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Published: 10/04/2012 - by Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor
Underwhelming. The 2013 BMW M5 is underwhelming.
We're shocked. No, we're disappointed. Is this really an M5 we don't love? An M5 we wouldn't sell our kids in order to buy? An M5 we don't just want to drive all day to go nowhere?
It is. It absolutely is.
Honestly, we never thought this day would come. We never thought there'd ever be an M5 we wouldn't kill to own. But here we are, behind the wheel of the all-new turbocharged 560-horsepower M5, undeniably one of the world's fastest and most capable sedans, and we are underwhelmed.
It's All About the Engine
Part of the problem is the BMW's new turbocharged engine.
The heart of the new fifth-generation M5 is a direct-injected 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 borrowed from the X5 M and X6 M. Reworked pieces for M5 duty include new cylinder heads, pistons, revised twin-scroll turbos and intercoolers. The compression ratio has been upped to 10.0:1, and it boasts the first use of Valvetronic variable valve control on an M engine.
Despite the fact that every M5 buyer will be forking over a gas-guzzler tax before they drive off the dealer lot, BMW even has the misguided guts to mention EfficientDynamics in the M5's press kit. For the record, fuel economy has increased from 11 city/17 highway/13 combined mpg to 15 city/22 highway/17 mpg combined. We averaged 15.1 mpg.
BMW also claims serious power numbers for the M5: 560 horsepower at 6,000-7,000 rpm, along with 500 pound-feet of torque spread from 1,500-5,750. And those claims proved believable during our dyno test. Torque measured at the wheels came on strong at 2,500 rpm and reached its maximum 475 lb-ft at 5,150 rpm.
This is apparent out in the real world, where the M5 is fairly gutless below 3,000 rpm. Once past three grand, however, with twin turbos a-spinnin', the V8 revs like a turbine to its 7,200-rpm redline and begins to make power as if it's been lit with a fuse. On the dyno, power peaked at 514 hp at 6,250 rpm.
Sounds of Change
Once those turbos really start to make boost, the V8 doesn't only come alive, it also begins to sound right. Below 3,000 rpm the V8's off-kilter note sounds more like a flat-4 with a mild aftermarket exhaust than a throaty V8. That's not to say it sounds bad. Just different.
Above 3,000 rpm, however, it's an aural sensation. Throaty with the most badass exhaust cracks this side of a Ferrari on full-throttle upshifts. And the sounds are real. There's real rumble from the exhaust. And real cracks on the upshifts. Watch the video of us track testing the car and you'll hear them.
The problem is inside the car. The M5 is sealed so tight, it coddles you in isolation as if it's some boring luxo barge. Keep the M5's windows up, even during a full-throttle quarter-mile pass, and the engine's actual voice is unable to penetrate the sedan's interior.
To solve this, BMW has decided to pipe artificial engine sounds inside the M5 through the speakers of the sedan's audio system. The company calls this Active Sound Design (ASD) and it allows it to make any engine sound any way they want it to. In other words, BMW is saying, "Trust us; your 1.5-liter diesel really does sound like a big-block Chevy."
Yes, it's as lame as it...well...sounds, and yes there's something dishonest about it, but it does work. Honestly, if you didn't know the system was in place you'd never know it was doing its thing. And for you purists out there, ASD can be disabled with a simple fuse pull and the M5's windows will still go down.
Paddle Shift or Manual — You Choose
With the 2013 BMW M5 it's your choice of dual-clutch paddle-shift gearbox (M DCT) or the six-speed manual, as in our test car — no extra charge for either. With all that power on tap, launching the M5 without time-sucking wheelspin isn't easy, but once full traction is achieved, hold on, 'cause this thing is ready to run. Although you can jam the shifter home between the gates with utter impunity and never miss a gear, the throws are long and rather notchy.
Gearbox gripes aside, 60 mph goes by in a blink at just 4.5 seconds (4.3 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like at a drag strip), with the quarter-mile hurtling by in 12.5 seconds at 115.0 mph. That's smoking fast. For reference, that's 0.3 second quicker to 60 than the old V10-powered M5 mated to the SMG paddle-shift system, and 0.1 second quicker than a manual-equipped Cadillac CTS-V.
Figure on the M DCT M5 being several tenths quicker still, but without the man/machine symbiosis that only comes with a proper three-pedal setup.
Like the Nissan 370Z, the M5 manual blips the throttle for you on downshifts when the mapping is set to either Efficient or Sport — you're on your own in Sport Plus. And in a blow to fragile drivers' egos everywhere, the system perfectly picks the exact amount of throttle blippage.
Trouble With the Curves
Question: What happens to the driving dynamics of one of the most revered sport sedans when you add 249 pounds to its curb weight?
Answer: It requires a lot of engineering to keep it representative of the M brand.
In truth, BMW did a damn fine job here, thanks in no small part to the car's three-mode electronically controlled damper system, which allows the M5 to be hustled around a track or back road with surprising speed and ability. Ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, 265/35ZR20 up front and 295/30ZR20 rear don't exactly hurt its cause, along with three-mode hydraulic steering that gives ample feedback through the thick-rimmed M steering wheel.
But despite the right ingredients, the end result left an odd taste in our mouths. The front end can feel ponderous, and understeer is way too prevalent for an M car. At our test track, its average slalom speed of 68.9 mph is nothing to sneer at, but it's no better than the last M5 and a few mph slower than the CTS-V, which posted a 71.1-mph run.
The two more aggressive steering settings — Sport and Sport Plus — simply make the steering heavier, not better, and thus changing directions quickly requires more effort. "Drives small," the new M5 does not.
While transitional response hasn't improved, overall grip has, the M5 generating 0.93g around the skid pad versus the previous car's 0.88g and the Caddy's 0.92. Telling, though, was the way the M5 massively rolled over on its outside front tire, despite the suspension being set to its stiffest mode.
Even if the 2013 BMW M5 is no longer pinpoint precise, it's still forgiving at the limit. In spite of the sedan's new veil of isolation, the M5 works with you rather than against. Whether you're drifting it around a track or ripping down a sinewy back road, getting it very wrong and backing this sedan off the road would be difficult.
And as a daily commuter, the Comfort suspension setting should be plush enough for most on the highway and around town, although we certainly wouldn't label it as cushy.
BMW scrapped the M5's sliding caliper front brakes for a set of six-piston fixed calipers clamping down on 15.7-inch rotors at the front and 15.6-inch rotors at the rear (still with sliding calipers).
They do an admirable job of hauling down the M5's sizable mass, with a best stop of 111 feet from 60 mph. If we're quibbling, that's a foot longer than the last M5, and the new M5's distances were rather erratic, the worst stop a lengthy 117 feet. But pedal feel is superbly firm.
Stealthy, Inside and Out
The cabin is typical upmarket BMW, meaning fairly bland stylingwise but incredibly well made. The front sport seats are surprisingly wide, yet still offer appropriate lateral support and such a high level of comfort that you never even think about whether they're comfortable or not.
Our test car was loaded and expensive. Just about every luxury and safety feature you can imagine had been thrown into the well-crafted cabin, including soft-close automatic doors, a power trunk and a power rear sunshade, all part of the $5,500 Executive package.
All in, this a six-figure car. With options our test car went out the door at $107,695. The 2013 BMW M5 starts at $91,795, including $895 destination and a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. That's just a grand more than the base price of a 2013 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG but it's an incredible $26,000 more than a 556-hp 2013 Cadillac CTS-V.
Where's the Thrill?
Most likely this new kindler, gentler and yes, more boring version of the M5 will appeal to more people. And no doubt that's BMW's plan. The new recipe cranks up the luxury/tech/power/speed but keeps the flair and the mechanicalness low. It's all Dr. Jekyll and no Mr. Hyde.
If this were an M7 not an M5, no doubt we'd be telling you this is the world's greatest 7 Series — which is exactly what it feels like. But while the new M5 might not be the ultra-precise weapon we had envisioned, it's still a super capable, ultra-fast machine with exotic-car thrust in the upper revs. And it's perfectly comfortable and subtle for everyday use.
But it basically comes down to this: Somehow the white coats in Munich made the 2013 BMW M5 more powerful and quicker and they've given it more grip, but they forgot something — the emotion. Where's the excitement? Where's the visceral thrill? Where's the M5's sinister evil twin?
Oh, that's right, it's down the street at the Cadillac dealer. It's called the CTS-V.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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