The BMW M5 is a motoring icon, but it's up against increasingly stiff competition. Mercedes has turned the E63 AMG into a turbocharged supercar in sedan clothing, and the current M5 doesn't have the firepower to keep up. Now, BMW is delivering a fresh take on the M5 formula with all-wheel drive, a twin-turbocharged V8 and all the electronic wizardry you could ask for.
BMW has nobly defended the virtues of rear-wheel drive in its performance cars, but an escalation in the power wars has forced it to develop a new version of its xDrive all-wheel drive system. In its most powerful iteration, the current M5 sends 560 hp (418 kW) to the rear wheels, and the new E63 AMG comfortably outdoes that figure in base trim, let alone 612-hp (450-kW) AMG S guise.
The new M5, which will be launched later this year, is expected to match that figure (at an absolute minimum), and putting all that power to the road in anything other than ideal conditions, using anything other than race-spec rubber simply isn't feasible. Before you get too disappointed about the switch to four-wheel drive, keen drivers will be able to switch through three different drive modes.
BMW says this capability comes courtesy of a clever central transfer case and the active M differential on the rear axle. The system is capable of sending 100 percent of the power to either axle as the situation demands, or locking itself into rear-wheel drive when the driver demands.
The system prioritizes traction in standard 4WD mode, before allowing a bit more movement in 4WD Sport mode. BMW says the system has been tuned for lightning lap times on the race track, and will make it much easier to put the engine's turbocharged torque to the road out of tight corners. Wannabe drifters will want to slot the car into 2WD mode, which sends 100 percent of the engine's power to the back wheels for some good-old fashioned smoky fun. Mercedes will also let you do this in the E63 AMG, although it calls the same thing "Drift Mode."
Along with clever switchable drivetrain, BMW has thrown the computational kitchen sink at the gearbox. The eight-speed automatic has three separate shift modes, and can be set up to mooch around town or, when the time is right, slam home the gears like a racing car. Holding the left-hand paddle forces the gearbox to grab the lowest ratio possible, a feature first featured in the Porsche 911 GT3. There will be no manual option, but that's not a huge surprise.
The high-tech focus extends to the interior as well. BMW says the instrument binnacle is clearer and easier to read, and the heads-up display has been made 70 percent larger than before. Information about gear position, drive mode and shift program is displayed on the screen between the speedo and rev counter.
"The new BMW M5 can be piloted with the familiar blend of sportiness and unerring accuracy on both the race track and the open road – and in various weather conditions, too," says Frank van Meel, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW M.
You can check out the new M5 in the video below.