Apr
22

The 560-horsepower 2013 BMW M5

I just spent the weekend in BMW’s awesome 2013 M5. I say awesome because the car accelerates about as rapidly as anything I have ever driven and is capable of reaching absurd speeds, space permitting.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that I really didn’t enjoy driving the car. And, after careful consideration, I blame my ambivalence on the M5’s outsized performance potential—or more correctly, the compromises made to achieve that potential.

Our 6-speed manual-transmission test car suffers from finicky clutch engagement, which complicates low-speed driving. Additionally, throttle response is less than precise, possibly a result of turbo lag. But be it lag or just temperamental German throttle mapping, the result is a car that is only rewarding to drive in full-throttle bursts—and those are complicated by the car’s obnoxious and overbearing traction-control system.

The other stuff that should be great is great. The brakes feel capable of stopping a locomotive if needed, and the steering is amazingly sharp. Likewise, few cars feel this planted and purposeful on the highway. Still, this car is missing something.

I’m no BMW hater. I recently wrote that the new 3-Series Sedan is “as fabulous as ever.” It’s worth noting that that test car was a 4-cylinder 328i, a sedan boasting 320 fewer horsepower than the M5. Yet, despite that power deficit, I can think of no time or place, save maybe an empty Autobahn, that I would prefer to drive the M5 instead of the 328.

Which brings us to my question: Why must the M5 be a supercar? Do we blame peer pressure from Mercedes-Benz, a company that’s been busy relentlessly ratcheting up the muscle of its AMG products? When did 500 horsepower become the price of entry to the premium-performance club?

While there’s little more fascinating than watching engineering pros like the folks at BMW stuff ever more power and high-performance capability into a product, there is a point where the fun seems as if it’s being left behind. Yes, this car will reach 60 mph from a stop in just 4 seconds, but I would gladly trade a second-longer 0-60-mph sprint for a more progressive clutch and more-linear power delivery.

As counter-intuitive as this may sound, a car that is already breaking speed laws by the time it reaches the other side of the intersection isn’t always more fun to drive than a car with half the power that requires a little work to keep it in the power band.

Ultimately, while my fantasy 10-car garage might have an M5 in it, it would also be home to a Scion FR-S or Volkswagen GTI—or a BMW 335i. Because, as much as it pains me to admit it, there is no place between my home and office to drive 155 mph, but there are a lot of stoplights.

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