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2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

Kinder and gentler—But still a beast.

Les Bidrawn
Jan 17, 2012
Epcp 1202 01 o+2012 bmw m5+front Photo 1/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

Knott’s Berry Farm started as a family restaurant and morphed into a sizable theme park, complete with Wild West shows, roller coasters and assorted “spin and hurl” rides. My college girlfriend was the lead operator on an attraction that would send its screaming passengers to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, terminating with a 90-degree incline that briefly headed skyward until coasting back to the start. Although the entire sequence took 20 seconds, folks would wait half an hour under the hot SoCal sun to become the equivalent of human slingshot ammo.

Fast-forward 20 years and I’m seated in a machine capable of breaching 60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds. Better yet, I’m doing it in air-conditioned comfort in a ride lasting for hours. Oh, and I can turn too.

2019 BMW M5
$102,700 Base Model (MSRP) MPG Fuel Economy

Welcome to the new M5, Munich’s latest thrill ride.

Epcp 1202 06 o+2012 bmw m5+rear Photo 2/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

BMW’s M5 has always been the benchmark for midsize sport sedans. Spawned in the hot rod garages of M-Technik, its engineers pulled every ounce of performance from its normally aspirated powerplants. Unlike Audi, BMW believed force-feeding an engine was something of a last resort. BMW didn’t need to rely on such blunt little tools for its M line.

Being a tuner-friendly mag and all, we noticed that the majority of tuned BMWs began with an M car, the thought being it was better to start with the best and build from there. Uprated brakes, tighter suspension, sporty cabins—in essence, the M cars were pre-tuned. Over the last 20 years we’ve featured more than a few turbocharged and supercharged M cars that developed significantly more power and performance than their factory brethren. Tuners like Dinan, Alpina, Active Autowerke, VF Engineering, G-Power and quite a few others have been force-feeding BMW M cars for decades with proven results.

Epcp 1202 02 o+2012 bmw m5+front Photo 3/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

BMW has decided it’s time to use some of the same mojo.

Although purists might take issue with BMW’s use of forced induction, there’s no doubt this is the finest, most refined M5 ever. While its previous V10 iteration was memorable, it was also on the edge of civility. Yes, it was a fun ride, but sometimes you just want to drive a car rather than tame it.

On the street, the new M5 is the embodiment of smoothness, the type of ride that brings an unconscious smile. BMW has done great things in the suspension department, instilling the chassis with a superb blend of firmness and comfort. The M5 features a simplified damper control system allowing the choice of three, easy-to-dial settings. At its softest, the M5 simply floats over nasty tarmac while the most aggressive treats drivers to near race car-like stiffness. Right in the middle is where the M5 feels best, communicating its movements with near telepathic feedback.

The transmission borders on sentience as well. There are no less than six settings for the new M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, ranging from an economy-minded auto mode to a stick-banging manual setup. The M5 features BMW’s brand-new fully active M differential, which utilizes a multitude of sensors around the car that divvy the torque across the rear axle for maximum bite. Unlike the previous SMG transmission, M DCT leaves the M5 with shifts so smooth they are almost unrecognizable. Sure, you can still do the work yourself with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but chances are the M5 will do a better job, especially on the downshifts. The system seems to stay one step ahead of the car’s next move. You’re never wanting for a gear change.

Epcp 1202 07 o+2012 bmw m5+transmission Photo 4/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

The M5 can be programmed with its full array of electronic stability systems on high alert, meaning any misstep is corrected in milliseconds. Or the entire thing can be switched off to play “Johnny Drifter,” a game the M5 does very well. In truth, the new chassis is so well-balanced even moderately skilled drivers can toss it around without its electronic aids… to a point. But tapping into 560 hp is something that demands respect. I did not mind a little “help.” On a moderate slip setting, I found myself rocketing into a high-speed sweeper way too fast. It was an “oh shit” moment—your brain shifts to hyperdrive, computing run-off paths, damage control, airbag deployment, reputation wounds. A thousand little things in a few seconds. And then something wonderful happened. The rear end caught itself and dug in. Rather than flying off the top of the berm, the M5 was actually winding itself through the turn. A bit more throttle and I was in a controlled powerslide. I owe a case of beer to the DTC and ESP programmers. The brake crew deserves a case as well. Despite its 4,123 pounds, the car’s new six-pot fixed calipers appear capable of stopping a battle frigate.

Epcp 1202 05 o+2012 bmw m5+transmission Photo 5/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

The new M5 is ridiculously fast, the type of fast that finds triple digits quicker than it takes to read this sentence. Although we really liked the thrust of the previous V10-powered car, this new M5 will make it a dim memory. It tears away from stoplights with such force simply keeping your head straight is nearly impossible. The car never lacks for breath and will ping the rev limiter with tire-chirping upshifts. Fortunately, the seats are beautifully contoured for high-g activity. Even the rear passengers are treated to significant bolstering. And while the M5 is most definitely a driver’s car, the back seat is a very nice place.

Clad in new, understated aerodynamics, the M5 looks all business. Aesthetic changes include an M3-style front bumper with three sizable air intakes, chrome-rimmed gills set into the front fenders, a small trunk lid spoiler and, of course, those four trademark exhaust pipes.

Epcp 1202 03 o+2012 bmw m5+wheels Photo 6/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

Perhaps the most pressing question is how the new F10-chassis M5 rates to the outgoing E60. We must admit the V10 was a piece of art. Its sound alone was worth the admission price. Moreover, it seems unlikely we will see such grand engine architecture in the future. That said, the E60 M5 is destined to become a trophy car. However, the new M5 and its more powerful twin-turbo V8 is every bit as tractable, and its chassis and brakes are flat-out superior. Unlike its older, higher-strung sibling, the new M5 is more user-friendly, the type of vehicle capable of picking kids up from soccer practice or kicking ass on the racetrack. And there’s no line for the next ride.

Epcp 1202 04 o+2012 bmw m5+center console Photo 7/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

F10 M5 from the inside

Knowing that the M5’s biturbo V8 and its ancillaries would add weight, the engineers at BMW M sought to reduce weight wherever they could in other areas. According to Helmut Gehring, head of suspension engineering: “Lower weight was the main objective when we redesigned the suspension for the new M5.”

Epcp 1202 08 o+2012 bmw m5+side Photo 8/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

If you look very closely at a front suspension strut, you will see the letters AlMgSiCu discretely stamped on its outer casing. Depending on various heat treatment regimes, this combination of Group 1 aluminum alloy comprised of aluminum, magnesium, silicon and copper is frequently used in the aircraft industry because of its low weight, high strength and good corrosion resistance.

The suspension arms and knuckles are made from forged aluminum, making them lighter and stronger than the standard 5 Series equivalents. With so much more power and torque going through the rear axle, the rear floorpan and subframe had to be beefed up. When the engineers were done, the uprated M5 suspension weighed around the same as a standard suspension, which is what they set out to achieve.

The kinematics and elastokinematics are unique to the car, whose ride height is about 20mm (0.8 inch) lower than a 535i. The 52/48 front/rear weight distribution is close to the 50/50 ideal, but the 0.33 drag coefficient is very average these days.

Epcp 1202 09 o+2012 bmw m5+front console Photo 9/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

The new M5 has a lot of systems that add weight just by being there. The Dynamic Damper Control, the Brembo front brakes that use 15.7-inch vented discs with pin-decoupled alloy hubs and six-pot calipers, and the 9x19 and 10x19 alloy wheels and tires, all add up. When all is said and done, the new M5 tips the scales at just over 4,100 pounds.

The active limited-slip differential is similar in design to the M3’s, but is significantly strengthened to handle the M5’s power. It runs as an open diff when not under load, and has a locking range of 0 to 100 percent. Its casing is a combination of a cast-iron top housing, required to absorb the huge forces involved, and a cast-alloy lower housing with integral cooling fins. A gasket compensates for the differential expansion of the two metals used in this hefty 100-pound unit.

The M Differential uses sensors to detect yaw moment, yaw angle, throttle position, differential speeds between the two rear wheels and road speed. The information is fed to the controlling ECU, which compares inputs against its 3D maps, and sends back its response. All this happens within 10 milliseconds, so the car’s reaction to a given situation appears seamless to the driver.

As with the differential, the Getrag-built DCT dual-clutch transmission is similar in design to the M3’s DCT, but features considerably beefed up internals. This is no surprise as the M3’s naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 produces 414 hp at 8300 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm, while the M5’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 makes a whopping 560 hp at 6000 rpm and 501 lb-ft of torque from 1,500. With so much more torque on tap, the ratios in the M5’s seven-speed DCT gearbox have been made much taller. Where the M3’s Seventh gear is a direct 1:1 ratio, that job is left to Fifth gear in the M5, with Sixth and Seventh being over-driven for better highway fuel economy. Another factor is the slightly larger rolling radius of the M5’s tires compared to a stock 535i.

Epcp 1202 11 o+2012 bmw m5+engine Photo 10/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

“The new gearbox has a 700Nm torque capacity,” Gehring explains. “It was a big challenge to strengthen the gearbox while trying to keep the weight roughly the same. It is, in effect, the M3 DCT unit with stronger components throughout.”

The engine is a variation on the 4,395cc TwinPower Turbo V8 first seen in the X5 M and X6 M, but with direct injection and Valvetronic variable valve timing. The new engine also has a revised intake system, bespoke exhaust and larger turbochargers with around 10 percent more flow capacity. “Our target was improved efficiency as well as better economy and emissions,” Jürgen Poggel, head of engine development, says.

“The airbox and intake trumpets are larger, and the diameter of the pipes that bring ram air from the airbox to the turbos were enlarged from 70 to 80mm.

“Valvetronic produces better response. The Double VANOS variable camshaft timing helps low-end torque, but Valvetronic improves cylinder filling and combustion, delivering a smoother transition from low to high engine speeds.

“In the past, you either had swirl or tumble in the combustion chamber, depending on valve lift,” he continues. “With Valvetronic, we can achieve both swirl and tumble at the same time, which gives us an efficiency gain of up to eight percent. In combination with Double VANOS, the gains are up to 12 percent.”

With less backpressure from the new exhaust, direct injection, Valvetronic and larger intercoolers, the M engineers were able to achieve the same power output with lower boost pressure. “We use just 1.9 bar compared to 2.0 bar on the 555-hp X5/6 M version of this engine,” says Jürgen.

Epcp 1202 10 o+2012 bmw m5+front Photo 11/11   |   2012 BMW M5 - First Drive

The engine lubrication system is uprated, with a second oil pump in the front of the oil pan that sucks the life-giving fluid back to the sump when you are braking and cornering hard.

“Initially we considered a dry-sump system,” says Poggel, “but there is no room in the engine bay for a separate oil tank. In any case, we were able to meet our targets with this dual-pump system, which works under 1.3 g of braking and lateral acceleration on a racetrack.” –

2012 BMW M5

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, twin-turbocharged

Seven-speed DCT dual-clutch auto-manual with console shifter and steering wheel- mounted paddles and Sport/Competition modes

Independent multilink front and rear, coil springs, driver-adjustable variable dampers, self-adjusting, front and rear stabilizer bars

Dual-circuit system, six-piston fixed calipers with ventilated steel rotors

Length/Width/Height (in.): 193.3/74.4/57.3
Wheelbase: 116.9 in.
Curb Weight: 4,123 lb

MSRP: $90,000 (est.)

Peak Power: 560 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 501 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 185 mph

By Les Bidrawn
242 Articles



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