I had a a tremendous fun. You have to realize this fast, big Bimmer is less fit for use on the race tracks than the much lighter and agiler M3, but the V-8 is surprisingly strong and just as exciting to use as the V-10. The great overall technology contained in the new M5 makes it a true performance sedan at heart.

The 2012 BMW M5 will hit the European markets in December. It arrives in Asia in February, and in North America next summer as a 2013 model. U.S. pricing will be released as we get closer to the introduction date.