WHENEVER ONE OF the team participates in a new vehicle launch, there are always the dangers to consider. Whether it’s a Chinese hatchback or an Italian exotic carved from carbon fibres, there’s always the chance you could slip off a mountain pass, have a delivery truck collide into you or have your clutch or gearbox grenade itself when you’re shifting off. The invitations to racetracks of course, whilst bound to have you bouncing in anticipation of some lairy fun, obviously come with their own rack of issues such as writing off or part-damaging the shiny new vehicle in question. So when I cracked the nod for the launch of the all new and ridiculously powerful (and rear-wheel driven) BMW M5, I was both excited and dismayed to learn that the tiniest of the land’s racing circuits – Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth – had been selected as its proving ground. Oh bother.
An early start to the day saw us traverse 200km of the Garden Route in lesser Fives. A comparative drive between the 530d and its more powerful 535d sibling proved insightful, as did a stint in the new 180kW petrol-powered four-pot wonder in the 528i. But all I could really think about was the twin-turbo V8-brandishing hoontastic saloon I’d be negotiating (’Please, please don’t kill me!’) around the tiny Aldo circuit later on. So I’ll cut straight to the meat of this performance car sandwich.
I was the first lamb to the slaughter (FACT: minus the ‘S’, that spells laughter) otherwise known as the BMW M5. Clambering aboard a blue, warmed up M is such a non-event it’s almost tragic. There are no retro rockets or booster buttons, no laser arming mechanisms… nada.’ This is typical Five series, and that’s not a bad thing. Lashings of alcantara, M tri-colour stitching and a badge or two are all that let you know you’re in the most special of BMW saloons. Flatten the brake pedal, punch start, and the beast rumbles. Still in neutral, boot the throttle and she bellows. Pin it and she howls. This is proper ‘pins and needles’ stuff. I proceed to bite the back of my hand, then engage Drive with the gear selector, followed by thumbing M1 mode on the steering wheel. It’s been primed by the BMW team to maximum driver involvement, save for the traction control which in this MDM mode gives me a LOT of slip, but still intrudes when you’ve done something stupid. Feeding throttle in D turns that grumble into a roar and the pit lane is quickly relegated to the rear view camera. I’m free. ‘WUH-OH!’ Ok so the first thing I notice since unleashing the BMW onto the track is how close everything is. The walls, the tyres, the edge of the circuit – it’s all so constrictive, almost claustrophobic. And here’s me in a 412kW, 650Nm saloon the size of Table Mountain. What ensued for the first two warm-up laps was a lesson in restraint. And for the next three pace laps, more of the same. Now, one does not take an M5 to the track and not go flat out, so for the final three laps I had a nice warm cup of courage and put the boot in.
First, second, third gear – the revs soar and cogs swap with such speed that I’m coursing through gears quicker than I can announce them. My ears are filled with a deep buzzing that overruns your thoughts as you push past 6000rpm. The overrun makes a good sound too. Simply put, here be a cornucopia of automotive aural pleasures, all tuned by foot, like a massive pipe organ. A bollard has been placed at each clipping point along the circuit, and I’m playing a manic game of connect-the-dots with them. A Pacman impersonation whereby I gobble up the cones would not be favourable as barely a meter beyond them lies concrete wall. The rhythm is addictive. Power right up to the corner, brake firmly, turn in and the car tracks with precision all to a V8 soundtrack spurring you on. Feed in the throttle early and you get mild understeer. Get on the power late and a light oversteer is induced. Do either with too much conviction and you’ll break traction rewarding you with a linear slide that you can tune with the throttle or wait for the traction control to pull you straight. This car WILL catch the uninitiated; it’s a hard car to master. It’s a hard car to restrain yourself in too, so the challenge is finding a happy medium.
The subsequent cruise from PE to George airport must be the 300 most frustrating kilometres I’ve ever driven in a car. The N2 is not an autobahn, instead it’s riddled with speed cameras and pedestrian speed limits. Also holiday makers, golfers and tourists, the lot. I imagine it’s much like being the oke who gets to hit the red button that fires the nukes. Lots and lots of power, not much opportunity to use it. Still, the slow speed trundle did serve as a great reminder of what a pleasure the Five is to drive, even with the firmer M Division suspension.