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BMW M5. (BMW)
BMW M5. (BMW)

2012 BMW M5

BMW’s pricey M5 is fast money Add to ...

You are right to think that $101,500 is a pile of money for any car. And when that $101,500 car – all 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds of it – is stuffed with another $12,000 in options, then we gasp and ask, is it worth it?

Worth is relative. In our capitalist world, something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. That doesn’t stop car companies from spinning the case for their wares, though.

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So to the 2012 BMW M5. If we step back and simply compare it to the last M5, then you might be convinced of its relative worth. Point one: the last M5 stickered at $106,900 and its V-10 powerplant spun up only 500 horsepower and a mediocre 383 lb-ft of torque.

Pitiful, really; I weep for those who shelled out so much for such an under-performer. Under-performer? Well, this 2012 M5 may have downsized to a V-8, but horsepower is up to a staggering 560. That’s only a third of the story under the hood, though.

Torque, which is what really makes your head snap when you goose the throttle, is up to – read this carefully – 500 lb-ft! Yes, it is all there almost from the moment you push for it. The turbocharged power just comes on a creamy, endless way as you roar up to 200 km/h in, what, 13 seconds.

This is what it’s like to drive a Formula One car and I say this with conviction because I have, indeed, driven an F1 car – an Arrows from the Damon Hill era, if you must know. In Valencia. On the track. And yes, I stalled it the first time I tried to roar from the starting line. Fortunately, it was just a test drive, not a race. Once I got going though …

But back to the M5, this 2012 version. I mentioned that horsepower and torque tell only two-thirds of the story. “While engine output has increased by over 10 per cent, and maximum torque is up by more than 30 per cent,” says BMW, “the new M5 consumes over 30 per cent less fuel to provide over 50 per cent more range than its predecessor.”

The official numbers are 13.2 litres/100 in the city, 8.6 on the highway, of course using premium fuel – versus 19.9 city/11.8 highway in the last M5. So the latest M5 is faster, thriftier and less dear than the old one. Again, sorry if you got suckered into buying that last M5. Seemed good at the time, right?

I mean, BMW brags about the V-8 here, with its “lofty performance” from “the most powerful engine ever fitted in a series-produced model from BMW M GmbH.” (They’re selling this thing, you know.) The transmission, meanwhile, is this slick, shockingly smooth and reactive “high-torque seven-speed M-Double Clutch (M-DCT) transmission.” The M5 also has an “active” differential to push all the power to the rears in the quickest, most efficient way possible.

I could live without the “stop-start” feature that shuts down the engine when you aren’t moving, at least until the battery runs dry. Frankly, all this stopping and starting in city driving is a nuisance. It reduces fuel usage 5 to 7 per cent, we’re told, but in a 560-hp thoroughbred of a car, it seems silly.

BMW’s point is that the M5 is not your city car, anyway. It’s a street-legal racer loaded with luxury and comfort features. I suppose if you’re fighting gridlock, you might as well drive a Nissan Leaf electric car, or some such thing.

But take this delicious Bimmer out where you can stretch its legs and you’ll find all of it is just so shockingly composed. The electronically controlled dampers manage motions and roll, squat and dive in a stunningly professional way. If you’re a good driver, the M5 makes you great. If you’re mediocre, you’ll feel professional. You hacks will feel at least competent.

The car looks good, too. The shapes, the balance, the proportions seem right, but when you spot this car, take note of the little design cues. Start at dusk. Hit the key fob and little puddle lights illuminate the door handles. The car glows. The overall shape is aerodynamic in the extreme, too. BMW says what you see wasn’t simply refined in some wind tunnel, but “on the Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring.”

Inside, well, it’s functional and racy, rather than gorgeous. The sport seats cuddle you, the leather steering wheel fits into your hands perfectly, the M-specific instrument cluster and centre console deliver loads of information and make controlling the many gizmos relatively easy. I am learning to live with iDrive after a decade of trying. You keeners can dial a performance setup depending on your mood and ability: “Efficient,” “Sport” and “Sport Plus.”

So yes, this Bimmer is dear, but not as much as the last M5 – and it’s a superior work of engineering, by far.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 BMW M5

Type: High-performance sedan

Base price: $101,500 ($885 freight)

Engine: 4.4-litre V-8, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 560 hp/500 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed auto-shift transmission

Drive: Rear-wheel

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

Alternatives: Audi S6, Jaguar XFR, Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Porsche Panamera Turbo

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