For the first time since its inception in 1984, the BMW M5 is arriving with turbochargers. The move might seem like heresy for a brand known for high-revving engines, but recall that M Division has already applied forced induction to the 1 Series M Coupe, X5 M, and X6 M. Switching to a smaller, more advanced powertrain means the new M5 can deliver 30-percent better fuel economy than its predecessor, while boasting 10 percent more power and 30 percent more torque.
For now BMW has released information only on the European model, but we’re told it’s almost identical to the M5 that will bow in the U.S. Look for an update with any equipment or trim changes that may apply to our M5 early next week.
The new, fifth-generation M5 finds motivation in the form of a twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 4.4-liter V-8. In American specification, the engine provides 555 hp from 6000 to 7000 rpm, with 500 lb-ft of torque delivered all the way from 1500 to 5750 rpm. It revs to 7200 rpm.
The last M5 packed a 5.0-liter V-10, rated at 500 hp and 383 lb-ft, which provided a BMW-endorsed 0-to-60-mph time of 4.5 seconds. The 2012 M5 not only trumps those power ratings, but also rockets to the benchmarks a few ticks faster: BMW says the new car will reach 62 mph in 4.4 seconds, and 124 mph in just 13.0 seconds. In typical German fashion, maximum velocity is limited to 155 mph, but opting for the M Driver’s Pack increases the limit to 190 mph.
Power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, known as M DCT in BMW parlance. It offers a variety of automatic shift programs, as well as fully manual gear changes effected by nudging the shift lever or pulling on the wheel-mounted paddles, plus a Launch Control mode. The American market is also slated to receive an optional six-speed manual transmission, though it’s unknown whether that version will come with Launch Control. Despite earlier rumors, there are no plans for an all-wheel-drive M5.
At the rear axle is BMW’s Active M Differential, which can vary the torque split between the rear wheels for maximum grip. It works in tandem with the stability control system to determine how much power should be sent to each wheel — it can shuffle anywhere from zero to 100 percent of engine torque to either of the rear tires. The trick diff is said to reduce understeer, provide better high-speed stability, and improve cornering performance.
Like any self-respecting manufacturer of sports cars, BMW spent plenty of time tuning the M5’s chassis at the Nuerburgring. Stiff suspension mountings, wide tires mounted on 19-inch (or optional 20-inch) wheels, and Dynamic Damper Control work together for high levels of grip and handling. The suspension dampers and steering can each be switched between “Comfort,” “Sport,” and “Sport Plus” modes. Six-piston brake calipers grab large discs that measure 15.7 inches in diameter at the front and 15.6 inches rear.
BMW says the new M5 sets new benchmarks for lateral grip and handling, and implies the car can be taken from road to track with only minimal preparation. The doors, hood, and front fenders are all made of aluminum, keeping curb weight to 4279 pounds.
Drive it Your Way
The car is nothing if not configurable. There are three settings each for the engine response, Servotronic steering assist, transmission shift speed, stability-control intervention, and the Dynamic Damper Control — add them all together, and 243 different vehicle configurations are possible. To keep things simple, BMW has added two M Drive buttons to the steering wheel, allowing the driver to program two presets: M1 could be for twisty mountain roads, while M2 might be a full-bore track configuration. There’s also a special Low Speed Assistance transmission program, which alters throttle response and shifts to make stop-and-go traffic more manageable.
No matter what configuration the driver prefers, the M5 always defaults to its most luxurious, fuel-efficient mode when the engine is started. What a pity.
Visual modifications to the M car are subtle both inside and out. A lowered suspension means the aforementioned 19- or 20-inch wheels sit flush beneath flared fenders, while gaping lower air intakes emphasize the engine’s performance potential. A subtle trunklid spoiler and diffuser provide more rear downforce, while M Division’s signature quad-tipped exhausts peek from beneath the rear bumper. There are no foglights, as their mounting locations are used for the extra air intakes.
To dress up the cabin, there’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel, red-on-white instrument cluster with M logo, and M5-labeled doorsill plates. Merino leather covers the special sports seats, along with aluminum dashboard trim and a special anthracite black roof liner.
As noted, BMW claims the new M5 will be drastically more fuel-efficient than its predecessor. Brake energy regeneration, engine stop-start, and efficiency-minded transmission programming mean the car sips just 9.9 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers — about 24 mpg in American terms, though official EPA numbers could be different.
The new M5 will go on sale in the U.S. in spring 2012, although BMW has yet to determine whether it will be badged a 2012 or 2013 model. Pricing also has yet to be determined, but given that the current range-topping 2011 550i xDrive starts at $62,875 (including an $875 destination charge), we’d imagine that the new M5 will sticker between $80,000 and $90,000. Based on what we know so far, the car will be worth the money.