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We drive BMW's heaviest hitter

2012-02-01 21:13

AT THE END OF THE DAY: Is there a beastlier car on the South African market than the new BMW M5 - but also one that will gamely keep going, even when it's sick?

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model 2012 M5 SPORT SEDAN
Engine 4395cc TwinPower turbo quad-valve V8. Compression ratio 10:1
Power 412kW from 6000-7000rpm
Torque 680Nm from 1500-5750rpm
Transmission Double-clutch seven-speed auto/manual sequential.
Zero To Hundred 4.4sec, 0-200km/h 13.1sec
Top Speed 250km/h; 305km/h with M Driver package.
Fuel Tank 80 litres
Fuel Consumption 9.9 litres/100km; 232g/km CO2
Weight 1870kg (unladen)
Boot Size 520 litres
Steering Hydraulic rack-and-pinion.
Airbags Driver and front passenger, head airbags front and rear (curtain), side airbags driver and front passenger.
Tyres Standard front: 9Jx19" rims with 265/45 radials. Rear: 10Jx19" rims with 295/35 radials.
Front Suspension Double track-control arm with M-specific elastokinematics; anti dive.
Rear Suspension Multi-arm axle with M-specific elastokinematics; anti-squat, anti-dive.
Service Intervals Dictated by car's computer
Price R1 155 076


Family shopping sedan, super-luxury cruiser, autobahn stormer, full-blown race car. Ask people which set of wheels fulfils all those requirements without major adjustment and most folk will come up with the same answer...

...BMW’s M5.

The fifth generation (see video bottom of page)  of which has just been launched in South Africa for – let’s get this over with quick – R1 115 076. Without satnav, power steering adjustment, heatable seats etc. Given the car’s levels of luxury and outrageous performance, that’s almost a bargain.


I was in the Free State, at Welkom’s Phakisa Raceway, when the previous model was launched with its V10 engine back in 2005. After a fairly hairy ride from Bloemfontein airport to the track, the then BMW marketing department gave the assembled hacks a few simple instructions....

1. There’s the open track.
2. These are the cars (knew that, just driven them there).
3. Enjoy, but be careful.

This time around BMW SA opted for a windblown Aldo Scribante track in Port Elizabeth and one track car between a half-dozen Cape Town and Johannesburg journalists. The track is tighter and narrower than Phakisa, the latest M5 an animal with more power (though marginally) than any other M car from its double-turbo V8 that needs 10 cooling units.

Continuous laps weren’t allowed, the pits straight was coned for brakes-cooling 50km/h drive-throughs, and only the one car on the track at any time. It’s something every M5 buyer should have to do as a condition of sale, with an expert instructor. A couple of times a month should do it... year in and year out.

Though the green fraternity might regard the car as an automotive dinosaur, enthusiasts will regard it as a miracle of modern vehicle engineering - 412kW from  6000 to 7000rpm and 680Nm along a monstrous torque plateau that stretches from 1500 through to 5750rpm.


It’s taken nearly a quarter-century to get there – perhaps the only future target should be fuel-efficiency through hybrid power. However this M5 has already made huge green-appeasing strides: 10% more power and 30% more torque than the previous, E60, V10 but with a 30% fuel saving – Generation 6 should be an eye-opener.

BMW has the cheek to call its new car "a four-door ultra-dynamic business sedan with track-orientated drive and chassis technology“. That’s PR-speak for a continent-crushing road machine with more drive and gearing choices than an Aussie road-train and sufficient stability, traction and braking controls and collision mitigation equipment to satisfy an air traffic inspector.

Frankly though (and I’m no wimp at the wheel), isn’t 0-200km/h (yes, 200) in 13 seconds a trifle over the top and a max speed of 305km/h (with the optional driver’s package) a touch too much?

HEAVY BREATHER: An M5 on the move needs a lot of air - hence the huge scoops on the front apron. One of the defining styling cues of BMW's heaviest hitter.

Whatever, the greens will be glad to hear the 4395cc, 2012 M5, despite its astounding power and performance, is rated at 9.9 litres/100km and has CO2 exhaust emissions listed as a modest 232g/km. Post Aldo Scribante, we had to drive the cars to George for homeward flights and the unit I was driving hovered at around 11 litres/100 on the N2 under (mostly) cruise control at around 125km/h.

Until, that is... nah, let’s leave that bit until last...

What many car cynics don’t realise is that a super-powerful car, in sensible hands, is also a very safe car. Huge six-pot front disc brakes along with unflappable traction and stablity control delivered to super-sticky tyres take care of the curves but only a car with a lot of torque takes care of the traffic.

Just a touch on the right pedal and the enormous urge of the M5‘s twin-turbo V8 will launch you, your family and a week’s worth of luggage past it all and on to open road. It’s also a helluva lot of fun on the track...

The significantly improved balance between the performance-focused M experience and the car’s fuel consumption, BMW says, stems from the exceptional efficiency of the new V8 engine and from far-reaching Efficient Dynamics technology, including the a stop/start (in traffic) function and a seven-speed M double-clutch auto/manual sequential transmission.

MAKING LIGHT OF GREAT POWER: The rather sombre ambiance of earlier M5 units has been lightened with the inclusion of a carbon-fibre strip around the cabin but the rest is pure workplace focused on the thick steering-wheel and the shifter on the transmission tunnel.

"The precise interplay of the drive system, chassis and design,“ BMW adds, "has been refined in extensive and detailed testing on the Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring to ensure unbeatable longitudinal and lateral acceleration, handling characteristics and braking."

Sports seats, an M leather steering wheel and an M-specific instrument cluster and centre console lend the cockpit a classical sports car feeling and, for the first time, two programmable M Drive buttons are standard so the driver can call up the ideal car set-up for the available driving conditions.

The cabin ambience, with seating for five, is luxury class (the M5 is as much a limo as a sports car). The interior design, control concept and innovative equipment features of the car all  play their part in creating that BMW calls „the exclusive M experience“.

As usual with BMW products, the latest 5 Series styling changes are evolutionary rather than dramatic, though the deep crease along each side is certainly distinguishing. The M5 doesn’t, however, shout its status: even though the launch units were fitted with 20-inch forged M alloy rims with 265/35 R20 tyres at the front and 295/30 at the rear a casual glance won’t identify the car.

A closer look, however, will detect the "gills" behind the front wheels, the four tailpipes and the dark blue-metallic finish of the huge M callipers over the brake discs.

CROSSOVER TURBOS: The 4.5-litre V8 in the latest M5 has 10 cooling units and is capable of 412kW from  6000-7000rpm and 680Nm along a monstrous torque plateau that stretches from 1500 through to 5750rpm.

The design of the front apron also gives away the sporting heritage with large air intakes on its lower section.

The model-specific M gear selector allows the driver to choose between D(rive) and S(port) mode and to select reverse. It also offers a sequential shift pattern for manual gearshift mode. There are also shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

M DCT Drivelogic offers three shift programs in either S or D mode. When the stability control system is switched off, a "launch control" function allows the driver to use the maximum acceleration force possible from stationary – governed only by the road surface – by pressing the pedal to the, er, luxury carpet.

And, talking of luxury, the M5 comes with four-zone auto aircon, heatable and power-adjustable seats, xenon headlights, ambient cabin light, an alarm system and a BMW Professional radio. Almost all standard 5 Series options can be ticked-off on ordering, among them satnav, power glass roof, M multifunction seats, active seats, active seat ventilation, comfort access, power steering-wheel ajustment, soft-close doors and a trailer hitch with a powered pivoting tow ball.


Finally, the "until last..." bit. All of the above is superb but not much use if your accelerator doesn’t do as it’s told – which happened to the unit I was driving halfway between PE and my 6.10pm flight home to Cape Town from George.

Cruise control was set at 125km/h but a little extra urge was needed to pass some traffic; pressing the accelerator suddenly did nothing. In fact shortly afterwards speed began to bleed off as the fascia screen flashed the message:

"Continue the journey at a moderate pace. Full performance not available. Have the problem checked by your dealer." The engine sounded terrible, as if it was mis-firing.

M5 fans apparently call this "limping" – as in the car "goes into limp mode". The only governance I had over my speed on the open road was cruise control with a max of 120km/h – less on a gradient. Pressing the pedal to the floor made no impression. Using it from rest (we stopped to shut down, exit, lock and let the car rest for a while in the unsuccessful hope its computers would reset) worked up to about 40km/h when cruise control had to be invoked again.

Eventually we swopped cars with a support vehicle and made it to the airport, just in time.

BMW SA has promised to report back on the problem. We’ll let you know... but current BMW owners who might have experienced the problem are welcome to comment below.

However, if you want to see how the M5 fares against its peers when it doesn't have s sore tummy, enjoy the video below...

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