Drunk on power. That’s the best way to describe two new cars from BMW (BMW), the M5 and M6. Both are variants of the already potent 5 Series sedan and 6 Series coupe and convertible.
The 2013 models have 560 horsepower. These are cars for regular consumers, not racecar drivers. That kind of power is extraordinary, the equivalent of plugging your kitchen blender into a 240-watt plug and equipping it with lawnmower blades. Just in case you’d like to juice shrubs and small trees.
Similarly, the entire premise of the new M cars seems to be overkill. It’s very unlikely that you’d ever bring your $92,000 M5 sedan onto a racetrack, but it’s nice to know you could, right?
(And yes, in fact, you could, as I recently proved over a long day at a California track, pounding the heck out of both the M5 and M6. More on that later.)
That might seem like an irresponsible way to abuse expensive toys, especially as the M6 coupe and convertible are even dearer, starting at $108,300 and $115,300. The prices include a $1,300 gas guzzler tax.
These are the fruits of BMW’s M Division, which soups up and retunes models already in the regular lineup. The latest 5 Series was released as a 2011 model year and the new 6 Series as a 2012. Hungry for more flash and power, many patient buyers have been waiting until the release of the M variants.
These may be sober times, but sports car enthusiasts are living in a golden age. Not so long ago a car with more than 500 horsepower was a rare and ludicrous thing. Today you can buy a Chevy Camaro with 580 hp and a Ford Mustang with 662. The latest Ferrari, the F12 Berlinetta, has 730.
So why not a 560-hp four-seater that can carry golf clubs and several buddies? The M6 coupe will bust 60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds and the M5 in just a tick over. Still, more isn’t always more. The M5’s curb weight is a chubby 4,300 pounds. A diet would mean equal quickness with fewer horses.
To BMW’s credit, the engines have gained power while diminishing in cylinders and size. The previous generations both used a 5.0-liter V-10, now exchanged for a more efficient 4.4- liter V-8.
At 20 miles per gallon highway, however, efficiency is still relative. Compare that to the teetotaling four-cylinder 528i which gets 34 mpg highway.
As the names and same engine suggest, the M5 and M6 are similar. The differences really are of style and a certain degree of practicality.
The M5 would look comfortable in an executive parking lot, the M6 on South Beach’s Ocean Drive. The M5 is boxier and seats four reasonably, five in a thigh-pressing pinch. It also has a more commodious roofline.
The M6 is a two-door that comes with either a fixed roof or as a convertible. It is both squished and elongated, with a lower hood, a lower center of gravity and a sense that it slices more easily through the air. The tradeoff is lack of headroom and practical back seats.
Both models look great. Compared to the previous generation M5, the double kidney grill is larger and gets an inverted cant. The hood has bulging lines which form an arrow-like “V” pointing down the road.
The M6, on the other hand, is outright sexy, particularly in convertible guise with the roof down. BMW’s interiors, once grim, are excellent on both of these cars, and BMW’s navigation and infotainment systems with head’s up display are first rate.
Power on Tap
Around town, these are both easy beasts. Nothing scary about them. All that power is just waiting to be tapped, though, a potential problem on the highway when you glance down to find yourself driving 90 mph.
It wasn’t until I drove the cars at the Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey that it became clear how BMW could release cars this powerful. The answer: They are highly monitored by electronic stability and traction controls.
Coming out of a slow corner onto the long front straight, I found I had to be very delicate with the M5’s gas pedal. Slap it down too quickly and the wheels would try to spin and the back end would briefly attempt to step out.
Instead the electronic controls would quickly intercede, cutting power until things were righted. This is not a bad thing. Think thrice before fully turning off the traction control.
The problem is that you begin to feel indestructible, sure that the cars’ digital brains will fix mistakes or injudicious applications of power. And, mostly, they will. Cresting one of Laguna Seca’s rolling hills at 125 mph with the gas pedal pinned to the floor seemed all too easy.
Brake hard at the bottom of that hill, twist the wheel and careen through the downhill turn. I’ve seen cars fly off at that turn, but neither the M5 nor M6 would allow it.
Powerful? Absolutely. Drunk? Not at all.
The 2013 BMW M5 sedan and M6 coupe at a Glance
Engines: 4.4-liter V-8 with 560 horsepower and 500 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmissions: Seven-speed double-clutch automated manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds; 4.1.
Gas mileage per gallon: 14 city, 20 highway.
Prices as tested: $104,647; $126,218.
Best features: Smart electronic controls mated to
Worst features: Overall weight; slippery seats.
Target buyers: The driver who wants room and great might.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.