2018 BMW M5 First Drive | Edmunds

2018 BMW M5 First Drive

A Dynamic Return to Form


BMW's group of engineers and designers at its sub-brand M have always aimed to make special cars. They do this by enhancing design, power and dynamics without sacrificing daily usability and long-range cruising comfort. And there's no better car than the 2018 BMW M5 to represent the poster child for what the engineers and designers at M are trying to do.

Changes for the Better
Compared to a standard 2018 5 Series sedan such as our long-term 2018 BMW 540i xDrive, this sixth generation of the BMW M5 has a similar look, but just about every performance metric has been enhanced. For starters, there's the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine, producing a whopping 600 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. This is matched up with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, which together represent a subject of some controversy in the world of driving enthusiasts.

2018 BMW M5

The 2018 BMW M5's interior is familiar to anyone who has experience with modern BMWs, and it features the same infotainment system as in the standard 2018 5 Series as well as upgraded leather upholstery. As you might expect, there are M badges just about everywhere. The sport seats have M badging, and the shift lever prominently displays an M badge. The steering wheel is stitched in the M colors of blue and red, and it features two red M buttons — naturally labeled M1 and M2 — that select preset drive modes. M-specific multifunction front seats are available as an option, and they feature even more aggressive bolsters and an integrated head restraint. The rear seats feature similar graphics as the front seats while retaining their 60/40-split fold-down capability for additional trunk storage. Even the seat belts remind you that you're not in just any old 5 Series since they have stitching in blue and red. And, finally, the driver enjoys a larger, more colorful, M5-specific head-up instrument display with modes that are optimized for navigation or track-driving duty.

Adjust the Power
The interior changes for the new 2018 BMW M5 have been met with satisfaction by M enthusiasts, but the new powertrain has caused an uproar. When it was announced that the 2018 M5 would feature a turbocharged engine, automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, many M-badge enthusiasts decried the news. The M5 has traditionally been a rear-wheel-drive platform, and a manual transmission has always been part of the U.S. version of the car, including the most recent 2011-2016 M5 F10 package. You see, a lot of BMW enthusiasts take the M badge's historic link to motorsport very seriously (perhaps too seriously), so they want to drive a sedan that seems ready for fast driving on a track, even if it's just a fantasy. But after driving the 2018 M5 car around Portugal's twisty Estoril circuit, a former Formula 1 track, we can confidently say that the groans of concern should be cast aside for smiles of fun. The 2018 BMW M5 is the most powerful and dynamic M5 to date.

As is traditional for recent BMW sport sedans, drivers can adjust the throttle map in three steps to complement their intentions, ranging from efficient through aggressive and finally to raucous. This throttle mapping adjusts the responsiveness and magnitude of the way the engine delivers its power when you plant your foot on the big right pedal. Meanwhile, the eight-speed automatic transmission also has three settings, and a push of the button on the top of the shift lever modulates shift action from buttery smooth through mildly aggressive to raucous. Once you set everything to Sport Plus mode, BMW reports the 2018 M5 can get from zero to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds.

Choose 4WD or 2WD
The 2018 M5's theme of wide-ranging adjustability even extends to the all-wheel-drive system. In everyday driving, the M5 relies on its clutch-based all-wheel-drive system for safety reasons. When the car's sensors detect that rear-wheel traction is reduced, a clutch pack located at the output end of the transmission closes up and sends power to the front axle, stabilizing the car and helping it avoid trouble. But once you press the button that adjusts the electronic stability control, you can give the 2018 M5's all-wheel-drive system a different agenda. A long press on the button brings you to a screen on the information display where you can then select 4WD Sport. This mode delays and softens the intervention by the stability control and the engagement of the driving force to the front wheels. And this means more sideways fun for you. Thanks to the engine's immense torque, it's easy to kick the rear end of the car sideways with throttle input and get a nice slide going, and you know that the front wheels will engage and straighten out the car at the crucial moment. Even so, all-wheel drive in this driving mode isn't a safety net, so drivers will have to keep their wits about them.

If the circumstances are right, you can fully disable both the stability control and the drive to the front wheels, and then you'll be in the pure rear-wheel-drive mode that BMW M5 fanatics like to talk about so much. But be forewarned: You'll need an excellent rear tire budget for that!

2018 BMW M5

How's It Handling Today?
With all the talk about the 2018 M5's powertrain and all-wheel drive, many drivers overlook the new car's adjustable suspension and steering. And yet this is half of what makes the new M5 so special. Where the previous M5 F10 lacked the hard edge that made M cars unique, this one has it. Once again, adjustability is the key, and the suspension and steering can be independently adjusted to three positions. There's Comfort, although you might find the ride harsh on highway expansion joints or broken-up downtown streets. At the other end of the spectrum, the stiffest setting is very racy, and it proves just right on a smooth racetrack since it aggressively counters any side-to-side body roll during cornering or fore-and-aft pitch changes during braking. The effect of changing the steering effort to its heaviest, raciest mode is most noticeable just as you turn into a corner. The all-important steering feedback from the front tires is generally good from this electrically assisted system, and there's adequate feel when the steering is on center.

With its myriad of adjustable performance items — powertrain, throttle, transmission, 2WD/4WD, suspension dampers, and steering — the 2018 BMW M5 makes the task of navigating through all the modes relatively easy since you can configure the cars in two different ways and assign those profiles to the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel. This means you don't have to fumble with the buttons next to the shift lever while setting up the car for different driving conditions. Press the relevant M button to select its memory setting, then press the button again to return to the full Comfort mode.

There has been some talk that the M550i xDrive might be the poor man's M5. Indeed, this car is far less pricey than the 2018 BMW M5, which carries an MSRP that starts at $102,600 thanks to its exhaustive list of standard equipment. At the same time, the M5 proves far more aggressive and harsh in daily driving, perhaps because of its wheel and tire package. If you're unlikely to venture on the other side of the pit wall at a racetrack with your $100K BMW, and you don't look forward to messing around with acronyms such as DSC and MDM, we think you might be happier with the 2018 BMW 550i, which offers its own twin-turbo V8 with its 456 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, not to mention a more street-friendly suspension calibration.

For all this, we're content to acknowledge that there's a real M5 inside the 2018 BMW M5, only you have to be willing to sort through multiple information screens about adjustability to find it. To celebrate the launch of the 2018 M5, BMW has produced a limited run in Frozen Dark Red Metallic, a kind of matte raspberry hue, but sadly these cars are sold-out. Nevertheless, regular production of the new M5 has begun, with deliveries to dealers taking place toward the end of March.

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