By James Wong
It was a cool night after a whole afternoon of thunderstorms. The V8 purrs, relinquishing its slightly unwilling delivery after waking up from a slumber all day in the garage. After a warm up session along the AYE, the car and driver ready themselves for one of the most infamous roads in Singapore’s rather limited network: 99 bends.
I’m not quite sure why it is called 99 bends, but my theory is that some drivers who went through its twisting, serpentine roads never saw the end of it due to its treacherous and tricky nature – hence ’99′ as a wistful but appropriate warning of what lies ahead.
I switched the ESP to ‘M Dynamic Mode’, set Sport Plus on the suspension and steering and left the ECU on Efficient as the way I like it, then flicked the paddles to activate manual override. I toggled the DCT’s shift speed to the fastest possible on the rocker switch just below the gear knob. With an empty, relatively wide apex ahead, I gunned it and the car whipped into action, throbbing with every gearshift, causing a mini atomic bomb explosion each time the next gear is homed in. The rate this car covers ground is unbelievable given its weight; but yet it feels like a natural on the road, unfussed by mid-corner bumps and never unsettled through dilapidated roads. Ride, even on Sport Plus, is especially commendable – it definitely feels like it was polished for the road.
In the first blind hairpin, I downshifted to second and it was executed perfectly, a feeling that could be best described as ‘maximising efficiency’ from every RPM. Feathering the throttle to prevent the tail from wagging in this potentially fatal corner, I gave it power when the car faced straight again and felt all that torque allowing me to hit third for a moment before getting back to second again for the next apex. With one or two oncoming traffic I became slightly more wary; but at the same time, visibility improved slightly when I came out of a left-hander further ahead.
This time, I had my throttle on earlier, thinking I would catch what little slip that would creep up with some corrective action. Besides, I was also on MDM, which usually allowed me to stay within the limits. Or so I thought…
Halfway mid-corner, with that huge amount of torque overwhelming the rear tyres, it broke loose and the car suddenly faced the metal barricades on the left. I stared at it, not having time to even think, then quickly flicked the steering wheel to apply opposite lock, all the while with the tyres screeching and the car feeling grossly out of control. Miraculously, the car found its way forward again and faced, just as it did moments ago, towards the next apex. Did that just happen? Did I just escape near death and a potentially huge bill? Yes indeed. Although MDM let me hoon a bit more than I expected, I also believe it saved me from potential catastrophe by intervening somewhere, somehow, getting me out of trouble. It felt very similar to the way MDM was set up in the 1M, which is mightily impressive for a car that is so much bigger and difficult to bring back to sanity. That was, ultimately, one of my most memorable driving experiences to date, something I will never forget. What an introduction to the M5.
When the E60 M5 was released there was strong criticism about the car’s gearbox, thirst and power delivery. A couple of years on, the F10 M5 seems like a car that was made specifically to address those issues. It reads like the report card of a recalcitrant child turned genius. SMG too jerky and dim-witted? Don’t worry, here’s the sensational DCT with shift speed adjustability. Car consuming a bit too much fuel? Here’s a 4.4L TwinPower Turbo engine with 28.5 estimated mpg. Feeling like the V10 could do with more torque? Here’s 680Nm from 1,500rpm thank you very much.
So, confirming the stats from behind the wheel, the F10 M5 certainly rights a lot of the wrongs of its predecessor. In fact, it feels so complete and so competent in every aspect that enthusiasts tend to compare this car with the E39 M5 – another complete M car that seems to put no foot wrong. However, while the E39 M5 did it the old school way, with a big naturally aspirated V8, rear wheel drive and a manual gearbox, the F10 accomplishes the same brief with technology, and a lot of it.
While the E60 M5 had a motorsport-inspired V10 engine, paired with an equally frantic top-end power delivery, the F10 takes a decidedly modern approach by turbocharging its motor. With competitors like the XFR, E63 and RS6 all adopting forced induction, there must have been a lot of pressure to follow suit. As a result, the end-product V8 now has a lower rev ceiling as compared to the previous V10 and now has a smaller displacement, no doubt due to consumption considerations as well as the redundancy of a bigger engine. It also sounds a little apologetic, a bassy note that pales in comparison to the screaming ferocity of the previous V10. Notwithstanding the artificial sounds from the speakers to enhance the exhaust note, it is at least muted inside the cabin for the businessman driver. Packaging for such a configuration is never easy, which might go some way to explain why the M5′s engine bay is completely filled even though it is already a huge space.
The engine has power nearly everywhere, no matter what gear you are on, no matter what speed you are at. Its flexibility probably puts the old V10 in lesser company, especially when you consider a four-door luxury saloon would usually be torque-hungry. The new V8 fits the job requirements perfectly. There is very little turbo lag, given that the motor is inherently still a high capacity engine, allowing a smoother transition between off-boost and on-boost motion. The power delivery could be said to be an endless torrent, where I usually found I ran out of road before I ran out of power. This was aided by the DCT.
The gearbox on standard settings is already impressive. What truly took my breath away was when it was set to the most extreme shift speed possible. There was literally no delay in between shifts, with the sensation of shifting gears made to be felt but not annoying. It was addictive to experience it, just as you would enjoy the latest gadget or technology. Downshifts were fractionally slower than the upshifts, but there is little to fault here. Single-clutch automated manuals would feel 30 years older. The efficiency of the DCT made the car use fuel a lot more smartly.
Fuel consumption was hardly noticed, with the on-board readout consistently staying around 19.5L/100km. Although this was high, the car seemed to be less thirsty than I expected, perhaps aided by the fact that it now has a much larger tank capacity which allows it to have a much greater range. Start-stop technology was also a feature of this car, although it did not make an appreciable difference to the fuel consumption, instead serving to trigger mechanical sympathy within the driver to switch it off.
Other technology included a blind spot assistant, where yellow triangles below the wing mirrors work together with vibration on the steering wheel to warn of traffic in the car’s blind spots. Parking is made easier with a 360 degree top-down view of the environment; a head-up display also added a touch of cool. But I can’t help but wonder whether these aids are here because the car is simply too large than is comfortable for the average driver to pilot.
Maneuverability in the car felt compromised in tight spaces. Car parks are quite a chore for the M5, with its low-profile tyres and extremely wide body. It could be likened to piloting a space ship, feeling slightly clumsy on ramps due to its rather wide turning circle. It really felt like a baby 7-Series, which is not encouraging because there is more caution than liberty when behind the wheel. There is difficulty to place the car on the road accurately, with its body panels feeling a lot wider and bloated than it really is. So pumped up is the body that the car couldn’t even fit in between the lines of a lane of some roads! I sincerely feel the M5 could be an even better drivers’ car if it was one size smaller.
This was one of the few concerns I raised in a former article about modern cars, which unfortunately is confirmed by my drive of the M5. With its size, there is a need for technology to aid drivers to pilot it properly, which means more weight and dulling whatever progression that was made in the engine and drivetrain. I like that I have flexibility with setting ECU, suspension and steering individually, but really, I could do without it too, and probably would prefer to. Although BMW stuck with hydraulic power steering in the M5, it too feels aloof and lacking in telepathy. So, have all this weight, technology and size marred the experience?
For a nostalgic car enthusiast like myself, longing for the old school is something that has never waned. A car like the F10 M5 pretty much sums up all of the maladies and benefits of modernity in cars. Supremely capable (there is hardly a bad car nowadays), massively quick, being able to cruise and engage in oversteer in an instant, efficient and easy to drive. At the same time, how will all this technology stand the test of time and wear? Surely, running costs are likely to be stratospheric should any of these gizmos fail. Given that there are so many things that can possibly go wrong, there is certainly a cost for all of this convenience. It has to be said too that wear on consumables would also be higher with the more extreme conditions (big brakes to stop a big and heavy car; big power to move it forward). It will probably close the deal for most of the car buying public, but I know these things can be accomplished just as well the traditional way: lightweight, fuss-free and simple. And that, my friends, is the way I would take.