In 1996, Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve’s dramatic overtaking of Michael Schumacher on the outer side of the circuit’s final corner became the talk of Formula 1.
Even though his car was at a disadvantaged position compared with Schumacher’s, Villeneuve managed to pull off the foolhardy manoeuvre and went on to win the race, much to the spectators’ delight.
No longer part of the F1 calendar since 1997, the 4.18km circuit still hosts major motorsports events. The circuit has also became a favourite haunt for many car companies to conduct test drives and demonstrations of their newest creations, with BMW being the most recent with its blistering fast M5.
Though based on the current generation 5 Series, the new M5 comes with an internal code of F90 and gets tonnes of enhancements which results in performance that is many-fold beyond the regular 5.
Looking similar to the standard 5 Series, the M5 differs in having a new bumper with large air intake for better cooling, and M-designed wing mirrors, side skirts, rear apron, spoiler and quad exhaust pipes for a sportier appearance.
Another noticeable difference is the contoured roof made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. Inside, the M5 is as plush as any large luxury car with loads of leather and metallic trimmings.
The M5 also gets sports seats, digital instrument panel, head-up display and a large centre multi-information screen.
The leather steering wheel is meaty to hold and comes with paddle shifters and two red levers marked “M1” and “M2”, which allows transmission, steering assistance, wheel-drive modes and other settings to be customised as a group.
You can still change engine, steering and chassis settings individually via buttons on the centre console. Meanwhile, the gearshifter is a new design with a shorter lever that looked more hi-tech than that in the regular 5 Series.
Under the hood is the latest generation 4.4-litre V8 block that’s overhauled and souped up with new turbochargers, improved cooling and lubrication, and higher injection pressure of 350 bar.
BMW said this extreme pressure enabled shorter injection time and better fuel vaporisation for quicker engine response.
Output is raised to 600hp and 750Nm of torque compared with the earlier 4.4-litre turbo engine with 560hp and 680Nm of torque used in the outgoing F10 M5.
Putting all that new-found might onto the tarmac is an eight-speed Steptronic transmission with an M-tuned xDrive, the first all-wheel drive system for an M car.
Despite the all-wheel drive system, the new M5 is still 90kg lighter than the F10 M5, and this reduced heft helps to increase performance.
To maintain the feel of a rear wheel-drive car, the M xDrive is programmed to provide a power bias towards the rear wheels. More power will be sent to the front wheels if rear ones start to slip.
The car can also be set to run as rear wheel-drive only where the Active M Differential can adjust torque distribution between both rear wheels.
The M5 fires up with a throaty note, thanks to a flap-controlled exhaust system which can also make the sound softer.
Press the M Sound Control button and the car gets quieter, allowing the serene and luxury feel of the M5 to surface.
Step hard on the accelerator and the M5 surges forward furiously, filling the cabin with exhaust roar.
The M5 can rocket from 0 to 100kph in a supercar-quick 3.4 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 250kph.
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The optional M Driver’s Package will unleash the M5 to hit 305kph.
Driving on the Estoril circuit on all-wheel drive mode with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), the M5 was nimble and easily kept to its intended driving line even around the trickiest corners at high speed.
The M5’s minimal body roll and planted feel along with its precise steering nudged us to drive even faster.
Later with all-wheel drive Sport with M Dynamic Mode on, the excitement built up as we could get the M5 to go even faster with mild oversteering and rear wheels screeching around tight corners.
At this juncture, the M5 was still easy to control and a slight countersteer would get the tail back in line without hesitation.
Although 19-inch wheels with light M compound brakes are standard issue, our test units came with the optional 20-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P Zero tyres and carbon-ceramic brakes, which elevates handling and braking prowess.
To get a taste of what the M5 in rear wheel-drive mode could do, I got a ride with talented BMW Works driver Nico Menzel who is just 20 years old.
He engaged the 2WD mode with DSC off and easily got the M5 to drift around corners with rear tyres screaming and smoking, showing that the new model has not lost the untamed side that purists crave.
We also managed to check out the M5’s ride comfort on Portuguese country roads, which we concluded was acceptable even with the suspension set to Sport Plus — the hardest setting.
The ride was firm without being too harsh and switching to Comfort would make it right for daily use.
The new M5 can pass off as a refined and luxury car for dignified everyday usability and yet be a muscle car for track days with maximum traction on tap.
Expect BMW Group Malaysia to bring the new M5 to our shores next year.
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, M TwinTurbo and M TwinScroll with cross-bank exhaust manifold, high precision injection, Valvetronic and Double-Vanos camshaft shifting
Maximum power: 600hp from 5,600 to 6,700rpm
Maximum torque: 750Nm from 1,800 to 5,600rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic, M xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive
Brakes: Front M compound brakes, vented, with six-piston fixed callipers, rear M compound brakes, vented, with single-piston floating callipers (Optional: M carbon ceramic type)
Tyres: Front 275/40 ZR19, rear 285/40 ZR19 (Optional: Front 275/35 R20, rear 285/35 R20)
Suspension (Front): Adaptive M suspension with double wishbone axle in lightweight aluminium construction, M-specific kinematics and elastokinematics, Variable Damper Control (VDC)
Suspension (Rear): Adaptive M suspension with five-link axle in lightweight aluminium construction, M-specific elastokinematics, Variable Damper Control (VDC)
Features: Airbags, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), M Dynamic Mode (MDM), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), Active M Differential, belt latch tensioner and belt force limiter, crash active front head restraints, crash sensors, tyre pressure indicator, electric power steering with M-specific Servotronic and variable sport ratio, Brake Energy Regeneration, Auto Start Stop function, Optimum Shift Indicator in manual shift mode, lithium-ion battery, map-regulated oil pump
Acceleration (0-100kph): 3.4 seconds
Acceleration (0-200kph): 11.1 seconds
Top speed: 250kph (electronically limited), 305kph (with optional M Driver’s Package)
Fuel consumption (combined cycle) : 10.5l/100km
Fuel: RON98 (minimum RON91)
Price: 117,900 euros (RM567,300)