In the world of performance cars, the brand ‘M' commands a special respect. Tested and tuned to perfection at the world famous Nurburgring race circuit, these are models that are picked out from BMW's regular road cars and reworked to also become track ready.

These are cars with ‘Jeckyll and Hyde' style split personalities – being extremely capable on the race track, while also offering the comfort and luxury that are part of a relaxed driving experience. BMW M GmbH, the subsidiary which manufactures these fiery clones has by now picked up pretty much all the model lines from BMW's stables for its special treatment.

Like the name suggests (M for Motorsports), much of the technology and expertise that is put into BMW M cars have been honed from the company's racing experience. The division also manages to give each of its cars a special, unique character. The M3, based on the 3-Series and one of the favourite originals from BMW M, is the brat of the pack. Seriously fast and capable of embarrassing a bulldog to whimper in a growling match, the M3 is the youngster with a bit of reckless streak.

The M5 on the other hand is based on the 5-Series sedan and is the more suave, gentlemanly car with a wild other side. Both the cars have been benchmarks in the performance, sports cars segment that has two other German marques as competitors – Mercedes AMG and Audi Quattro.

BMW introduced the new M5 late last year and has within a matter of months brought it to India too. The new M5 is based on the F10 – sixth generation 5-Series. It is even more of the Jeckyll and Hyde when compared to the M3, because it manages to camouflage its racing abilities until you stamp on the throttle. You can take your partner to the concert in it and also put it through some really hot laps on the track.

With no concert to attend, I decide to take it on a spin at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida to get a feel of this Executive performance sedan.

Design and build

The M5 essentially uses the same structural parts of the regular 5-Series, only different materials to reduce weight and improve performance. Dimensions too are marginally different due to the use of special front and rear bumpers etc. An intelligent mix of materials, with a high proportion of high-tensile and ultra-high-tensile steels, as well as aluminium, help in reducing the car's weight. The bonnet and front side sections and the doors are also made from aluminium, as are virtually all the chassis components. Despite many other weight saving efforts, due to the level of equipment that has been added the new M5 is about 4 per cent heavier than its predecessor.

M-brand characteristics have been built into the M5, but when I view it on the pit lane at the race track, it clear that they are subtle and overall it is very closely set next to the regular 5-Series in terms of design. The V-shaped contour lines on the bonnet, the wide spread black slats on the grille, the more muscular wheel arches, 19-inch M light alloy wheels and the hallmark M gills on the front side panels are all special features that are unique to the M5. Onlookers will also notice the M5 doesn't feature fog lamps, because the space has been taken up for providing more air vents to cool the brake pads.

A slightly different take to the BMW trademark LED light rings, the special twin pipe exhaust system at the rear and the subtle gurney-style rear spoiler on the boot lid are the other pointers to the M5's racing prowess.

Tightening environmental legislation and the need for improved efficiencies are big influences on new product development for the automobile industry. It is even more of an issue for performance car makers. So, while there are a number of fans of the brand who are upset that BMW chose turbocharging for the new M5 (over the traditional naturally aspirated engines), the choice seems to have obviously been dictated by the need to meet new legislation. While output has increased by around 10 per cent and maximum torque is up by more than 30 per cent, the new BMW M5 burns 30 per cent less fuel than its predecessor.

Performance

The engine is a high-revving V8 unit compared to the V10 unit of the previous gen M5. But, all the proprietary BMW Efficient Dynamics measures like auto start-stop, regenerative braking, can't quite hide the engine's true colours. Twin turbocharging boosts power, and valvetronic (for valve control) and double-vanos (for camshaft control) manage to boost torque to new highs.

This engine brings in the most power output for a BMW M car ever. The 4.4-litre engine develops a top output of 560 bhp at 6,000 to 7,000 rpm, nearly twice as much as the 535i currently in sale in India. Peak torque generated by the new M5's engine is 680 Nm available on tap between 1,500 to 5,750 rpm. The rev limiter kicked in only at about 7,200 rpm. The outgoing model's engine also produced loads of low-end torque, but the new M5 offers a high acceleration band that is three times that of the old one.

On the track, the M5's sheer acceleration becomes evident on the straight between turn 3 and turn 4. The nifty heads up display was a good addition – you don't want to take your eyes of the track at 200 plus kmph. The 0 to 100 kmph run comes up in 4.4 seconds. In comparison the 535i takes a lazy 5.9 seconds to reach that speed.

I try out the new M5 in full auto and manual modes and the new seven-speed double clutch transmission is delight to use. The M DCT Drivelogic system ensures quick and clean shifts. The new M5 also offers a launch control function, when stability control is switched off.

The new M5 also gets the Active M Differential for maximum rear wheel drive performance. The system optimises stability with the help of an electronically controlled multi-plate limited-slip differential. After quite a few laps with quite a few other cars too, for me some of the most difficult turns on the Buddh circuit are 5,6,7,8 and 9. Turns 8 and 9 are deceptive, often egging you to try them at higher speeds than you can manage. The M5's precise steering and optimal stability control interferences make it possible to take on the turns faster.

Earlier on the track, I had the chance to test the braking prowess of the new six-piston fixed-caliper brakes.

Electronically controlled dampers also come as part of standard equipment. There are three damper settings to choose from. The DSC mode, performance characteristics of the engine, Dynamic Damper Control mapping, M Servotronic responses and M DCT Drivelogic shift program can all be adjusted independently. This allows drivers to put together a detailed set-up configuration for their car and store it by holding down one of the two M Drive buttons on the multifunction steering wheel.

With two M Drive buttons now available, drivers can use the M1 button, for example, to input a sporty configuration within easy reach and the M2 button to keep a comfort-biased option.

Bottomline

That is so much like the trait of the M5, offering the potential for a mix of both racing and comfortable driving, and all the while doing it in luxury. The cabin reflects the same character. Bespoke M sports seats, Merino leather upholstery, the iDrive control system, auto soft close doors, heated and ventilated seats and even a rear view camera are comfort features that will be appreciated by drivers while driving on regular roads.

Targeted at the demanding, young-at-heart performance car buyer, this ‘athlete in a business suit' as BMW puts it, is priced at Rs 96 lakh (ex-showroom).

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Keywords: BMW

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