KYALAMI, Johannesburg – In the CAR office, we spend more time than we'd care to admit discussing power figures (no surprises there, then). We're also partial to chats about the sort of performance cars we'd buy if we had the money and which ones we'd be desperate to take along to our favourite stretches of tarmac. One such conversation led to a fierce debate about the power output at which the average sportscar would be better served by an all-wheel-drive rather than rear-wheel-drive set-up.
The number we used to settle on, particularly in the case of turbocharged engines, was a fairly conservative 300 kW. But, as you're no doubt aware, this figure has long since been surpassed. Still, who doesn’t enjoy some minor wheel spin when too much torque is transmitted to the rear axle, or when the performance vehicle in question wiggles its rear end upon exiting a corner a little too briskly? But while it's certainly fun, it's not very efficient.
And that brings me neatly to the new F90-generation BMW M5, blessed with 441 kW and 750 N.m … and all-wheel drive. After driving it on track, one thing is clear: BMW (like Mercedes-Benz with the E63) simply didn’t have a choice but to go all-wheel drive. Thankfully, the result is as exciting (if not more so) to drive than before, and significantly more competent, too.
The local launch took place at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, where we were allocated around six laps each. Although this tells us little about what the new M5 is like to live with on a daily basis, it is unquestionably the best way to experience all the performance the latest M car has to offer. Even though the new M5 is equipped with the requisite all-wheel-drive hardware, BMW says it is lighter than the previous generation M5 (and that's no small achievement).
On Kyalami in this vehicle, you need virtually only third and fourth gears, but it took only the first few corners to come to terms with how effortlessly fast this car is. At the same time, it's considerably easier to use more of the power, more of the time.
Being a relatively hefty, luxurious sedan, it is important to remember to rather brake fairly early and enter each corner conservatively. Then, simply wait until the car settles, point the nose towards the exit and depress the loud pedal, with all four wheels effortlessly pulling you out of the turn. In the F10-generation M5, of course, the ESP light would have been flickering manically at this point, forcing you to delay your throttle application if you sought a clean corner exit. No such theatrics here, though.
During our time on track, the revs seldom dropped below 3 500 r/min, affording us constant access to a veritable mountain of torque. For its size, the new M5 turns into corners eagerly and hides its weight exceedingly well.
So, you think you can drive?
There are few things in life more inspiring and enjoyable than experiencing a master in a field applying his or her craft. Gennaro Bonafede, who is currently racing for BMW in the local Sasol GTC Championship, took us for two hot laps each, illustrating just what the M5 is capable of.
Be it through an 80 km/h corner or at three-figure speeds down Mineshaft, Bonafede drifted the M5 in both its all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive settings. I laughed like a little boy as his level of car control put everyone else's on the day to shame.
More than ever before, the M5 plays an increased number of roles for more types of drivers, which is surely a good thing. That said, new owners of this super saloon would do well to sample it on track for at least a few laps to become fully acquainted with its abilities. Getting close to this car’s cornering limits and understanding just what the powertrain has to offer is not something you can easily (or legally) experience on a public road.
Ultimately, though, if you simply want one of the fastest performance saloons on the market to enjoy comfortably on the road, the M5 is right up there with the very best. We feel a comparative with a certain Mercedes-AMG product coming on...
See Full BMW M5 price and specs here