If you’re in the market for a new performance-oriented GT car, your choices are plentiful. Cars like the Aston Martin DB11, Jaguar F-Type, and Lexus LC500 all provide tons of luxury, prestige, and performance capable of satisfying most enthusiasts. But not everyone can have the pleasure of owning a traditional grand touring car. Some people live in the Northeast, where rear-drive hampers drivability in the winters. Maybe they have children or dogs, and need extra doors for easy ingress and egress. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of folks out there that can’t live with a purpose-built, two-wheel drive, two-door coupe, but still want an engaging, enjoyable luxury sports car. The answer? The new M5, obviously.
The 2018 BMW M5 is the first M car ever (besides the X5 and X6 M SUVs) to receive an all-wheel drive system, rather than have all its power sent to the rear—and that’s not even the most interesting part. BMW silenced enthusiast uproar by incorporating a system that allows the driver to disconnect power from the front axles entirely, effectively making a RWD car on demand. This way, you can have the best of both worlds—a fun, balanced RWD layout when you want it, and a brutally capable AWD system when you need it. It’s the biggest change for the M5 in six generations. In the real world, it works wonders.
BMW invited me, along with a bunch of other journalists, to its performance center at the Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California, for a “test fest,” as the company called it. It involved a day where journalists could hop between test drives on the road and lapping on the club’s South Circuit with a variety of M cars, as well as the new X2, X3 M140i, and Mini John Cooper Works. Naturally, I spent most of the day at the track.
From the outside, the M5 has grown more muscular than the outgoing car. Gone is the softer, round fascia, replaced by sharp edges, hard lines, and prominent contours. Compared to the regular 5er, not much has changed in the switch from normal dentist's car to four-door supercar. Some wheels, a carbon fiber roof, some bigger brake calipers, and a couple of badges are the only distinguishers. Inside is more of the same, save for a handful of badges.
It’s worth noting this M5’s shifter is among the most pointlessly complex I’ve ever used, incorporating the shift-speed rocker on top of the selector, and a needlessly confusing pattern for reverse, neutral, and drive. The button for park isn’t at the top of the knob where you’d normally find it, either. It’s at the base facing towards the rear. I really don’t get why BMW did this. Is it too much to ask for a normal, logical gear selector?
The engine isn't confusing. Its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 is brought over from the previous car, a derivative of the engine first seen in the 2009 BMW X5 and X6 M. Thanks to some updates, it’s making a whole 600 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 553 lb.-ft. of torque from just 1800 rpm. That's linked to an eight-speed torque converter automatic; that’s right, BMW’s dropped the dual clutch from the last-gen car. This time around, there’s no manual option—another first for the M5. Considering BMW built just 577 six-speed examples last time around, that’s no surprise.
On the road, this thing is quick. Like, really quick. Quicker-than-a-lot-of-supercars quick. That AWD grip makes acceleration stress free, as easy as pushing the throttle pedal to the floor from a stop. The weirdest part is just how undramatically the speed comes at you. The engine isn’t especially wonderful to listen to, and you don't need to worry about what gear you're in. Everything is done supremely without incident, and the next thing you know, you’re doing quadruple the speed limit on a deserted country road. It feels certainly as quick as our long-term NSX, if not quicker.
Our test numbers, though shocking to read, don’t come as a surprise, then. When Road & Track Editor at Large Sam Smith drove the new M5, he clocked in a 2.8-second 0-60 time, and a 10.9-second quarter-mile finish at 127 mph. These kinds of numbers were held exclusively by top tier supercars just a couple of years ago, and can now be achieved by a comfy luxury sedan.
It’s not like you’re giving up anything to reach those numbers either. The M5 is perfectly good at being a 5-Series when you’re not deep into triple-digit speeds, isolating sounds, absorbing bumps, and blending in. There’s all sorts of tech features, including a button on the steering wheel that when pressed, takes control of the wheel and steers for you while cruise control is on, not unlike Tesla’s Autopilot. There’s also a head-up display, a digital gauge cluster, and BMW’s newly redesigned iDrive infotainment system.
The all-wheel drive system is just as helpful going quickly on track as it is on the road. Though it adds weight and complexity, there’s no denying the M5’s newfound corner-exit grip out of tight turns and stability through faster bends. As with most new cars, it’s a bit isolating for the senses—steering is direct, but slightly numb, and overly weighted in the two most aggressive (out of three) settings. The three-mode suspension can be left in comfort anywhere but the smoothest of tracks. Straights are dispatched quickly thanks to that massive acceleration, while big optional carbon-ceramic brakes reliably slow the car down (though towards the end of my day on track, I did start to feel the pedal get a little soft).
The car is surprisingly sharp considering its 4269-pound curb weight, and feels as if there’s no twist going to the front wheels at all unless you’re really trying to find it. Michelin’s all-new Pilot Sport 4S tires come standard, which might have something to do with that. Disabling power to the front axle nets a slightly better corner entry, but sacrifices all that exit grip. If you want to set times, it’s all-wheel drive you want. Popping the car in M Dynamic Mode gives you some leeway in the traction system, allowing you to slide around while keeping you from getting too out of line. The lack of a second clutch in the transmission didn’t bother me much either; up- and down-shifts from the steering-wheel mounted paddles were crisp and immediate.
At the end of the event, I was given the key to one of the M5s being hammered on track all day, and asked to drive myself and a couple of other journalists back to the hotel about a dozen miles away. I popped the steering, engine response, and suspension in comfort mode, and proceeded to have a perfectly uneventful drive back. It’s a nod to the car’s duality as a competent track machine as well as a nice, comfortable sedan you can truly use as a normal car. Despite the addition of all-wheel drive and all this new tech, the 2018 M5 is still very much an M5. If you can’t swing a big sporty/luxury two-door in your life, it's the perfect substitute.