For a moment the thought did cross my mind. Will he make it? Will we hit the dust in spectacular fashion? Will the car survive? That moment seemed like a lifetime. Some people talk of seeing a bright light, others speak about hearing Darth Vader’s voice. The rest see flashes of their lives flicking past like a movie reel. In the end, none of this happened, for my right hand had held firmly on the cell phone camera, while the left was welded to the door handle.
A few minutes ago I’d been admiring the Monte Carlo Blue BMW M5 parked on the flat pit straight, pointing menacingly towards the exit. It had been growling with full intent and threatening to untie a tsunami of kiloWatts upon the surface, accompanied by bellowing cushions of smoke. As it turned out, the M5 had a bigger vision for me. In the end it needed my soul to keep.
“Threatening to untie a tsunami of kiloWatts upon the surface”
Unfortunately for M5, my co-driver Phuti Mpyane isn’t a bowl of oats behind the steering wheel. As it snapped on that sharp right hander, the one that’s claimed countless episodes of dramatic exits, his nimble hands were at hand so to speak, to counter, first, then again, counter-counter, then straighten up, all within two seconds and two metres. Had I been cursed with a lesser pilot my script may have been penned from a crowded room at Dora Nginza Hospital.
Of course, were it not for the fact that the M2 button was fidgeted with between the time of my walkabout admiration and the time of departure from the pit lane, none of this would have happened. Or would it? Because on our very second lap around the tight Aldo Scribante race track in Port Elizabeth, M5 gave us a second bitch-slap across the face. Not at the same sharp chicane though, but on the apex of the next bending left. Just to drill it through our amateur heads that if you want to play with the King you’d better to be an Emperor. Again, Mpyane managed to calm King down and cruise him home in one piece. Twice this car tried to kill me. Twice I survived. See how it all went down by clicking here and here.
“If you want to play with the King you’d better be an Emperor”
To be honest our driving instructor Danie Human, a highly experienced former BMW test engineer, had earlier emphasised the need for the M2 button to be kept on at all times. In fact, he’d repeatedly suggested we don’t touch it at all. “I guarantee you, the car will snap” he’d said. Whether the fabled button had since pressed itself in phantom style, or whether Mpyane fancied himself a stunt driver beats me.
And why in the world does BMW see the need for such a button anyway? I remember the previous-generation M5, driven by its naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V10. At full wail (over 7700rpm) it sounded and felt like a Formula One car. Or at least what I thought felt like one, since I’ve never even been in one. Never mind, point is that car was track and race-bred. How could they improve on that, I wondered. But they have. By the devil they have. See, V10 also featured a number of special buttons for special occasions. The M button there was for activating or deactivating, depending on prevailing situation, either 298kW (P400) or the full hefty helping of 373kW (P500). In those days (2005) we thought this was the neatest trick since Delilah convinced Samson she was all gaga over him.
“This was the neatest trick since Delilah convinced Samson she was all gaga over him”
Yet, the new car also has a few tricks up its sleeves. M1 and M2, those buttons have their own functions too. To try and explain here exactly what they do would require the editing services of an M Division engineer, access to which I don’t have. So I’ll just surmise. Basically you set up things like steering sharpness, throttle response, traction control, damper control and transmission response through these two buttons. Our two track cars were set up such that M2 packed the nuclear Pandora’s Box; the hardest, most carefree settings.
Nothing quite says “welcome” like 412kW of raw 4.4 V8 twin turbo thrust, mashed with a dollop of 680Nm of torque, spread as wide as the Nile between 1500rpm and 5750rpm. Grey clouds gathered over the skies at Aldo as we subsequently circled around the dry track, and it became clear as day that instead of taming this shrew, it would be us that were tamed. The fact that BMW chose 9Jx19”, 265/40 R19 full front tyre/ wheel combos and 10Jx19”, 295/35 R19 rear ones meant there’s serious business going on here. No fuddy duddy runflats here buddy. A set of 20-inch ones can be specced off the brochure for R28 900.
“Instead of taming this shrew, it would be us that were tamed”
There’s no doubt the V10 held a special place in my heart, even with that SMG gearbox with no sense of everyday routine. M has remedied the situation with the new 7-speed double clutch M-DCT ‘box which can be shifted through the two paddles behind the steering wheel, or directly via the shifter to the centre of the console. M Drive thankfully also lets one determine how quickly these shifts happen. Like it jerky? Go for it. Or do you prefer a more relaxed, and fuel-efficient programme? It’s your M5 man, do your thing.
Speaking of fuel, BMW claims an average consumption of 9.9 litres of unleaded petrol over a 100km drive. At the same time, the 0 – 100km/h transit takes place in just 4.4 seconds. From my brief guesstimations both figures should be nearly accurate in everyday driving. The M5 has a sensational take-off ability that begins when it squats down for traction through the Active M Differential (LSD) which optimises power transfer to the rear wheels, growls past the four round chrome pipes and fumes its way towards untold speeds. But on the everyday road it behaves just like any other car. In fact, for about 50km through serene towns with 80km/h speed limits, I could swear I was driving a standard, entry-level 520i.
“On the everyday road it behaves just like any other car”
The absence of runflat tyres isn’t the only thing that sets M5 apart from the mundane. That for instance, you cannot have certain optional items specified is another character. High-end features from other 5 Series like the sunroof, a headlamp washer system and comfort access cannot be had. However, we did indulge in sweet standard items like Bespoke M sports seats, Merino leather upholstery with extended features, exclusive aluminium Trace interior trim, iDrive control system with an up to 25.9 cm Control Display, Head-Up Display and climate control.
The V10 M5 sold 19 331 units worldwide, something like 2 000 short of its predecessor, the brilliant E39 that featured a 6-speed manual exclusively. Where the V10 fell short was in everyday usability, no thanks to the somewhat jerky SMG. That’s gone now, we have a silky M-DCT in place whose own Jerkyl and Hyde character is but a button or two away. There really isn’t anything stopping King M5 from pushing over 25 000 copies over the remaining 6 years of his life. M5 is not just a supercar apparelled in those proverbial velvet robes. It’s an epic event that has spanned multiple, stimulating retellings since 1985.
2012 BMW M5 Pricing
M5 sedan (R1 155 076)