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by Paul Williams
Munich, Germany – Launching the new BMW M5 took on a whole new meaning at its world premiere in Munich, Germany. With cars lined up on an air force runway, and BMW’s celebrated “launch control” system primed and ready to go, journalists one-by-one experienced what most car enthusiasts can only fantasize: driving a V10-engined, 507-horsepower super-sedan to its terminal velocity down a 2.5-kilometre straightaway, then stopping with eye-popping suddenness in less than 300-metres, and doing it all over again.
It was a demonstration from BMW meant to emphasize many things about this new car.
Yes, the 1,755-kilogram M5 has enough grunt to light up the tires in first, second and third gears from its seven-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG).
Yes, it reaches 100-km/h in 4.7 seconds and shifts out of fourth at 200 km/h, finally settling for seventh at 270 km/h where its top speed is electronically governed (it would make 330-km/h otherwise). Yes, that SMG transmission – the equivalent of a manual transmission, but without a foot-operated clutch, and with the ability to shift itself like an automatic – makes perfect shifts every time at a fraction below the car’s 8,250 redline
Yes, the M5 emits a wild, extroverted exhaust note as it hurtles by, and yes, the M5 is tough enough to take this kind of treatment without so much as a hesitation from its ten electronically controlled throttle valves (one per cylinder).
On the other hand, no, it’s not the raucous, thunderous, unpredictable experience you get in something like a Dodge Viper.
The difference? The M5 behaves.
Launch control, by the way, is a technology derived from BMW’s Formula 1 racing program. It is achieved by deactivating dynamic stability control (DSC), setting the manual transmission mode to level six (the most aggressive) and flooring the accelerator
while pushing the shift lever forward. This causes the engine to generate about 4,200 r.p.m. while the car is standing still, and you’re primed to go. Release the shift lever and it feels like the M5’s been shunted from behind as it runs through the first three gears – bang, bang, bang – such is the kick of the shifts while accelerating flat out.
The M5 is not just a straight-line car, however. On a slalom course adjacent to the airstrip, the car exhibited superb handling qualities as it charged around pylons, barely squealing a tire, and hardly leaning around the severe bends. Only when its sophisticated traction aids were disabled did the car fishtail or oversteer, and that was because of an overzealous driver, unused to 500+ horsepower under his right foot (in fairness, how many would be used to that?).
As for the other details, it seats five in luxurious comfort, is climate controlled and has a killer sound system. Do you really need to know more?
Well, price, no doubt. That won’t be determined until the M5 arrives in late 2005, as a 2006 model. For point of reference, the 2005 M5 carries a suggested retail price of $105,000, but we would expect the 2006 car to cost more.
Thrills and details aside, let’s quickly review the “M” philosphy, and the genesis of the latest M5.
BMW M GmbH is a company within BMW charged with creating limited production, high-performance versions of certain BMW models (5-Series sedan, 3-Series Coupe are the current “base” cars).
Starting in 1984, the first generation of the M5 arguably established the entire sports sedan category. Its 286-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine propelled the
car from 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds, which caused quite the sensation 20-years ago.
This fourth-generation M5 – rear-drive of course, with its 5.0-litre, V-10 engine generating more than 100-horsepower per litre and 384 lb.-ft. of torque — is the first production sedan with a normally aspirated, ten-cylinder engine (surprisingly, the engine weighs the same as the V-8 it replaces, even though it generates 107 more horsepower).
“M” vehicles, according to BMW executive Burkhard Goschel, represent the core values of BMW, and show the company at its best by functioning as a bridge between the racetrack and everyday driving.
“It’s not just about putting a powerful engine in an existing car,” he points out. “Everything else must be right as well.”
By this he means suspension, electronic aids, transmission, engine and design, must be conceived as an integrated entity, hence the establishment of the “M” division as a separate company from BMW where the work of building “M” cars takes place, much of it by hand.
Highlights of the new car, and there are many, include an Electronic Damper Control (EDC) which permits selection of three suspension settings – comfort, normal and sport – via a push-button beside the SMG shifter. The all-aluminum suspension itself is based on the 5-Series, but is unique to the M5 (along with virtually everything else under the car). Weight distribution is almost 50:50 front to rear.
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A new generation of DSC (specially developed for the M5) uses two stages, selectable by the driver. The first stage closely matches the DSC setting for the 5-Series, and the second stage – M-Dynamic – is designed for the driver “with racing ambitions.” M-Dynamic allows the car to be pushed to its limits of lateral and longitudinal acceleration before the DSC engages. BMW suggests that this mode be reserved for a cordoned-off racetrack.
Drivers can choose from eleven gear-change characteristics from the seven-speed Drivelogic SMG, electro-hydraulic transmission. Five are in Drive (“automatic”) mode and six in Manual, with the most aggressive (sixth) only available with DSC off (the prelude to launch control).
As an everyday driving aid, the transmission uses hill detection technology to adjust the shift points while ascending and descending hills, and prevents rolling back on a when starting on a grade.
The 90-degree aluminum-silicon alloy V-10 engine is a high-revving design inspired and informed by the BMW Williams F1 powerplant (itself a 90-degree, V-10 engine). The cylinder head and crankcase are produced at the same foundry responsible for the Formula 1 engines, and assembly takes place at BMW’s special-purpose engine department in Munich.
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For normal driving, output is limited to 400 horsepower whenever the engine is started. A Power button switches to the full 507 horsepower (a more than 25% increase over the current M5) available from the P500 program. A Sport program can also be selected for almost instantaneous throttle response.
A driver’s ideal combination of these modes – Drivelogic, DSC, EDC and Power – can be pre-selected for activation with the M-Drive button, located on the steering wheel. The driver can then use a gentle shifting mode, with reduced power, and a comfortable suspension setting for around-town cruising, or, in effect, hit the afterburner.
On twisty country roads, the SMG transmission is a revelation, far superior to early versions of this technology. Shifts are accomplished smoothly and rapidly from the floor shifter or steering wheel-mounted paddles (which I preferred). Downshifts are always impressive as the transmission matches engine speed, which sounds like you’re using a heel-and-toe technique for every shift (and doing so perfectly, I might add).
On the German Autobahn, 250 km/h seems a most sensible pace, such is this car’s stability as it devours kilometres (and even then you have something in reserve). Most of the time, vehicles in front courteously move out of your path, but when they don’t, the big, twin piston, cross-drilled rotors slow you down with authority (the M5 can stop from 200 km/h in less than 140 metres; from 100 km/h in a mere 36 metres).
External differences compared with the 5-Series include wider wheel arches, modified front and rear apron and side sills, bigger front air intakes, four tailpipes, diffusers front and rear to aid airflow under the car, special 19″ wheels (designed by Karl Elmitt, who surely deserves some kind of wheel Oscar for these) and “gills” incorporated into the front side panels. Its striking appearance is described by BMW as “understated.”
Interior appointments include choices of leather, carbon fibre, wood and alcantera (suede) headliner and side pillars. The dashboard is uncluttered and simple to operate, and a head-up display (speed, tachometer, gear) manages to be both easily visible and discreet at the same time. The I-Drive system persists.
The M5 is designed to be fun. It is a car for people who love to drive, but who require the functionality of a four-door sedan, and enjoy the irony of this level of performance in that type of vehicle.
This could be your new dream car.
The 2006 BMW M5 should be available in late 2005.