Tuesday 23 October 2018

Few clues of BMW M5 power until I cut loose on the track; i3S a rapid response

First drive in Estoril: BMW M3 and i3s

BMW M5
BMW M5
BMW i3S

Cathal Doyle

For a saloon that leaves many supercars in its tyre tracks, the new BMW M5 certainly doesn't shout about it.

In fact there's a reasonable chance that if you passed one in the street you'd mistake it for a regular 5-Series.

Unique front bumpers, rear diffusers and spoiler, and even exclusive mirrors, only add up to subtle changes to the mainstream car.

Understated performance has always been the way with the M5.

Even the interior doesn't differ massively, the most notable addition being two red buttons on the steering wheel labelled M1 and M2 which control driving settings.

The major change to this sixth generation M5, which now pushes out 600hp, is the addition of a new xDrive system. It can be set in various driving modes including rear-wheel drive only.

Even in default 4WD mode and with Dynamic Stability Control switched on, BMW says it's set up to provide rear drive characteristics.

Firing it up quickly dispels any notion that this is a normal 5-Series.

An initial roar quietens to a more gentle growl after a few seconds, though there's a special button to artificially control noise levels depending on your mood or how anti-social you're feeling.

Unlike supercars of years gone by, which were often recalcitrant beasts, the M5, like most high-performance cars nowadays, is as docile and easy to drive as a supermini when driven gently.

One thing's for sure though - unless you either have an expendable driving licence or a death wish, you won't even begin to explore its capabilities on public roads.

Helpfully, BMW let us loose for a few laps around Estoril race track.

That emphatically demonstrated that this is a phenomenally quick and competent machine. Never mind the 0-100kmh time of just 3.4 seconds. What's really impressive is how, when you get it wrong - as I did on more than one occasion - the M5 works with you to save your blushes.

Acceleration, braking and cornering grip are of supercar standard.

And if we noticed a slight tendency towards under-steer in faster corners, M5 aficionados will be happy overall that the rear-wheel drive characteristics have been largely retained.

For all its performance, though, there's an impression that the M5 is first and foremost a technological tour-de-force, an impressive showcase of what a 'normal' saloon can achieve.

Granted, it's a bigger and heavier car, but it doesn't have that seat-of-the-pants feel that's best exemplified by the current M2.

And therein lies the rub. The new M5 can make a case for being the ultimate combined road and track car.

But short of German autobahn blasts it could quickly become a licence-loser on public roads.

And realistically not too many people are really going to thrash a €163,800* road car around a race track too often.

l Ironically, the other car launched by BMW in Portugal might bring a smile to the face faster than its high-performance sibling.

In character and in what it aims to achieve, the all-electric i3s is a world away from the M5.

Its 0-100kmh in 6.9 seconds acceleration feels M5-fast thanks to the instant surge of power from the 184hp electric motor.

Sitting 10mm lower, with a wider track than the regular i3, and boasting a new Dynamic Stability Control system, it's perfect for nipping in and out of busy urban traffic. Something that's far more relevant to the average motorist than tearing up a race-track.

*Current Sterling deal brings normal RRP of €163,800 down to €149,058.

Indo Motoring

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