BMW M5 review 2017

BMW M5 prototype front

Since its introduction in 1984, the BMW M5 has gone through plenty of mechanical changes. This mould-setting sports saloon has switched from a six-cylinder engine, through a naturally aspirated V8 and V10, before eventually reverting to a V8 in its outgoing form – albeit one fed by turbochargers for the first time. But for the new, sixth-generation M5 there's an even bigger revolution; like Audi's RS products andMercedes-AMG’s latest E 63, it is going four-wheel drive.

Developed by BMW’s Motorsport division, which produces all its 'M' performnce cars, this new four-wheel drive system is called M xDrive. But does it make the M5 more enjoyable to drive or less so? To find out, we went to BMW's Miramas test track in France to try an early prototype car.

What's the 2017 BMW M5 like to drive?

Hugely fast – unsurprisingly. The car’s exact weight and performance figures are still to be confirmed, but BMW will already say that, despite the inclusion of a four-wheel drive system and an eight-speed automatic gearbox where there used to be only one driven axle and a seven-speed twin-clutch 'box , the new-generation car will be both lighter than the outgoing M5 and more powerful. M engineers suggest unofficially that 615bhp is roughly what to expect from the car – along with 0-62mph in less than 3.5sec.

We weren’t given the chance to try the car’s launch control system, which is designed to deliver the quickest of getaways, but when starting normally it gets going a shade more gently than the new Mercedes-AMG E 63 S and Audi RS7, before pulling every bit as hard as these rivals with a few revs on the clock.

The M5's new four-wheel drive system sends torque rearwards first and then to the front axle as required, but the car also gives you some manual control over how you’d like the driveline to work – having ‘4WD’, ‘4WD Sport’ and ‘2WD’ modes once you turn off the electronic stability control.

Even if you leave the electronic drive aids on and simply let the car decide how much power to send where, the M5 has much more poised cornering manners than you’d expect of a traditional four-wheel-driver; it turns into bends flat and keen and holds true to your intended line as you accelerate.

In ‘4WD Sport’ and ‘2WD’ modes, handling becomes even more playful and engaging in classic BMW M car mode – though on a low-grip surface we actually preferred the car’s ‘4WD Sport’ setting, which allows for plenty of rear-driven handling fun but mixes in greater traction and only blends in the stability of four-wheel drive when you really need it.

The car’s suspension has BMW M’s familiar ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport+’ settings, and while it was difficult to get a sense for what the overall ride comfort level will be like on the road, ‘Comfort’ seemed to delvier a more settled feel than some super saloon rivals can managem while ‘Sport+’ made for taut body control and immediate handling responses, with the car only struggling slightly to keep the body from rocking on its springs during extreme changes of direction.

What's the 2017 BMW M5 like inside?

The car’s sports seats are widely adjustable and combine the need for comfort and support cleverly, although the contours of their upper squabs needed plenty of fiddling before they were set quite right.

BMW's M division has reconfigured the 5-Series’ head-up display to include a clearer rev counter, digital speedo and shift indicators, and it’s useful during high-speed driving because it allows you to keep your eyes on the road ahead at all times.

On the car’s steering wheel, its ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ buttons (personal presets that allow you jump immediately from one combination of suspension, engine, gearbox, 4WD system and stability control settings to another), which used to be buttons mixed in with others on either spoke, have become larger, thumb-operated toggle buttons cited above the wheel hub where they’re easier to find without looking.

The M5 gets a unique gear selector lever and a centre console crowded with the buttons necessary to control its various adaptive systems. Beyond that, the test prototypes had disguises over their doors and dashboard – so we’ll have to wait before pronouncing on the overall luxurious feel and perceived quality.

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