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First Drive: 2013 BMW M5 [Review]

Has BMW maintained its winning formula with the fifth-generation M5? Come with us as we try out the ultimate wolf in sheep\'s clothing.

The BMW M5 has always been a numbers car - four-doors, five seats and enough horsepower to put most sports cars to shame. But a funny thing happened to the M5 for the new model year: BMW suddenly decided that less could be more.

After a steady increase from six-cylinders to ten, the 2013 M5 arrives with just eight pistons under its sculpted hood. But BMW hasn't completely forgotten about the numbers game - the 2013 M5's V8 engine comes fitted with not one, but two turbochargers.

The ultimate performance machine

The new M5 may be down on cylinders but it certainly isn't down on power. With 560 twin-turbocharged horses on tap, the 2013 M5's 4.4-liter V8 is 60 horsepower stronger than the outgoing car's 5.0-liter V10. More importantly, the 2013 M5's 500 lb-ft of torque is available from just 1,500rpm, representing a sharp contrast from the 6,100 revolutions needed to wring out the V10's maximum of 383 lb-ft of torque.

As a result, the latest M5 is a much better performer throughout the rev band. From a dead stop the M5 pulls light a freight train and keeps on going right up to the 7,000 rpm mark. BMW says the M5 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds and our seat-of-the-pants meter supports that claim.

Technology made simpler

The last-generation M5 was a technological tour de force, offering advanced electronics to control nearly every aspect of the car. Unfortunately, you practically needed an IT degree to understand all the car's gizmos.

Thankfully, BMW has made the new car a little more user friendly. For example, in the previous M5 there were five different transmission settings. In the new car there are just three, easy to understand settings - Eco, Sport and Sport+.

There are also just three settings for the car's suspension and steering response.

And once you dial in your perfecting combination of settings, they are much easier to keep. BMW has added two "M” buttons to the M5's steering wheel that memorize just how you like the car setup.

Will that be two or three pedals?

Although global versions of the M5 come fitted exclusively with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, U.S. Buyers have the option of a six-speed manual. We tested the row-it-yourself version of the M5 on the winding roads of central California and came away quite impressed. The M5's manual gearbox delivers short and precise shifts and we found the clutch pedal to be the perfect balance between light and predictable. The six-speed also features a rev-matching system similar to the one Nissan uses in the 370Z.

Purists might scoff at the idea of an M5 with just two pedals, but BMW's optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is nearly flawless. Like all dual-clutch units, the gearbox can be a bit clumsy in stop-and-go traffic, but its lightning-fast gear changes and wider ratio are perfectly suited for the M5's nuke of an engine.

BMW says the semi-automatic is 0.1 seconds quicker to 60 and we imagine the disparity only grows from there. We were able to sample both transmissions on Laguna Seca raceway and the seven-speed felt noticeable faster around the 2.2 mile track. However, the six-speed is much more engaging during routine driving and as this will likely be the last M5 ever to offer a manual option, there is an argument to be made for both.

Exterior looks

Although some might miss the high-revving V10 of the previous M5, we doubt anyone will mourn the passing of the car's awkward looks.

The latest M5 borrows most of its styling from the handsome 5-Series. However, BMW has sent the new M5 to the weight room to look the performance part.

Up front the M5 sports a unique bumper with bigger air inlets to help the turbocharged V8 breathe. Down the sides of the M5 you'll notice flared skirts with fat 19-inch wheels giving the car a planted look. A set of 20s are also on offer.

Out back, changes include a subtle decklid spoiler, modified bumper and the M division's signature quad exhaust outlets.

Adding it up

As with all M5s that came before it, the 2013 M5 is about more than just all-out performance. With all the amenities of the regular 5-Series plus a suspension that can be switched to Comfort mode, the M5 is actually quite nice to drive on the pothole-filled roads of the real world. You can even take three or four friends along in comfort.

But don't let all that luxury fool you - the M5 remains the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing.

Flip all the switches to Sport+ and the M5 transforms into a bonafide sports car that just happens to have four-doors. Despite a hefty curb weight of about 4,350 pounds, the M5's near-perfect 52/48 balance means the car is easy to control through even the tightest corners. The M5 isn't quite as sharp as the M3, but it more than makes up for that with a wallop of power.

Turn the traction control off - if you dare - and the M5 will spin its rear tires through the first three gears. We found the M5's middle-ground traction control ideal for getting around Laguna Seca quickly, allowing for some tail-out fun while ensuring the rear tires didn't go up in smoke.

A set of steel disc brakes - 15.7-inches rotors up front and 15.6-inch out back - are in charge of slowing the M5, which proved to be more than adequate for a few laps of the track. However, after repeated heavy braking the M5 did exhibit noticeable fade, although we doubt anyone would reach those limits during routine driving. For those interested in an upgrade, a set of carbon ceramic brakes will be joining the M5's option list later this year.

Leftlane's bottom line

Building a better M5 is no easy task, BMW's M division has done it again. With more power, fewer emissions and a simpler user interface, the 2013 M5 is easily the best of its breed.

After spending an entire day in the M5 the only real fault we could find was a cup holder that was far too shallow to hold a beverage during spirited driving. If you're looking for a vehicle that can pull double duty of comfortable cruise and all out track machine - and you're willing to leave the Big Gulp at home -- you won't find anything better than the 2013 BMW M5.

2013 BMW M5 base price $89,900.

Words and photos by Drew Johnson.