Officially M-ified

2012-02-10 12:07

I’ve always thought that the VW Golf V GTI was overrated.

In the same way, I was never bowled over by the BMW cars with the three stripes – the M models. Then again, I’d never driven one. But now that I have, I get the hype.
While attending the local launch of the latest M model, I realised that I was being “M-ified”. It was like being in one of those sci-fi movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I’ve also never been afraid of any car before, until we took the M5 around the Aldo Scribante racetrack in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
I may not be the Stig (from BBC’s Top Gear), but I too have the need for speed. With this car though, I was holding back because, frankly, the sheer power breathing from the monstrous V8 engine scared me.

The history of this power goes back 40 years to a group of eight guys hired to work on BMW’s racing programme. The company, BMW M GmbH, which might read like a scientific equation in German, means “born from motorsport intent on perfection” – and that was their mandate.

They were then invited to translate their expertise from the racetrack to the autobahn and so the M badge took form in 1979 with the launch of the M535i as a high-performance version of the fashionable 5 Series.

Other than the X3 and the flagship 7 Series, there’s an M model for almost every nameplate in the BMW stable. Even the mighty X5 and X6 SUVs boast the badge on their top-end models.

In the past, these cars had powerful engines with unheard-of performance for a production line vehicle. And current versions also use dual-clutch transmissions, which means a racier and smoother gear change.

According to BMW, M models traditionally have naturally aspirated – as opposed to turbo-charged – and high-revving engines. The best examples of these, according to enthusiasts, are the E60s and E90s, which are labels referring to the year model.

They are rated as the most powerful, non-turbo-charged or supercharged engines ever built by the company.
Then, because of stringent CO2 emission regulations, rising fuel costs and international trends, the new millennium brought about the end of naturally aspirated developments.

The M versions of the X5, X6 and the 5-Series models were then built with twin-turbo engines – making more power but with fewer emissions. Thus the E90 M3 from last year’s model range is considered to be the only true M car left.

The iconic three stripes synonymous with the range of cars made their first appearance on the M5 in 1984. The red stripe represented Texaco, an American oil company that partnered with BMW during their racing days in the 1970s and early 1980s. Blue represented BMW and the Bavarian region where it is based, while purple represented their partnership. To keep the red, BMW had to buy out Texaco when their partnership ended.

The latest M5 was first unveiled at the Johannesburg International Motor Show in October, but it was launched on the market last week, along with the 5-Series 520i, 528i and 535d models.
The car carries through the three-stripe logo on the steering wheel in red, blue and purple hand stitching. There are custom-built sports seats wrapped in Merino leather, along with BMW’s trademark iDrive control system.

The M-style instrument cluster with red needles and white illumination, as well as the gear lever, carry through the logo motif, along with the brake callipers, the 19-inch light alloys, the side gills and the boot lid.
The fifth-generation model features an active M differential, part of the suspension system that sends the right amount of power to the rear wheels.

Meanwhile, a brand-new, high-revving V8 engine with TwinPower Turbo technology drives the M5, pushing 412kW of power and 680Nm of torque. To get a sense of that, you’d need seven Chevvy Sparks to get that much power.
The musical grunts coming from that engine and the dual twin pipes will soothe any car lover’s soul. The good news is that it uses a third less fuel than its predecessors, but it ups its power quotient – this is thanks to its auto stop-start function and thrifty gearbox.

It also goes from zero to 100km in 4.4?seconds. We tried putting that to the test and let’s just say I might have felt queasy, but I had a huge grin on my face as we drove the M5s back after a day that clocked up 550km – just as well the seats were ergonomic.

And as for me, I have added driving as many M cars as I can to my petrolhead bucket list.

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