Between 140 and 190mph, the M5 30th Anniversary Edition is a confidence trick. The dashboard is familiar Five Series and the spangly plaque reminds you that this is a rather special saloon car, but when your eyeballs are fixed on the horizon as the flick-flick-flick of the white line increases, the driver has no idea that this is a large five-seater. It could be a 911 Turbo, or something even more exotic.
The notion of the Q-car is now so obvious and over-sold that the genre has come full circle. Cars like the M5 no longer secretively lurk on the Autobahns looking to surprise and embarrass Porsches – sportscars simply leap out of the way when an AMG or M car or something similarly capacious, and supposedly ordinary-looking, appears in the mirror. With vast turbocharged power outputs, they now rule these roads.
And they remain magnificent roads. As a demonstration of what a high-quality, high-speed road network should be, the Autobahns are still the best in the world. Not perfect, because nothing ever is, but still mostly a joy for anyone perpetually bemused by the fact that no other government seems willing to acknowledge the huge advances in vehicle performance and safety wrought since the 60s. Every other archaic legal framework has been allowed to progress over time, but not the ability to get somewhere fast.
There are dozens of reasons to like the Autobahn. Among them: the joy of the de-limit sign, the mostly excellent driving standards, the quality of the signage, the cleanliness, the mostly excellent surfaces and of course the fact that, outside of the worst snarl-up areas, you really can get places much, much faster because you can cruise at 130mph.
‘I suppose it’s fitting that the M5 has ended up being so complete. It began the modern era of the discreet fast saloon car back in 1985, and it has always been the one to beat.’
But the one I often forget is the crucial role it plays in the development of fast cars – in fact make that all cars. The M5 was easily loping along at 140mph following a new C220 diesel and it struck me that if it wasn’t for the existence of a place where you can legally go very fast, car companies wouldn’t bother spending the time or money ensuring they were engineered to do so. In some respects this road network is the justification for the great cars we currently enjoy. It’s why I know that someone from BMW spent many hours driving between 160mph and 190mph and ensuring that the pitch and yaw qualities of the M5’s suspension were consistent and confidence inspiring.
This helps put paid to that terrible British affliction of stating that the fast diesel version is ‘all you’ll ever need’. In the UK, a 535d is probably nearly as brisk as an M5, but on roads where you can accelerate from 75mph to 160mph several times in one journey, there is no substitute for one of the big-bangers. If you commute into town in your M5, you will regularly destroy your weakling co-worker in his smugly-rapid 535d.
The 30th anniversary M5 has arrived with a bit of a whimper for something that has 600hp. It is the ultimate expression of the super-saloon and it is magnificently fast. Stability is supreme at those huge speeds and the ceramic brakes, though needing a big shove to do their best, pull speed from a two-ton lump with some skill.
I suppose it’s fitting that the M5 has ended up being so complete. It began the modern era of the discreet fast saloon car back in 1985, and it has always been the one to beat. My love affair with the current RS6 is well documented, but I completely fell for this car. The only let-down being the matte paintwork which makes it look a little to teenage for something with such mature skills.
And it reminds me what good value early, used versions of the F10 M M5 are these days. Crazy fast, attractive, discreet and with half-decent range, they are some of the best M cars ever built. They are characterful too – but the 30th anniversary edition is even better.