Best of the Best 2012: Sedans: BMW M5

For drivers old enough to have experienced the original M5, BMW holds special significance. That car’s small, trunk-mounted M badge struck terror in the hearts of Porsche and Ferrari owners; the prosaic, pugnacious German sedan redefined the limits of four-door performance. Umpteen iterations later, the M5 remains true to its mission, even as the sports-sedan competition has become fierce, with archrivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz, and category newcomers Porsche, Bentley, and Aston Martin, upping the ante every model year.

 

While some diehards might miss the previous M5s’ V-10, the beefed-up V-8 that powers the new car outperforms its high-strung predecessor. The 4.4-liter twin turbo engine puts out 560 hp, and with 500 ft lbs of torque available from 1,500 rpm, it could enable the M5 to pull stumps when not posting 4.4-second zero-to-60-mph times.

 

The car’s transmission, suspension, traction control, and hydraulic steering all offer multiple settings—from mild to wild. Additionally, the M1 and M2 buttons unleash two distinct active differential settings. All this electronic wizardry might be more technology than purists demand, but it will doubtless entertain technophiles whose idea of good reading is a half-inch-thick owner’s manual. Ultimately, drivers will come to appreciate the ability to tailor the car to their comfort and performance specifications.

 

The excellent 7-speed, dual-clutch automated manual is standard, but a 6-speed manual is available at no cost and in deference to the sporting character of the M series and the pleas of those few holdouts who insist on shifting the old-fashioned way.

 

Compared with other German performance sedans, the $91,000 M5 is a wild-looking beast, with fat fender flares and edgy, scalloped details front and rear. An interior with all the warmth of an operating room preserves a BMW tradition. The company’s other tradition, of course, is building what it calls the "ultimate driving machine." The new M5 certainly is that.

 

BMW, www.bmwusa.com

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