• Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press
  • Munich Legends | Munich Legends Top Gear Press

Munich Legends & Top Gear check out the new BMW F10 M5

The release of the 2011 BMW M5, as the first all new M5 for six years was always going to be big news. Designated the F10, the new M5 provoked much debate amongst the M-faithful, as the first true full production M car to depart from the traditional normally aspirated configuration (we don’t count the 1M coupe). As usual Top Gear Magazine were hot on the story of this exciting event and, as usual Munich Legends were their first port of call for technical support for the article, as well as providing all the previous generations of M5 used in the feature.

The Munich Legends team had great fun helping out on the day and were even treated to a few laps of the famous Top Gear Test Track by a tame racing driver, in the new BMW F10 M5 itself. The article was published in the November 2011 edition of Top Gear Magazine, followed by a full piece in series 18 of the Top Gear TV show.

UK 01825 740 456
Int +44 1825 740 456

HomeClickToDownload Munich-Legends-BMW-Service-Specialist-South-East-1

Click on the above images to view the article

E28 M5

Here’s where it all began. Not just the M5 story, but the whole idea of a bloody fast saloon. Here was a car that took sports-car firepower and put it in a three-box shape that wouldn’t upset your wife or kids or mum because, of course, they could all come along for the ride. When it was launched in 1985 it instantly became the fastest production saloon on the planet, and although 281bhp doesn’t seem hugely exciting in today’s ultra horsepower world, it came from a 3.5-litre straight-six borrowed from the M1 supercar. It wasn’t cheap – £21,805 when new, or over 50k in today’s money – but, hey, nobody else was doing this sort of thing. And besides, it had electrically adjustable headrests and an airline-style display panel in the roof. And each car was assembled entirely by hand, which goes some way to explaining why only 2,191 were made in its three-year shelf life – just 187 of which placed the driver on the correct side...

Nearly three decades later and here it is at our track, soaring up the straights and settling into corners at a graceful slant. It may have been the quickest saloon ever, but this is not some edgy thrill seeker. Instead, it’s more playful – graceful, even – from the simple silhouette and slim pillars to the purity of the controls. Everything you touch feels honest, from the weighting of the clutch to the natural feel of the throttle. Through snaky bits, there’s a little squidge as it leans onto its springs, but after that you can drive it almost as hard as anything made by the M Division today.

E34 M5

In 1989, things got a bit more serious. The M5’s upright lines were swept back and the whole car made lower
and wider, so it adopted a hint of gangster menace. If you wanted to cajole someone out of the fast lane – or out of a few hundred quid – you could simply arrive behind them, at some speed, in one of these.

The seats were padded with the sort of leather you’d find on a wingback armchair, and the ashtray could hold the detritus from a lengthy Cuban cigar. It had slots to hold your cassettes and eight thousand buttons to adjust your seat or wind down a window. There was even an estate version, the world’s fastest wagon, which spawned a million minced-dog headlines.

This M5, then, was a little bit tougher than the one before. The engine was an evolution of the straight-six in the E28, only here it was strengthened and enlarged to make 311bhp from 3.6 litres, and a couple of years later it was beefed up to 3800cc with 336bhp. It was a piece of work that could survive a nuclear pasting – the car we have today is approaching a quarter of a million miles. The clutch, brakes and throttle are stiffly sprung, and linked to the engine via a proper cable rather than electro-telepathy. Like its predecessor, it seems happier when you drive it hard, and there’s a manly connection between you and the car – it never wants to cuddle, but you might bond over a successful and exciting powerslide. In fact, you get the feeling that what it really needed was a brutish V8. And that was soon to come...

E39 M5

Ask your brain to summon an image of an M5, and it’ll probably be this one: the E39, most likely in Le Mans blue, like the one we have here.

This is the model that quite literally took the M5 from one century to another and announced its arrival with
the sound of a new V8. You can hear it a mile off, a sort of deep vibrato that soaks the air and makes your heart quiver. It had – still has – nearly 400bhp and the sort of relentless third gear that renders all the others useless. You could use that cog alone to pull away, overtake, and maintain a gloriously loud cruise that exercises the VANOS timing system as it orchestrates the valves in a complicated-yet-efficient way.

As the third of five M5s, if we include the new one, the E39 sits in the middle of the timeline, magnetising the character of its predecessors and blending it with tech from the newer ones. It’s upmarket yet classless, enormously fast yet very accessible. You could drive it all day below 50mph, or take it to the Topgear track and do long burnouts until your rubber becomes smoke and forms its own weather system above the airfield... Then you’d drive home and go online and discover a used one for £12k (Ok, maybe more like 15 for a good one), and we wouldn’t blame you at all if you clicked ‘buy’. Nearly 21,000 were made in five years of production, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding one.

E60 M5

This M5, the outgoing model, irritated purists in the following three ways. One, they didn’t like Chris Bangle’s styling (actually, nobody liked Chris Bangle’s styling). Two, they hated the unfathomable iDrive infotainment system. Three, they hated the SMG III gearbox with its flappy paddles because it was annoying to drive at
low speed and, anyway, an M5 should be manual. Which it was, but only as an option in... America – the land of lazy auto ’boxes. Oh, and it weighed about 400kg more than the first E28. And while all of those things were undeniably irksome, they didn’t stop this becoming the bestselling M5 ever.

Because, when you scrape away the annoying froth, you reveal a deeply impressive machine. Let’s start with the 5.0-litre V10 – the first engine with that many cylinders to go into a production saloon. It has 507bhp and 383lb ft of torque, and the needle flicks around to 8,250rpm before the ferocious gearbox sinks its teeth into another ratio. At town and parking speeds, it’s jerky and tiresome. But when you delve into the revs it’s electrifying
and addictive. You can alter the speed of the shift, and when you disengage the traction control it enters a secret hard-core mode for fans of voluntary whiplash. There’s a ‘power’ button and when you press it you get all
of the bhp, which helps it to go from 0–62mph in 4.7 seconds.

It will rearrange your vertebrae and cost you £6,000 a week in tyres, but when Clarkson described this M5
as ‘one of the most exciting cars made today’, he was absolutely right. It still is.

F10 M5

If we’re going to talk about BMW’s M cars, we need to acknowledge that the one that’s talked about most is the M3. Its M3 is the sort of car that deluded owners imagine they can somehow improve with aftermarket bits, so the world is full of classic M3-a-likes crafted out of lowly 318s with added badges but the damnation of the feeble original single exhaust pipe.

I’ve decided I’m more of an M5 kind of bloke. The M5 is a quiet pint. For a start the 5-Series has always been a proper, car-shaped car, with a decent boot at the back and the engine in the front. It’s not so big that it’ll end its days as an executive minicab driven by a man in a bad jacket, like the 7-Series, but it’s big enough to allow you and your passengers to lounge around a bit. The 5-Series is the perfect size for a car, and I like a saloon.

It helps that I’ve never driven a bad one. Back in my early days in this job, there were big cars with 2.0-litre engines, here to avoid company-car taxes in some way or another. The 520 was pretty feeble, to be honest, and there was even a 518. But they were still lovely cars. They were just nice places to be.

If you’d like a 5-Series – and I think I might like one pretty soon – then the middle-ranking 528i is really rather excellent. That gives you 245bhp and you can have it as the M-Sport version for £37,000.

So what do you get for £73,000, that’s still the same shape? You get 552bhp, and I have to ask, in the interests of a fair and balanced appraisal, if that’s really necessary. So let’s take a quick look at this mother and see what all the fuss is about.

It looks like a 5-Series, so that – and I don’t want to bang on about this too much – is a good thing. It’s a bit more swollen here and there, and it has these superb wheels, which are undoubtedly going to be smacked on a kerb pretty soon, and that’s a tragedy. But while it’s new, they look terrific. And the brake callipers are the colour of a very deep bit of the Adriatic. Yellow or red would be totally inappropriate for this most contemplative of M cars. In fact, the blueness of its callipers is as good a reason as any for choosing it. It tells you everything.

It’s altogether pretty unobtrusive unless you study it a bit more closely, and then it starts to look quite menacing. It’s a bit like Ronald McDonald in this respect.

Inside, I’m reassured by the usual combination of ruthless BMW logic and austere good taste. Cars with too many buttons and knobs, there to make the driver feel better about not really being a fighter pilot, despite having the watch, annoy me. This is just enough stuff, and less than you’d imagine considering that this is, to some extent, a reconfigurable car. I’d worked out what most of the important bits did within 10 minutes, but it should be remembered that deep in the sub menus of the iDrive system lurk unimaginable options governing bits of the car you may never have heard of. At the other end of the spectrum of comprehension, there is some rather nice suede-style trim on the A pillars.

Pulling away, the initial bite of the double- clutch transmission does perhaps require a
bit of gentle footwork, but it’s quiet and silky. Then it cuts out at a junction. It has stop/start.

It’s programmed to work thus. If you come to a stop and keep your foot on the brake, the system assumes you’re at something like traffic lights, and stops the engine. It starts again when you set off (obviously). If you come to a halt but then take your foot off the brake, the system assumes you are in very slow-moving traffic, and the engine keeps running.

So part of the fun of driving the new 552bhp M5, absurdly, is in outwitting it and keeping the engine idling. I played this for a bit and then discovered an even better game – pressing the little button that disables the system entirely. I recommend this, followed by sealing up the button with copious quantities of cyanoacrylate adhesive, or superglue. I’ve spent too much time in old cars to be able to relax in a £73,000 super saloon designed to break down at roundabouts.

And, anyway, what is the point of this? Saving the world? You may as well take a Kleenex to a tanker spill, if that’s what you’re worried about. Buy the one with the small engine and stop spoiling this one for me. Rant ends.

More button stuff: there are now two ‘M’ buttons on the steering wheel, which you can programme – again in the abysmal depths of iDrive – to do all manner of things. I set them up so that one is everything on comfort and the other is everything – traction control, suspension, blah blah blah – on balls-out. Actually, the man from BMW did this for me while I had a small cigar. I can do this stuff and I’m a fan of iDrive, but a small cigar is a smoke.

There is also a switch behind the gearstick that alters the severity of the gearchange through three levels. This is good. The old M5 offered 11 gearchange options, apparently, and in this one it doesn’t make any difference anyway, because the double-clutch shifts are so good.

And we’re off, finally. There’s a head-up display! Fab! Of course you can configure this as well,
but I have it showing the speed, the gear and... what’s this? Surely it isn’t an on-screen digital edition of BMW’s famous econometer? Can things be that bad? No, dolt, it’s actually the rev counter. Thank God for that.

The urge of the M5 is immense, of course, because it has 552bhp and a comical 501lb ft of torque. It’s also surprisingly undramatic, because the new twin-turbo delivery is so linear. It’s undoubtedly been done this way for emissions reasons, which have also taken away two cylinders, but that’s fine by me. Once again, an obstacle is placed in the way of the car’s progress and it progresses more as a result.
Now we arrive at a great dichotomy. Do we want an event, or do we want effortless capability? They ought to go together, but somehow we think that the noisy lambo is more involving, more demanding, more of a skill. Everything about the new M5 is disarming. The ride is good, the gearchanges are swift and painless, the cabin is quiet, and invaded only occasionally by a distant rumble of dynamic intent. I soon forget about M button #2 and leave everything as it is. The new M5 is quite sublime.

Criticisms? The front end feels slightly over-tyred to me, but so do most high-performance cars, and so do I, come to think of it. The steering-column stalks seem a bit too close to the gearchange paddles, and once or twice I flashed vigorously at an oncoming driver who is likely still confused, or pointlessly rinsed a perfectly clean windscreen. But this could be because the stalks in my paddle-shift Ferrari are a yogic stretch away. The new M5 is a trifle dear at £73,000.

But the real problem is this – the M5 is so deceptively fast, and dispatching detractors going at well over the motorway speeds this easily is so intoxicating, you may as well drive yourself to the cop shop on M button #2 and hand yourself in.

Or go back to the showroom for the 528i...

And now for a little less sympathy and chin- scratching. Time for Ollie Marriage. And an E63.

Fog is rolling in at Dunsfold. Heavily localised and strangely acrid fog. It billows and swirls, with sudden explosive puffs, giving the sense it’s being replenished from within. And from its murky depths comes noise: a bassy, beastly roar. Lights twirl and flash within the fog, then a dark form takes shape. The noise clarifies to a howl and something erupts from the mist, towing a cloud behind it. It’s black, that much is certain, but inside there’s a brief flicker of pure white.

Something about Stig’s body language suggests contentment – and not just because his respiratory system functions better on vaporised rubber than oxygen. Yep, he likes a super saloon, does Stig. But don’t we all? Isn’t there something good and honest about a meaty saloon motivated by an excessively potent motor? A delicious sense that a (literal) smokescreen of civility is concealing something more primal? In fact, isn’t the super saloon a metaphor for human society as a whole?

Let’s not get carried away, this is only a car after all. But we like cars, so to us a new BMW M5 is a Big Deal. Especially now it’s mit turbos. We already know that James likes it very much indeed and that Stig won’t be parted from it until the tyres explode. As a pair, they’re a brilliant barometer for the
M5, representing the two extremes of potential owner and the two areas we expect the M5 to excel in. What’s needed now is something more direct, some help in defining just how successful BMW has been in taking the M5 forward. A rival.

The Merc E63 AMG. Now mit turbos too. Hot Mercs have faced off against brawny Bee-Emms for over a quarter of a century. Audi? Just a bit-part player at this level. Likewise Jaguar, though it’s a shame to admit it. AMG vs M, that’s where it’s at. And just look at the similarities. Both have moved away from natural aspiration and are claiming enormous leaps in torque and fuel economy, just £1,600 separates them on price, they’re divided by only 15lb ft of torque, 0.1secs to 62mph and nothing in top speed. They only have eyes for each other. Both also use the same language to communicate with the outside world: quad pipes, jutting chins, big wheels – optional 20s on the BMW, but definitely the ones to have as the slender spokes reveal more of the newly painted blue callipers.

Bumpers and spoilers aside, the M5 sports no bodywork changes aside from a shift to aluminium instead of steel for some of the panels. The word to bear in mind here is ‘understated’. M5 owners don’t want to attract stares – a simple sense of muscular purpose is what’s desired. The Merc? Well, that tries a bit harder visually, with extra brightwork and more defined lines.

The E63 also has some truly exceptional touchpoints inside – really deep seats that clench your ribs and Alcanatara inserts on the steering wheel. You sit in it and know that something special is about to happen.

Not so in the BMW, or at least not to the same extent. It’s a more luxurious cabin, replete with plusher, wider seats, a far more modern dash design and an expansive array of new switches around the bespoke gearlever. But you couldn’t climb in with a blindfold on and know you were in an M5. Maybe this is a good thing. The sheer comfort on offer, the quality, the insulation, make the M5 a superior everyday proposition – the cabin is a lovely, relaxing place to spend time when you’re merely burbling about the place.

A quick word on family matters. These are genuine four-seaters in the way that even a Porsche Panamera isn’t – taller roofline, less claustrophobic in the back. You can have the E as a wagon, too. But not the BMW. In fact, never the BMW, if the M people are to be believed. Shame.

Now, let’s get to the central issue here. BMW has long held that the engine is at the heart
of every M car. The cylinder count may have varied (this is only the second V8 M5), but
the M5’s dedication to natural aspiration hasn’t wavered. Until now. It’s hardly surprising –
the need to up power and lower emissions has necessitated the move to forced induction, but (1M aside) this is an area in which M division is short of practice compared to AMG, which has dabbled with turbo, super and natural at various points in its recent history.

Like any other sports car engine, it’s not enough for a super saloon to just hurl you down the road providing simple thrust and acceleration. As we’re finding out these days, electricity can do that. What internal combustion offers is character, but that’s tricky to nail when turbos are involved. Their spool-up times delay throttle response, mid-range grunt replaces top-end crescendo, and the curious path they force air to take around the engine means the noise is muted.

Don’t ask me how, but Merc has overcome every single one of these concerns. Turn the key and the 5.5-litre erupts into life, rocking the car, and from that moment on you’re swept away by its sheer charisma, barrel-chested delivery and a noise that’s pure, roaring, gargling baritone. It’s utterly, wonderfully, exuberantly rampant, an engine that plays to the gallery and has a sense of theatre that’s absent from the M5. To drive it is to love it.

So what of the BMW’s 4.4-litre bi-turbo? Is it a genuine M engine in the way that the 5.5-litre so perfectly captures what AMG is all about? Yes, it is. M doesn’t focus on the fripperies to the extent that AMG does, so it’s less shouty at start-up, but once up and running (and in both of these cars you have max torque from less than 2,000rpm) the BMW feels more focused – like it’s aiming at
a point further down the road. There’s a distant fizz of turbo noise, a bass-laden V8 rumble and then this immense surge of power. It’s totally remorseless, gaining strength above 4,500rpm and maintaining it for another 3,000rpm beyond that. It’s major league stuff – I suspect a 458 Italia would have trouble getting its nose back in front if either of these got a sniff of a lead. They make it so easy, especially the BMW. Its DSG gearbox is sublime. There’s a well-founded rumour that BMW will again do a manual M5 for America. I wouldn’t have it – this just feels so well suited to the car now.

The Merc’s auto has an equal number of ratios (seven), but isn’t nearly so fluid at shuffling between them. OK, Sport Plus mode does an uncanny job of being in the right gear at the right time, but manual is a dead loss due to the delay between gear selection and presentation. It’s these hiccups in the Merc that lend it a measure of both personality and frustration. It’s a slightly clumsier car than the BMW, the front and rear ends aren’t so together, the ride is undoubtedly firmer, as are the seats, and there’s more than a little road noise. It doesn’t have the M5’s duality, but equally the M5 doesn’t possess the rabidity of a charging E63.

You get the sense that AMG got it to a point, thought, ‘well, that’s fun’, and left it alone. Not so the M5. It’s the product of endless honing and hooning. Those buttons around the gearlever allow you to individually change the steering, suspension, engine response, traction and gearbox – three levels for each one. Often slightly redundant, here they fundamentally change the car’s behaviour from something that’ll cruise with the ease and refinement of a 530d into something that’ll stalk supercars.

But it’s rarely intimidating to drive – there’s a sense of balance and flow to the M5 that allows the chassis to be exploited without being overly concerned about what might happen if you overdo it. Do us a favour and don’t fully disable the traction, though. The downside of this approachability is that the BMW never truly bares its fangs, giving it more in common with the only other V8 M5 – the E39 – than with its direct predecessor, the V10 E60. This could be down to the driver though, I think, as I watch Stig sling the M5 sideways and ride a slide so long and smoky that he needs to upshift to fourth partway through. Wow. If the M5 is good enough for Stig...

Thanks to Munich Legends for the loan of the old M5s. They know more about M cars than is healthy. Find out more at: munichlegends.co.uk