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2005 BMW M5 Performance Sedan

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Story by Tony Whitney

There is, perhaps, no more respected logo in the world of high-performance road cars than the stylized “M” with its tri-coloured stripes that graces tuned and modified versions of BMW automobiles. The M comes from the Bavarian automaker’s Motorsport Division, which pioneered these remarkable machines with its 1978 M1 and continues to create vehicles that are a benchmark for rivals anxious for a share of the market for luxury cars with race-track performance. They compete in a very exotic automotive segment populated by specially-labeled performance products from such competitors as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar.

The latest BMW in this genre is the 2006 M5, which is based on the already superb 5-Series sedan. I travelled to BMW’s home state of Bavaria to drive the new car and bring home some first-hand impressions for brian jessel Magazine, joining a small group of media people who were among the first journalists in the world to drive it. It’s no surprise that this is the most impressive M-car yet and slips easily into place as BMW’s performance flagship. For starters, it uses a 5-litre V-10 engine developing a stirring 500 horsepower.

V-10 power-plants are rare birds outside of Formula One and to find one in a production car, you’ll have to lift the hood of a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Dodge Viper. The mighty power unit in the M5 is redlined at no less than 8,250 rpm and BMW points out that it’s the very first high-revving V-10 in a production car. The car will zip to 100 km/h in less than five seconds and will top 200 km/h in 15 seconds—remarkable for a four-door sedan with lots of room for passengers and their luggage.

In Germany I was able to try the M5 on a Luftwaffe air base taxiway some three kilometres long where top speeds approaching 270 km/h were recorded. According to BMW, top speed will be governed to 250 km/h on production cars, but that shouldn’t worry drivers on this side of

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the pond, as tempting as the Coquihalla Highway may be at dawn on a quiet day. Perhaps even more important is the fact that the huge ABS ventilated disc brakes will haul the car down to a stop from 100 km/h in less than 36 metres. On Germany’s unlimited-speed autobahns, where speed must often be scrubbed off quickly to allow for slower cars overtaking one another, these brakes are a confidence-booster. At speeds of well over 200 km/h the driver has a supremely safe feeling and the car boasts amazing stability, even under heavy braking.

At BMW, safety has always been intensively developed alongside sheer performance. The only gearbox you can get is a 7-speed SMG unit, which either shifts semi-manually using steering wheel-mounted F1-style paddles or uses a fully automatic mode. The car can be driven like any other automatic transmission-equipped car but BMW assumes, probably rightly, that buyers are going to be using the paddles most of the time. Certainly, they provide very rapid shifts that simply can’t be matched by any manual transmission—and BMW builds some of the very best there are. The SMG gearbox operates in conjunction with the car’s electronic safety systems (which are extensive), preventing loss of control during sudden shifts in wet or icy weather.

There’s even a launch control system for especially rapid starts, something I was able to try at the air base. Interestingly, the car is normally operated with “only” 400 horsepower on tap and the other 107 can be brought into play with a “power button” on the shift lever cover. The idea is that 400 hp is more than enough around town and on busy byways. BMW wants its new M5 to be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” so the car is basically similar in appearance to its 5-Series stablemate.

There are some subtle aerodynamic touches and the wheels and tires are huge (18-inch by 8 1/2 at the front and 9 1/2 at the rear), but don’t look for spoilers, over sized air dams or other “boy racer” add-ons. Perhaps even more impressive than this car’s whopping horsepower rating is its handling. BMW has engineered this to perfection and the ride is firm, yet very comfortable. While the smaller M3 model sacrifices a little comfort for out-and-out handling, the M5 provides the best of both worlds. Cruising briskly along country roads, it’s easy to believe you’re driving a larger 7-Series car with very high levels of refinement and luxury.

There are three selectable suspension modes using a system BMW calls EDC or Electronic Damper Control. EDC allows the driver to select comfort, normal or sport, according to his or her wishes for a particular drive. The cockpit is up to BMW’s very high standards with comfortable, supportive seating, well-planned instrumentation and a steering wheel of perfect diameter and thickness. There’s a head-up display system which takes care of everything from basic speeds and rpm to navigation system instructions.

I must admit to liking head-up displays, which make it easier to keep an eye on what’s going on without being distracted from the road, an important factor at 200 km/h. The M5 uses a modified version of BMW’s iDrive computerized control system for all functions from audio and climate control to navigation. This system was very thoughtfully developed by BMW

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The new M5, the most powerful carin BMW’s lineup, is truly something special and should appeal to those who appreciate the ultimate in sports sedans and are prepared to pay for the best.

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