Thursday 22 August 2019

Different strokes ... power and pace from BMW's stomping M5 and more urban zip from the i3S

Up close in Portugal: BMW M5 and I3S

BMW M5 interior

Cathal Doyle

Launching a more sporty version of an all-electric car at the same time as an ultra-high performance saloon raises questions about the challenges - or opportunities - facing car manufacturers.

Under ever greater pressure to prove their green credentials, is there still a place for CO2-heavy, high-performance, petrol-powered offerings?

BMW's M-Division can lay claim to some of the world's most iconic performance motors of the last three decades.

But with its more recently created i-Division also producing models such as the hybrid i8 supercar, is M going to continue to remain relevant?

Absolutely, the company insists, pointing out that annual M sales have rocketed from under 17,000 units in 2010 to more than 66,000 last year.

Nevertheless BMW acknowledges the need to produce more environmentally friendly performance cars.

Over the next decade all M-models will have electrification of the powertrain.

That will be most likely through the use of plug-in hybrid technology.

Its latest offering though, the sixth generation M5, won't please too many environmentalists.

It pumps out 241 grammes of CO2 emissions every kilometre.

But that's not what the M5 is about, petrol heads will argue.

Indeed in a segment where horsepower means bragging rights, it's perhaps more surprising that BMW hasn't attempted to trump the 612hp of the Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S that currently rules the roost.

Nonetheless with 600hp (48hp than before), the latest M5 is the most powerful manifestation yet.

Its 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 lets it accelerate from 0-100 kmh in just 3.4 seconds (incidentally the same as the Mercedes) - and on to an unrestricted 305 kmh.

For the first time it uses a specially developed four-wheel drive system.

BMW say they have engineered this to give rear-wheel-drive characteristics with the benefit of added traction.

But horsepower isn't the only challenge it faces, at least in Ireland, where its highest tax band emissions are partly responsible for an eye-watering price tag of €163,800, not to mention an annual road tax bill of €2,350).

The price is nearly €20,000 more than the E63 S - though in the short-term at least, BMW's currently available Sterling Offers deal, with 9pc off the RRP, brings it to a more presentable €149,058.

The fact of the matter is that BMW Ireland has already received 10 pre-orders for the new M5.

That's as many as it sold in the entire period from 2009 to 2017. Proof that the good times are back?

Whatever about that, BMW will expect to sell many more i3 models which have benefited from a mid-life facelift.

The interesting addition is a new, more powerful model to sit alongside the regular car.

The i3s benefits from an increase in horsepower - from 170hp to 184hp - from the same 94Ah/33 kWh battery. It's faster and more sporty to drive, courtesy of a sports suspension that's 10 mm lower, and a 40mm wider track on exclusive 20in wheels.

A Sport mode is also unique to this model.

The downside is that the extra power and wider wheel track mean a reduction in range of about 9pc, or roughly 10km fewer than the 255km the regular i3 has recorded under the new WLTP criteria.

It's priced at €52,130 compared with €46,510 for the regular i3 BEV, though current government grants will reduce these by €10,000.

It also qualifies for BMW's current Lower Emissions Allowance of €2,000 if you trade in a Euro4 or older diesel.

Range extender versions cost €56,660 and €52,480 respectively before subsidies.

Sales of the i3 have remained relatively flat here, so perhaps the arrival of a zippy city car combined with the promise of 0pc Benefit-In -Kind (BIK) for business users might provide a fresh boost.

Both M5 and i3/i3s arrive in Ireland towards the end of March.

My first driving impressions of the M5? Watch this space.

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