If there's any petrol-head who requires an introduction to BMW's famed M-division, it's highly likely that they're not a petrol-head at all. For over 45 years, the letter “M” in the context of German performance cars has meant an undying pursuit of driving thrill, precision performance and a no compromise attitude to engineering. One of their first outings resulted in the iconic M1 in 1978—a mid-engine racer homologated for a race division that went bust before the M1 could unleashed. Their subsequent rebranding into a performance road-car division came in the shape of the E28 M5 in 1985—a four door supercar born out of the unholy marriage of the M1's M88 straight six motor and the chassis and body of the subtle-yet-capable 5 series. 33 years on, I got the chance to take the wheel of the latest G30 series M5 (designated as the F90) on the streets of Singapore.
The original E28 M5 had great figures for its time—286 HP and 340 Nm of torque from a 3.5 litre straight six in 1985 is nothing to scoff at, even today. It was enough to make the E28 the fastest road-legal sedan of its time. Fast forward to present day and the power figures need to see a significant bump to keep the M5 ahead of the curve. Under its bulbous hood lies a true monster, a motor that takes inspiration from nuclear submarines and main-battle tanks in the way it generates forward motion—a 4.4 litre twin turbo V8 with 591 BHP and 750Nm of torque, the latter fully available as low as 1800 RPM.
This is not a car you just strap into and go. Especially for the un-initiated, M cars tend to require a little bit of mental preparation before you take it out. Imagine being asked to put your hand into a jar with a tarantula inside it—you'd have to constantly acknowledge the fact that there's a creepy eight legged thing in very close proximity to your hand. With the belt on and the gear in Drive, my brain kept telling me how this beast of a car has as much power as a Lamborghini or Ferrari from just half a decade ago.
The trick is to feather the throttle. With so much power available, figuring out where the car sits comfortably and where it switches to its feral personality is crucial. From a steady cruise at 20 km/h in light traffic to nearly full throttle when the traffic opens up to an empty stretch of road, the M5 launches with a terrifying growl and you're doing 150 km/h in the blink of an eye. It takes conscious effort to not stab at the throttle any longer than you need to—on public roads, it doesn't take much longer than a couple of seconds for the M5 to reach triple digits. In a country like Singapore, that means hefty fines and possible jail-time. 3.2 seconds to 100 km/h from standstill makes it a difficult car to drive lawfully in these conditions.
BMW has the antidote to that as well—put the Drive Mode in Comfort, tap the down button on top of the shifter to increase the gear ratios using BMW Dynamic Drive and ignore the solid red aluminium shift paddles affixed to the alcantara clad wheel (which gives more feedback than anything else I've ever driven). The M5 is just as sober and diminutive as the regular G30 5-series at low speeds, with a ride that's just a tad harsher thanks to the stiffer suspension.
The All-Wheel Drive helps keep everything in check. Much debated since its launch, the F90 M5 has been targeted by purists for playing it safe and dialling back the drift-friendly characteristics of previous M5s. Most of the power still goes to the rear wheels and you have the option of manually unlinking the front differential to make it RWD, but as the BMW folks tell me later—it'll definitely void the warranty.
The F90 is a grown up, mature sports sedan but it has so much power on tap that you'll only ever use half of it at any given time. It's a high strung machine that you might not be comfortable driving in a city setting. Fortunately BMW and M Division realised that, and made sure it can be a regular 5-series when you're just cruising around town. That split personality has now become a staple of the M5, and I'm glad I got to experience it.
A big thanks to Executive Motors Ltd. and BMW Group Asia for the opportunity to test drive their cars.