The M5 is described as the ‘gentleman’s express’ but it also unusually at home aggressively lapping Anglesey Circuit in North Wales, as Recombu Cars found out at the UK launch of the 2018 BMW M5.
Track events are an oddity in motoring journalism. On the one hand, it is great to drive like a buffoon without risking life or driving licence. But most road cars these days favour comfort and mod cons over weight-saving and structural rigidity, traits that are rarely flattering when nudging apexes at speed.
But then Anglesey is just such a pretty circuit to the point where your eyes can only wander off over to the stunning coastline, which is a bad idea because at this point you are mid-way through its Laguna Seca-esque downward straight before a tight left-hander.
And, of course, the car we were handed the keys too was the 2018 BMW M5. All 600hp of it. It only needs 3.4 seconds from 0-62mph after which the twin-turbo V8 kicks you way beyond the legal limit, potentially up to 190mph if you spend £2,095 for the M Driver’s Package that includes optional driver training.
In fact, if your back garden is an airstrip or you regularly visit unrestricted sections of Autobahn you could even test out the claim of 0-124mph in 11.1 seconds.
This, then, is no gentleman’s express. It’s a gentleman’s ballistic missile with cup holders.
Part of its brutal pace comes from taking the Audi approach to performance motoring, which is to say it has four-wheel drive (shock horror, indeed). In fact, two of its driving modes utilise the new addition to the M5 family, with the two-wheel drive (the rear wheels, thankfully) sitting on its own at the bottom of the infotainment system menu.
We had our concerns that moving away from rear-wheel drive would impair some of what makes the M5 such a likable machine. For some purists, just leaving the V10 days behind was upsetting enough. As it turns out though, there was no need to worry because the new M5 is no last-ditch attempt at cashing in on times past. It’s actually rather special.
2018 BMW M5: All the horsepower
People who are far better at maths than us have squeezed even more performance out of the M5’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 lump. Not only does it generate 70Nm extra over its predecessor, you get all 750Nm from 1,800rpm and it maintains that level of lunacy until 5,600rpm. Having driven the M5 to the circuit ahead of our track drive, we were already acquainted with its ability to blur your surroundings.
Two new turbochargers play their role in the seismic pace on offer, with higher injection pressure now capable of up to 350-bar. As a result, the injection times are shorter and the whole process is less wasteful.
Setting off on our sighting lap, it is clear BMW has taken onboard criticisms of engine notes. But then making a pleasurable V8 warble from such a big displacement should be a little easier than for something with fewer cylinders and the M5 certainly sounds the part – regardless of where you are in the rev range.
There is no synthetic edge to the engine note that takes you out of the experience, nor is it too quiet and sedate. You need only dip the accelerator a couple of millimetres to hear decent levels of noise through what is a well-engineered – if a little button-heavy – cabin.
The eight-speed M Steptronic automatic is pleasantly responsive in auto modes, but you need to hop into manual to really appreciate how rapid the changes are, both up and down. There is a tightness to the drivetrain that makes it pleasingly snappy in its more ludicrious driving modes, something we never expected.
You could argue there is too much to fettle with. In the same way you can spend years of your life fine-tuning your television colour settings using a reference disc and positioning your surround sound speakers to the nearest nanometre, too much time can be spent within the BMW M5’s menu system.
You can adjust the aggressiveness of the automatic, change the steering weight, increase the suspension hardness, choose four-wheel or two-wheel drive and a whole lot else. No doubt though there will be a forum post on ‘the best setup ever’ as owners get hold of them.
2018 BMW M5: Driving options galore
It is actually quite hard to know what is optimal because switching everything off is asking for trouble (like, loads of trouble), but as exiting the first high-speed corner revealed there is a lot of electrical trickery going on to save you from yourself. There is no sense that the power is being redirected to the outside wheels to help tuck the nose in and stave off understeer, instead the cylinders seem to nod off and the throttle response is killed. On a few occasions the instructor next to us said it was time to apply power when we already had.
This may sound like a bad thing, but you can adapt to that sort of minor intervention. Don’t get us wrong, you can tell it is four-wheel drive when you put your foot down, such is the level of traction, but it is sometimes hard to detect what else is going on behind the scenes to keep you on course unlike in, say, a Nissan GT-R.
Switching into M Dynamic mode and doing the gears yourself reveals a more playful edge, although Anglesey Circuit’s still has the traction warning bulb flashing like a strobe light. Even with the front wheels helping out (if you want them to), there is so much torque to tame and inevitably some of it gets through. At this point, things get really fun.
Despite a few shortcomings, the 1,800kg-odd Bimmer can hurtle into a tight corner with remarkable poise, before doing a fine job of disguising all that weight. Direction changes take place far quicker than you expect, although being smooth does reward you with the fastest way round Anglesey.
Not that a bit of heft gets in the way too much because time lost in the bends is made up on the straights. Its linear delivery and refinement can make you feel a little too disconnected from how fast you are going and the linear torque delivery compounds that sense, but no stretch of tarmac ever feels long enough and it is soon time to put the carbon ceramic stoppers to the test (or risk upsetting the instructor next to you).
There was no time to fathom the various settings in any great depth so we pressed the M2 custom button for our second set of laps, which turns off even more electrical trickery but maintains four-wheel drive. At this point our exit speeds improved and the whole car felt considerably more eager. The M5 began to wake up and was noticeably more engaging, especially with the heavier steering setting providing a more intuitive feel.
No doubt going rear-wheel drive will provide the hooliganism expected from the M5, but a combination of pace and tautness makes it a blast to drive without burning rubber. Unlike the M6, the M5 has enough dynamic ability to keep up with some lighter sports cars.
Braking to the point we saw the ABS of the car in front working away brings the M5 back to earthly speeds sharpish, with a nice progressive amount of travel on the pedal that makes precision braking easy. But even with the aforementioned optional 23kg carbon ceramics (£7,745, no joke), indicated by gold brake calipers, the M5’s weight is most noticeable when slowing down.
2018 BMW M5: Some final thoughts
Quite honestly, the breadth of capability of the M5 is something else. Slow and sedate one second, shredding tyres and going very sideways the next – there is little it cannot do convincingly. We need not have worried we had another rather soulless M4 on our hands.
Your average M5 will, of course, spend its life leaving behind fellow motorists at the traffic lights and cruising to and from the office with composure and refinement befitting its lofty price tag. But it was pleasing to see a day out at the track was largely flattering. Its true home is the road, preferably long stretches and without anyone in the way, but Angelsey proved no match either.
The BMW M5 starts from £89,640 and is available to buy now.