Words: Amit Chhangani
Images: Hanoz Patel & Amit Chhangani
Like a little kid staring gooey-eyed at a lolly vendor’s cart, I look at the F10 M5 as it slowly emerges from the showroom garage. A childhood dream is about to be realized. I’ll drive the M5 to my heart’s contentment today – the mighty, legendary M5. My heart thumps in an intense, vacillating fashion. The knees seem to have lost all their strength. My legs are barely managing to hold my weight. The mind’s going numb. I am experiencing a silent but extremely intense eruption of hitherto chained emotions. It’s hardly been a few moments since I first saw my automotive deity and I am on the verge of fainting. The body and mind is behaving in an inexplicably weird way.
I observe the purposeful, yet unpretentious M5 skulk out of its den. Prowling out of the dark backdrop, those brilliant eyes appear to belong to a nocturnal beast of prey. That throaty roar from the engine, those fiery eyes, that taut body – all of it makes the M5 analogous to a big, sinister cat venturing out languidly for a night kill. Hungry, overawing, majestic – the M5 knocks me out in the first rendezvous. I know now, she’s the love of my life for good reason.
The M5 now slowly drives onto the open area. There are matt finished tiles on the floor. I witness mild wheelspin at rear wheels as the driver inside wonders just how light a foot is light enough. My head spins and I am getting woozy – struggling hard to not let the people around me figure the state of my being. I am looking at the quad exhausts, listening to the muffled idling roar emanating from them and going nauseas imagining the ecstatic possibilities for the day ahead.
Soon, I am handed the key to heaven. Paradise cannot be more alluring than this. Not while I am alive. A whack of the throttle brings the speaker enhanced music from the engines to my ears. May the curse be upon lawmakers for reducing decibel levels on production cars! For your auditory pleasure, however, BMW have linked the M5’s stereo with the engine management system so you can hear the sound of the 540 bhp twin-scroll, twin-turbocharged V-8 loud and clear.
I decide to savor to acoustic delight before setting the car in motion. As the 560 horses rear up in synchronized unison, the muffled growl of the engine from idling speeds turns into a revvy burble. It’s a happy, exciting, yet mellow sound, undoubtedly characteristic of a sports car, but not overly loud or intimidating, and representative of the capability of the pistons to rev all the way up to the 7000 rpm redline without a whimper. The earlier gen M5 was a naturally aspirated monster, but even with a first ever forced induction mill with a twin turbo sitting in the bay, the M5’s new 4.4 liter engine hasn’t lost its propensity to spin hard one bit.
I slip out of the showroom premises and take extra care at the U-turn where I inadvertently managed to spin the wheels of the 640d Gran Coupe. Once on the straight road, I feel the M5 snarling at every instance of me trying to modulate the right pedal. ‘That’s not how you drive me’, she seethes. ‘And that’s not where you drive me’ she fumes. I extend my apologies, but that alone won’t be enough. If you intend to drive the M5 in the highly despicable Mumbai traffic, you have to administer anger-management therapy to this baby. The Doctors of Bavaria have prescribed a magic tablet positioned right behind the drive selector to cool her down. Meant to increase or decrease the shift points for the transmission, the button helps the M5 act in a more docile manner. Docile, just the way flying a fighter aircraft at sub-mach speeds is docile. There are three levels to choose from, which, we hate to admit, are actually useful while driving through the busy city streets.
And then, you have the legendary ‘M’ mode. Unlike its predecessors, the F10 M5 doesn’t have just one M button. It offers you two buttons – M1 and M2, each one of which can be programmed to play your kind of music on the tar with rubber. There are three settings each for suspension, steering and transmission – comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Choose your poison, and save it on one of the M buttons on the steering wheel by long pressing it. I decide to choose the extreme Sport Plus, Sport Plus and Sport Plus settings for M1. And since there’s another option available, I set M2 to Sport Plus, Sport Plus and Sport Plus. It’s good to have choice! Do I hear someone say Comfort? Go find a Camry for yourself on a Chinese website.
With the concrete expanse of the divine Expressway in sight, I thank my guardian angels for having shown me this day. Not that I have not driven powerful cars. On the contrary, my occupation has given me the privilege of sampling some of the most exotic and powerful machinery to have graced the road. But with the M5, there is a distinct sense of occasion. It’s the childhood crush that has eluded me for long. I have craved for it, pined for it, yearned, longed, languished for it ever since I learned what automobiles meant. It reflects the reward for the hard work I have put into my profession for almost one full decade. This is the dream that pushed me into motoring journalism. This is what defines my existence today. I am what I am, probably because of this very car. I have slogged my big fat Marwari posterior to earn this date with my childhood crush. And that’s what makes this moment special – more special than driving a Ferrari 458 Italia, even.
I choose the M1 mode and show the right pedal its grave. The rev needle swings manically towards the 7000rpm redline, drops back a wee bit, repeats the procedure rapidly and brings up the 200kph mark in lesser time than I took to write this sentence. The electronically governed 250kph mark is reached within a silly span of time. The M5 is relentlessly, murderously clinical – no drama, no theatrics, no nerviness – the speaker induced burble which gets more melodious as the revs climb is probably the only thing that makes you realize that you’re going ballistic. Attaining 250kph is a piece of cake with an M5 under your bum.
It’s a sniper Hitman, the M5, with a thousand murders to its credit. It’ll shoot you from 500m with a muzzled rifle in one quick and precise shot. Task finished. And then it’ll have a burger at the McDonald’s outlet down the street, and no one will ever suspect her. If attaining 250kph was akin to attempting a murder for lesser cars, the M5 carries it out casually, day in day out. It’s decidedly hysteria proof – it kills for a living. Talking purely in terms of speed, think of the M5 as a ballistic missile with a steering wheel planted on its neck. Now lay it horizontally, swing a leg over it and hold tight. Tada, have fun!
For a RWD car, with the power being fed only to two wheels, the M5 shows enormous composure on the limit in a straight line. The safety and stability vigil is just too tight and at the slightest hint of traction loss the electronic SWAT team swings into action. With the DSC on, it’s a challenge in itself to make the M5 lose composure, irrespective of the velocity she’s attained. A special limited slip differential for the rear axles assures that the M5’s rear wheels would dig through the tar before losing grip.
Introduction of forced induction to the nameplate means that you’ll always feel inundated with power and torque no matter where you prefer placing your rev needle. The diesel like gush of torque, rated at 680Nm is available between a chunky band of 1500-5750 rpm. Forget the gears – just press the pedal and no gap would ever be small enough. There’s no such business as building revs here. Squash the pedal and the ultra fast 7 speed Dual Clutch transmission would put you in the right gear and revs in a flash.
There are some distinctions here though, as regards transmission. The M5 has a seven speed dual clutch auto shifter, alright, but in M mode, it won’t shift up by itself. BMW have made sure that they don’t mess up your drive experience. They want you to be in control, and they let you hang on to your chosen gear for as long as you want. So, when in M mode, you have to use the pedal shifters or the drive selector to shift up manually. And since there is no dearth of morons in the world, the good blokes from Bavaria have also placed a heads-up tacho display. It indicates the speed, the gear you’re in, and prompts the pea brained deaf morons to shift when they fail to hear the limiter cutting in.
The home of the M buttons, the steering wheel, is nice and chunky – with a fatter rim than most other cars. Of course its leather wrapped, and the stitch threads are in M colors. And as you’d have assumed, it’s heavy. Very heavy! At trundling speeds, the weak wristed have to make some effort to steer the car. It’s precise, reassuring and does everything right except for one crucial thing – communicate. It’s hydraulically powered, the wheel, in good old fashion, but I don’t quite get the good old fashioned connected BMW feel. I just point and shoot regardless, the M5 darts around with laser like precision, and I feel a good amount of weight thrown in at the palms too, but somehow the wheel lacks the engagement that I anticipated. The hydraulic overboost is a tad too much for my liking.
I flash through the straight stretch of the forlorn expressway in a mind-bogglingly short span of time. The occupants, in the meantime are experiencing some of the harshest jolts of their lifetime. The M5, in Sport Plus mode doesn’t bother about useless things like comfort and suppleness. Its singular focus is towards attaining the best possible lateral and transverse stability under intense speed and acceleration. Just one passage over the joints on a flat overbridge is rattling enough for the rear passenger to brace himself. The M5 knows everything about the sacrifices you have to make to attain uncompromised stability, and sets the book about niceties to flames without giving a second thought. Brace up, if you’re sitting in the M5, for it doesn’t give two hoots about your bum and spine when the dampers are tuned into Sport Plus mode. And how we love it for the fact!
Past the straights, I am ready to attack the long sweeping corners. The M5 assassinates one bend after another with clinical disdain. A mild wail from the wheels at some occasions is all the drama on offer, in the meantime the occupants are holding tight to the handles, fully appreciating the virtues of well bolstered seats as they experience the G-forces aplenty. To the M5’s credit, they’re thrilled, but not one bit scared. At those speeds, I can assure you, I have seen passengers laying some tough eggs. Not with the M5 though. Or probably they did, I would never know.
As I driver, I am not having to think before committing to a corner with the M5’s Servotronic wheel in my palms. Once the line is decided, it’ll take nothing less than a natural calamity to move this baby off its line. With the DSC on, the M5 just grips, grips and grips. And when you think you’re pushing your luck a little too much, it grips some more, thumbing the nose at one Isaac Newton. The balance and poise exhibited by this four door performance saloon instantly puts to shame many a two door performance pretenders. Now, I don’t know how to skydive, or paraglide. But I’d rather jump off a plane from 32,000 feet with a parachute than go any faster on a public road in the M5. I throw at it most of what I have, considering what the etiquette on a public road would allow, and it amazes me beyond belief. Just to substantiate how hard I was driving, the car prompted me to drive moderately, at least twice – disengaging the M mode by itself, going into the D mode and taking a breather. Here’s proof
My only grouse is the steering, which though near perfect functionally, isn’t quite as titillating as it could probably have been.
Off the cemented surface of the expressway, onto the well laid out tarred beauty of the windy roads leading up to Aamby valley, the M5 shows me what motoring nirvana means. The tyres wail, our cameraman stops shooting and takes a moment to call me a maniac, but inside, behind the steering wheel, everything is under complete control. The apparent speed for the onlookers is irrelevant from the driver’s perspective, the assuredness behind the wheel of this machine redefines the outer boundaries of balance, traction and control. The M5 is a legend for a reason. One spin around the Aamby Valley makes me understand better than ever, why.
The forlorn roads offer an opportunity to engage what BMW prefers calling MDM, or the M Dynamic Mode. Switching to MDM means that the electronic brain of the car will remove its active safety net. I’m on my own, with all of those 540horses trying to assault the rear wheels.
Since it’s a safety related issue, the system prompts me to confirm before engaging the MDM mode, so I know that I may well be planning a horizontal trip to the hospital or heaven by doing this. It’s a like an indemnity bond in favor of BMW. The Dynamic Stability Control is turned off, and the rear wheels are unshackled. For the smarter of us, there is a separate DSC off button, which lets the car loose in one simple step. The tail is ready to wag and I’m all set to get an instant shot of all the adrenaline my body could produce for the day.
In all honesty, even in the MDM mode, it calls for overwhelming power, good technique and in case of men, sound genitals before pulling a powerdrift on a narrow road. Even with all safety precautions in place, our staff members guarding the corners for a clear-to-go signal and a smooth surface, the M5 calls for a little more effort than I deem sufficient to break traction. The monstrous 19 inch wheels shod with 295 section tyres at the rear refuse to budge in the first attempt even without their electronic guardians overlooking them. A bit more shove, entering the corner from wide out, deliberate oversteer into the corner and I witness myself going sideways, opposing lock duly applied. Wish I were on a racetrack. The place I am driving isn’t one, and I wrap the business up after a couple of attempts as soon as I get a green signal from our lensman. My dream is realized, in true sense.
On our way back, we’re much easier on the throttle. The efficiency climbs up drastically, and in comfort mode the suspension becomes much more compliant. But I won’t really talk about it. Why? For this piece is not meant to talk about the practical aspects of the car. It’s a fan’s experiential log of meeting the personality he admired through his life. I’ll keep the specifics and technicalities for another day and another feature.
Wait for this dreamy-eyed and still very groggy kid to get over the lolly he’s just had before he puts together an even more detailed account. Dizzy as he may be, he doesn’t mind another one of those sweet, sumptuous sweeties. Is the candy man listening?