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2012 BMW M5 (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)
2012 BMW M5 (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)

Road test

BMW M5: A wolf in sheep’s clothing Add to ...

Driving BMW’s latest M5 sedan is like walking around with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stuffed down the leg of your bespoke Armani suit.

It’s ever so tastefully stylish, and cleverly cut so that it barely hints at the firepower you’ve got tucked away, and it feels silky smooth when you’re in motion. But always in the back of your mind is the thought that if I point this thing and pull the trigger, all hell is going to break loose.

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And it most assuredly will. With all the electronic “safeties” clicked off and the myriad performance-enhancing “buttons” in their locked and loaded positions, when you punch the pedal, you trigger a rocket-like rush. This four-door Teutonic two-tonnner, that can hold a pair of baby seats into the back seat and a couple of golf bags in the trunk, accelerates to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds.

That’s about half a dozen resting rate heart beats, but be assured it gets your pulse accelerating at a rev-matching rate. And if this were to make you feel giddy enough to keep counting for a just a couple of seconds more, you’d reach velocities that might see you standing sheepishly before a seriously unhappy judge, trying to explain that being intoxicated by this level of performance isn’t really your fault. That the blame really lies with that power-mad bunch seated around the highly polished vorstandstich in the combustion chamber of BMW’s four-cylinder Munich headquarters.

If ever there was a vehicle in which the words “Imbibe Responsibly” should appear on the dashboard information screen every time you fire it up and require you to press the “I Agree” icon before putting it in gear, this is it.

And it’s not just its sheer acceleration capability. Despite its mass, the M5’s steering, suspension, tires and brakes allow it to operate at an other-worldly level beyond the ken of driver’s accustomed to merely mortal (to anthropomorphise) machinery.

The 265/35ZR20 front and 295/30ZR20 rear sports tires are as tenacious as Velcro and brake away as reluctantly. The front brake discs are flying-saucer-sized drilled monsters 400 mm in diameter clamped by six-pot calipers, the rears are only slight less, and between them produce prodigious stopping power.

This fifth generation of BMW’s mighty M5 arrived recently in Canada as a 2012 model priced at $101,500, a goodly chunk cheaper than the previous model. The 2013 versions will be essentially identical apart from the availability of ceramic brakes, and a more capable 3D nav system and improved connectivity features; dictation for e-mail messages, high speed internet access, smart phone integration and up-functioned iDrive controller.

Since the first M5 appeared in 1985 – to lay claim to fastest sedan in the world honours – these super sedans have delivered astonishing levels of performance along with the amenities and practicality of a mid-size luxury car.

The previous-generation M5 had two extra cylinders and an extra 600c c of displacement, which generated 500 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, while this new one displaces just 4.4-litres distributed among eight cylinders. But they share twin turbochargers, which twist the dynamometer’s needles to output readings of 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, the latter available from a just 1,500 rpm. That’s enough to make the larger and heavier new V-8 one quicker than the V-10-engined old one.

A seven-speed double-clutch gearbox, that shifts automatically or manually with the gear lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddles, sends drive to the rear wheels. Doing so not as seamlessly perhaps as a pure automatic, but with a delightful “boomp” from the exhaust to punctuate each shift, even when you’re idling around town. You’ll be doing a lot of that thanks to all that torque, which lets the engine loaf at not much over a thousand rpm in second or third at little over a brisk walking speed. A more imprudent approach will see you elevating the city fuel rating of 13.2 litres/100 km rapidly up into four-by-four Hemi-powered Dodge Ram pickup territory.

If you drive with a light foot at the 80-km/h limit on a flat stretch of country road you can get close to the 8.6 litres/100 km highway rating but up the pace to four-lane highway speeds and the number rises to a pretty reasonable 9.4 litres/100 km or so, in the ballpark with a number of compact crossovers. Not awful, given the power on tap.

The test M5 wasn’t quite as understated as a grey silk business suit in its bright Monte Carlo Blue on the outside, set off by 20-inch alloys that expose those huge and purposeful brake discs and calipers – a statement to those in the know.

The inside was fully trimmed in $4,500 worth of light grey Silverstone Merino leather set off by fine-mesh metallic trim. It looks stunning. The active sports seats are superbly comfortable and the rear is set up for two with plenty of foot and headroom. The deep trunk’s capacity is 520 litres. See, told you it was practical.

The standard and optional equipment list on the $115,500 MSRP test unit is too long to reproduce here, but it includes just about everything you can think of from a power trunk release to a head-up display and side sunshades to lane-departure and blind spot warning systems.

A firmly sprung car but one that, thanks to its high-tech suspension, doesn’t beat up those aboard and is loaded to the beltline with luxury features, yet is so astonishingly capable it makes you wonder what they could possibly come up with to top it.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2012 BMW M5

Type: Mid-size luxury sports sedan

Price: $101,500; as tested, $117,495

Engine: 4.4-litre, DOHC, twin-turbo V-8

Horsepower/torque: 560 hp/ 500 lb-ft

Drive: Rear-wheel

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.2 city/8.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Cadillac CTS-V, Infiniti M56 Sport, Jaguar XJF, Audi S6

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