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First drive! BMW M5

2005-06-03 12:42

John Oxley

The biggest pity is that I can't let you HEAR the engine of this mighty beast, It's a 373 kW 5-litre V10, without the benefit of supercharging or turbo, and it revs to over 8 000 r/min in a delicious howl that's the closest you're going to get to hearing an F1 engine on the road.

Yet the new M5 isn't just about the engine.

It's about a complete package that starts with variable suspension settings that range from comfort-smooth through to full track super-stiff, plus a 50/50 weight distribution for superbly balanced handling.

It's about a semi-automatic (or full automatic) gearbox that gives you some 11 computations, again ranging from "going to the shops" to lightning-fast changes in just 65 milliseconds (compared to 500 milliseconds for a top-class racing driver using a manual).

It's about seven gear ratios for better response through the engine range, and better economy.

It's about improved styling that adds high-tech aero aids without detracting from an "under-stated" overall look.

It's about a superb comfort and luxury package in a car that can run with a stripped-down racing car.

Wintry day

We picked up the cars at Bloemfontein Airport on a crisp wintry morning, and I was keen to get on the road, and more important, to get warm!

Right from the word "go" the car felt comfortable and easy to drive, and initial forays through the gears soon had me falling in love with that fantastic V10 sound.

It's not overwhelming, by the way, and in normal driving you hardly hear it, as should be the case in a luxury car.

But when you punch through the gears it's there, and it's gorgeous!

At first, too, I was a bit disappointed with the chunky ride qualities, but later learned there are three suspension settings.

It defaults to "Normal", a mid-way setting, when you start the engine, but quite frankly this is too stiff for the bruised and battered Free State roads, and the lowest setting "Comfort" was used to take away the bone-jarring.

Our trip went from Bloem to Phakisa Raceway near Welkom to try out the M5 in earnest, and after a technical briefing we were simply let loose on the complex Phakisa track - at best a difficult circuit to learn since it has several double and triple apex corners.


Wow! For the first two or three laps I was always travelling too fast into corners, but the huge ventilated and cross-drilled racing-derived brakes hauled the car down and with a bit of twitching - and one lurid sideways slide at the beginning - I managed to get a reasonable time.

The interesting thing was that all I had done to switch to track mode was press what is known as the " MDrive" button on the multi-use steering wheel.

This changed from normal settings to full track mode, feeding in full power to the engine, speeding up gearchanges, tightening the steering, stiffening the suspension.

You can adjust the MDrive settings to suit your own requirements, using the i-Drive computer-mouse type knob between the front seats.

Then you can switch it off, engine power is cut to a more conservative 298 kW, you take your kids gently and quietly to school, drop them off - and with a flick of that button howl out of the school playground under full power and enjoy the rest of your day!

Impeccable manners

On the track the car displays absolutely impeccable manners. It has all the latest electronic driving aids, including DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), and an electronic variable differential lock, but when you push in the MDrive button DSC sits in the background, only intervening if you're absolutely out of control.

That this is true I showed by power-sliding through one corner when I over-cooked it, as mentioned, and also later, while doing a fast lap, I managed to get a wheel onto the dirt and had a "moment" that I had to sort out myself without any help from the car.

Yet at no time did I feel unsafe despite that enormous power, and later, after a few more laps, I started to use the power and the brakes to the limit as I gained confidence.

Hot and sweaty I retired to the pits to cool down, and had a chance to look around the car.

There's not a lot to differentiate the M5 from an ordinary 5 Series car, yet what there is makes it so distinctive that it turns heads.

Big fat wheels

Undoubtedly the huge 19 inch "double spoke" alloy wheels, shod with 255/40 ZR 19 tyres at the front and 285/35 ZR 19 at the rear are the first eye-catchers. They were developed exclusively for the M5 and have undergone stringent testing.

Then there are the modified front and rear aprons, while other differences are the modified side sills and the fat wheel arches.

Traditionally, the M differs from the "normal" BMW 5 Series in its exclusive exterior mirror design and the four tailpipes complete with aero flaps.

For the first time the M5 sports attractive M3-style gills which are incorporated into the front side panels.

Inside the M5 comes with a leather interior in three different colours, or - for an extra price - a full leather interior including the dash.

Further important differences versus the 5 Series are the instrument cluster, the M-specific head-up display, the steering wheel with MDrive buttons and the redesigned centre console.

Naturally it has all the comfort features you could think of, including electric windows and mirrors, climate controlled aircon, electric seats, electric steering wheel adjustment, a superb sound system, and a big boot that carries 500 litres but which can be enlarged further by folding forward the 60/40 split rear seat backrest.

The engine

Again, I'll keep it brief, 'cos the technical jargon makes your head spin!

Suffice to say it's the only V10 available in a saloon, it's technologically the most advanced, with a specific output of "100 bhp/litre", it's light, made almost totally of aluminium, and it's strong.

It produces 373 kW at 7 750 r/min, with 510 Nm of torque at 6 100 r/min, yet proves remarkably frugal.

BMW claims an overall average of 14 litres/100 km, but we reckon you'll better that in normal driving. After all our high speed and track stuff, the computer said we had used an average of 18 litres/100 km.

And that's in a car that will accelerate from rest to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, and that would go on to over 300 km/h if top speed wasn't limited to 250 km/h!


I can't see how BMW can produce a better four-door sedan than this one! It's got everything that a red-blooded male - of female - could want, yet can be driven by almost anyone with a driver's licence.

It doesn't require special skills to go to the shops, but you can take it out on a track day and get the same thrills as a full-blooded racer.

It's comfortable if you want, it's bone-jarring stiff if you choose.

It can be driven in full auto, or you can use the steering wheel paddles to choose your own change points.

It's also price-competitive in its class, coming in slightly under its main competitor, the Mercedes-Benz E55, at R850 000.

And every year 80 people are going to have smiles on their faces for the rest of the time they own the M5!

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