Feel. It’s what makes us fall in love. It’s what drives our passions. And it’s what made auto enthusiasts revere BMW’s M cars for years.
But even as it got faster around a racetrack, the BMW M5 lost some of its magical feel in its last two generations.
The M5 is redesigned once again for 2018, and the feel is back.
The F90 is the first M5 to get all-wheel drive, but BMW hasn’t fully committed to sending power to all four wheels. It’s dubbed M xDrive, and you can select a two-wheel-drive mode that also turns off the stability control. The system always favors more power to the rear wheels, and a 4WD Sport setting sends even more power back there. BMW might have called 2WD drift mode, as the 600-horsepower twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 can easily overwhelm the 285-millimeter Michelin Pilot Sport 4Ss at the rear.
That all-wheel-drive system adds about 150 pounds, but the 2018 M5 cuts 20 pounds overall thanks to a stiffer new structure that includes a standard carbon fiber roof and more aluminum.
The 2018 M5 is a pretty basic car as far as flagship performance sedans go. It has no rear-wheel steering to to virtually shorten the wheelbase and no active roll bars to keep the car flat through turns.
Instead, the M5 has to make due with its natural talents. Sure, there is some variability. The dampers, steering weight, throttle, transmission, and exhaust all have three settings, but the nature of the car’s dynamic character is left up to the hardware.
And that nature is pure M. Aided by the hook from all four tires digging into the asphalt, the 600-horsepower V-8 rockets this roomy five-passenger sedan to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, almost a full second faster than the previous model, and the 8-speed automatic cracks off shifts as well as the outgoing 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The top speed is 189 mph with the optional M Driver’s Package, up from 155 last time around. But those are just straight-line G forces—the wonderful feel of acceleration—what about lateral G’s and the feel when this car gets into the corners?
That’s where the F90 has it all over the outgoing F10. The numb, digital feel is gone. This car is analog and engaging. The slightly skinnier 275s up front grip the pavement and yank the car into a turn, but this car is heavy, so it will plow into a turn if you don’t get the speed under control. Either way, you can tell what’s going on with those front tires. The rear end is happy to follow along or do the work itself, too. That means a skilled driver can balance the car on the edge of grip with his right foot, hang the tail out even in 4WD Sport mode, and steer the car with the rear end.
An electronically controlled limited slip differential helps put the power down when exiting turns, or, if the driver is too aggressive with that right foot in 2WD mode, the M5 can send up plumes of white smoke as it drifts through corners. In fact, BMW set a Guinness World Record by drifting the new M5 for 232.5 miles over 8 straight hours.
Standard 15.5-inch front discs with 6-piston calipers provide good stopping power for the street, but track drivers will want to shell out the $8,500 for the optional carbon ceramic brakes, which can handle more abuse and shave 51 pounds of unsprung weight.
Then, when you’re done at the track, choose the Comfort settings, and it turns into a luxury car.
Gripes? We have a couple. For the first time there’s no manual transmission, and we #GiveAShift around here. The M5 is also rather long and wide, and at 4,370 pounds, it’s still too heavy for our tastes. But it drives smaller than it is, it doesn’t rely on a lot of electronic gadgetry, and it’s a freakin’ blast to drive.
Bottom line? It gives us the feels.