BMW M5: A T Rex in conservative clothing

By Matt Greenop

The M5 is BMW's bread and butter, easily switching from family sedan to thrilling ride

The BMW M5 has all the power and handling you want but a push of the button takes it back to sedate family mode. Pictures / Ted Baghurst
The BMW M5 has all the power and handling you want but a push of the button takes it back to sedate family mode. Pictures / Ted Baghurst

Family four-doors are not what they used to be. The options are there for dads (or mums, he said in a fit of feminist sensibility) who want to get a bit Ricky Bobby at the wheel of their whanau mover on the odd occasion.

The M5 has always held a place at the sharp end of Germany's Autobahn stormer line-up - it's swapped top spot with its natural enemies, Mercedes' AMG E63 and the Audi RS6, as the one to have. But it's always been among the most capable.

The power play between the German manufacturers has always made for good sideline watching and, with this iteration of M5, BMW has again turned the wick up a bit with the LCI model.

This gets a few competition-focused tricks and, while it doesn't impact on its day-to-day manners on the road, it does mean more grunt, better suspension and steering and a sweeter torque serving at the red end of the tacho.

Driven was lucky enough to scrounge an exclusive first drive of this car and, while it's probably not quite as important to the brand's grand plan moving forward as the little i3 we've got on the cover, the M5 is very much bread and butter for BMW.

The nice thing about the M5 is that it caters for those who don't want to scream about their ride --it looks sensible and buttoned-down while hiding the heart of a T-Rex.

This kind of understatement is the very reason it's become such an important part of BMW's overall range.

BMW M5 LCI. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
BMW M5 LCI. Photo / Ted Baghurst.

The M3 has traditionally been a bit rowdier and that model has now been split to add another number to the line-up - the M3 Coupe is now the M4 Coupe, with the four-door retaining the "3" nameplate.

Further up the tree, while using the same twin-turbo 4.4-litre powerplant, is the M6 and the M6 Gran Coupe.

While the M6s are sleek and sophisticated and offer a hugely engaging drive - mostly courtesy of the big numbers on the spec sheet and the list of paint options that let anyone with a taste for flash flex their individuality - the M5 remains a favourite of mine.

Its shorter wheelbase makes it more nimble through the curly stuff, and the fact that simply tapping it into one of the calmer drive modes essentially puts it in stealth mode is very appealing indeed.

The LCI retails for $209,900, with a list of standard functions that helps to justify what is a fairly hefty price tag.

It gets a Harman Kardon sound system on top of the competition package add-ons, as well as a top-spec nag system, LED headlights, M multifunction front seats, a glass roof and even a telly.

There's automatic boot operation and the soft close function is included for all doors - not ideal for Le Mans-style starts, but handy when you haven't had enough Weet-Bix to get the door properly shut in one go.

The version tested here gets a few extras, with 20-inch double-spoke M light alloy rims, seat heaters for the back seat, a higher spec of sun-protection glazing and a speed limit read-out in the HUD pushing the price to $214,650.

Its LCI up-spec pushes the power to 423kW and torque to 680Nm, with a sprint to the 100km/h legal limit spat out in a meagre 4.3 seconds.

BMW claims a combined fuel consumption across highway and country of just 9.9L/100km, although we were seeing numbers 50-60 per cent higher than that purely because if you're driving an M5, fuel consumption is secondary to doing the right thing, and we all know what that is.

Its C02 output for a car of this spec is surprisingly low though, at just 232g/km.

The M5's biggest enemy in terms of performance has always been its weight.

This sort of car is going to be compromised by what its intent is - and that sits somewhere between luxury sedan and sports sedan.

Take out the leathery goodness and you're taking out the prime buyer.

With a reasonably porky scale tip of just under 1900kg, the M5 is a heavy car, but with the sportier suspension upgrade and the ability to set two different behaviour sets at the push of a button (suspension, steering and gearshifts from the DriveLogic seven-speed auto are all covered), it's easy to get quick and do it quickly.

There are the usual BMW comfy and normal modes, with the Sport and Sport + giving enthusiasts the chance to back off traction control intervention and have a bit more of a play when the opportunity arises.

BMW M5 LCI. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
BMW M5 LCI. Photo / Ted Baghurst.

The braking package is serious enough to cope with this sort of weight, with 400mm and 396mm two-piece rotors front and rear with monster six-pot front callipers and sliding two-piston versions at the back. It's only when you've been pushing the car hard for a good half-hour that the brakes start to fight back.

This is not to say that the M5 gets soft, it's easy to drive hard without putting yourself or the rest of the road users at risk, with obvious improvements in turn-in and handling, while the use of Sport + lets the back have a bit more swing without totally disabling traction and stability programmes.

It remains my choice over the gorgeous M6 in that it has all of the power and handling it needs to do the job hard, but can be turned back into an acceptably sedate family four-door at the push in the button.

Jekyll and Hyde it is, and that's why M5 has been a favourite on fast German roads through the generations.

- NZ Herald

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