The nearly great, all-new 2018 BMW M5 F90

The sixth-generation M5 is here and, at a glance, it looks a lot like the fifth-generation model (codenamed F10). Take a walk around the new car (the F90) though and you’ll see that it’s got a bit more about it: it’s a little more rounded and more BMW F80 M3-like, with its rear wheels and tyres better filling their arches for a more purposeful stance. Its rear suspension is now bespoke, with aluminium links where the last car used regular 5-series bits, which should give better wheel control and improve handling precision. However, there’s a much bigger dynamic difference: the sixth-generation car is the first four-wheel-drive M5.

Power has gone up by 40bhp to 592bhp (a metric 600PS) and torque even more, from 501 to 553lb ft, partly because with AWD the car can take it but also because it brings it up to the mark set by its arch-rival, the all-wheel-drive Mercedes-AMG E63 S W213. And like the Merc, the new M5 can be switched from all-wheel drive to just rear-drive at the press of a few buttons, to spectacular effect and great entertainment, if drifting is your thing.

Yet, in regular driving, the new M5 is a subtle thing, able to amble along like a regular 5-series, refined and supple. The twin-turbo V8 has a flat-plane crank so lacks the woofle and bellow of a conventional V8, even with the optional, bass-enhancing M Sport exhaust. It has a changed personality from the unit in the F10 and standing-start acceleration is stunning: BMW claims it gets from zero to 62mph in just 3.4 seconds! It feels that quick and doesn’t ever seem to stop accelerating, with snappy, slick shifts from the eight-speed auto.

As you’d expect, it feels grippy and secure on twisting roads. Happily, it’s reassuringly agile for a big car, too, so you can press on. Less good, though, is the steering, which is quick but lacks a connected feel so you can’t place the car with total confidence. In normal circumstances, drive is sent mainly to the rear, though the M5 can pre-emptively direct drive to the front if it calculates this will help. Turn off stability control and the tail will slide easily under power, and that’s before you’ve made it just rear-drive. Honestly, that’s something you’d only ever need to do if you were on a track and wanted to discover for yourself just how incredibly easy the new M5 is to drift.

Where does the new car fit in the firmament, then? The first three M5s are icons: the BMW E28, the original super-saloon, powered by the legendary M Power straight-six; the BMW E34, more potent and betterhandling; and the oh-so-driveable BMW E39 with its 400bhp V8 and manual shifter.

The new M5 betters the E60 with its V10 and woeful SMG ’box, and improves on the F10 too, but isn’t quite in the same league as the best M5s, and not directly because it’s four-wheel drive. It needs properly connected steering and more engine character to join the M5 greats and see off its nemesis, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S W213…

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