Some M Car aficionados will declare the 2018 BMW M5 an abomination because it utilses an all-wheel drive configuration for the first time in the illustrious Bavarian super sedan's history. However, they should try out the new M xDrive system themselves before making a hasty judgement, as our drive in a prototype version reveals that it makes the new M5 a better and still more enjoyable sports saloon to drive than ever before.
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 250 kph (limited)
0-100 kph: "less than 3.5 seconds"
Power: 462 kW at 6 200 rpm (estimated)
Torque: 750 Nm from 1 900 rpm (estimated)
By Shane O' Donahue
This is our first taste of the 2018 BMW M5, and the big news is that it'll feature four-wheel drive for the first time in the nameplate's now 6-generation history. BMW calls it M xDrive and it has a lot of promise... the mechanical bits include an updated Active M Differential at the back that can apportion output to the rear wheels in any split whatsoever; a transfer case in the middle that uses an electromechanically activated multi-plate clutch to divide torque between the front and rear axles (again to any percentage whatsoever, from fully front-wheel drive to completely rear-wheel drive); and the use of a new development of the company's 8-speed automatic transmission in place of the old dual-clutch M DCT.
Controlling all that is a new in-house programmed brain, which also works with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system. The target is a real M car driving experience, but with a much wider breadth of capability, especially when it comes to less than perfect weather.
The new M5 has a completely adjustable drivetrain. You choose where you want the drive to go via the iDrive selector.
By default, the DSC system is on and M xDrive is simply in "4WD" mode. Pressing the DSC button briefly activates M Dynamic Mode (MDM) and 4WD Sport for the xDrive, while the driver can choose between those 2 xDrive settings and full-on 2WD if they hold down the DSC button long enough to disable it completely.
Under the bonnet is an updated version of the previous M5's twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, which BMW is staying tight-lipped about, suggesting it's only a little more powerful than before, if a lot torquier. We're estimating 460 kW and 750 Nm, though with a claimed 0-100 kph time of "less than 3.5 seconds", that latter figure might turn out to be a little pessimistic.
After all, the new M5 is only a smidgen lighter than the old one (the xDrive hardware adds weight, while the carbon roof and new G30 body take it away again) so even with all-wheel drive we think it'd need a good deal more torque to achieve that off-the-line acceleration.
Most of the interior of the prototype model is covered, expect the old DCT gearknob to look a little different this time around.
The interior of the prototype was covered up for the most part, but the usual M trinkets are present and correct, including a lovely new steering wheel with repositioned M1 and M2 buttons, gorgeous bucket seats trimmed in leather and a chunky new gear selector with the Drivelogic toggle switch built in. The instruments have been restyled too and the centre console is a little different to that of the regular 5 Series.
We're going to focus mostly on the xDrive system here, as details about the rest of the car are scant and we only tested the M5 on track. First up was a few laps of a high-speed circuit on a damp, but slowly drying track, following a BMW M4 GTS driven by none other than Timo Glock, one of BMW's works DTM race drivers. He wasn't hanging about, but the M5 made it relatively easy to hang on to his tail thanks to the lusty V8 of course, but also the traction afforded by the chassis.
DSC intervenes subtly
In 4WD mode with the DSC turned on, progress is swift and effortless, and very safe. The DSC kicks in early, reacting quickly to changes in grip level, though it's so smooth that the only tell-tale is the orange light flickering in the dashboard. This set-up will be great for everyday use in all conditions on the road.
Keeping up with ex F1 driver Timo Glock in an M4 GTS was easier than expected with the huge torque delivery of the M5.
Moving into the MDM and 4WD Sport setting, the M5 feels much more like you'd expect a car bearing that hallowed badge would. More power is sent to the rear axle by default and it undoubtedly feels like a rear-wheel-drive car to start with. Only when you considerably exceed the grip levels of the rear tyres do you detect a smooth transition of torque to the front axle, but you need to be trying pretty hard to get to that stage, and the DSC system allows a gratifying amount of slip too, which is enough to get a bit of a thrill from the car without relying completely on your own skill level. This is the setting keener drivers are likely to use most of the time, even on the public road.
Huge amounts of traction and grip
We'd expect only the more experienced drivers to turn off the DSC completely, but it can be done without any fear, as our test on a soaking wet handling circuit revealed. There are huge amounts of traction and grip and the new M5 really does telegraph its limits remarkably well, whether the surface underneath is wet or dry. In 4WD mode, it still grips and behaves relatively neutrally. Indeed, if you want to slide it about in this setting then you really have to provoke it.
The 4WD Sport mode is rather different, as the car can easily be coaxed into a controllable, yet lurid-looking, power slide at will. It's huge fun in the right conditions and it's possible to push things very far and still recover the slide. That's probably partly to do with the new electrically assisted power steering system, which is more direct than before, but also, reckons BMW M's engineers, the revised Active M Differential. Whatever they've done, it's simply brilliant...
Even in the wet the M5 wasn't much of a handful. We look forward to a drive on regular roads to see how easy it really is to drive.
And the controllability of the base chassis is underlined when you switch it into 2WD mode and tackle the same piece of track at the same speed. Sure, it goes more sideways quicker if you want it to and you need to be ready with the opposite lock sooner, but it's still relatively friendly to drive fast in wet conditions.
Now, we have not yet driven the new BMW M5 on the public road, we don't yet know all its technical specifications and it may turn out quite expensive, but one thing we can categorically state is that the new M xDrive four-wheel-drive system enhances the driving experience no end, potentially helping the M division create the... best... M5... yet.
Watch the BMW M division's promotional video for the 2018 M5 Prototype: