Push the three performance-setting buttons on the console once, and the M5 goes into Sport mode. The suspension takes on a notably stiffer quality, the wheel tightens up, giving more road feedback through its hydraulic power-steering boost, and the gas pedal becomes a more sensitive instrument. These settings work best for serpentine back roads with little traffic.
However, the M5 still won’t deliver satisfying performance until you dial up the transmission’s aggressiveness. I know, more settings. The dual-clutch transmission (DCT) in the M5 is simpler than that used in the last M3 I tested. It offers only automatic or manual shift modes, with no sport setting. A rocker switch behind the shifter toggles both automatic and manual modes through three levels, from smooth to aggressive.
With the DCT in Drive, or automatic, the most aggressive setting locked out the top three gears, only going up to fourth. In manual mode, I could shift higher, but the more aggressive setting made the shifts faster, with the potential for some big rpm changes that would make the car buck and the engine snort.
Pushing all these buttons was tedious, but this is an M car, which meant it had not one, but two M buttons on the steering wheel. From a screen on the iDrive controller, I was able to assign a performance profile to each M button. I did the logical thing and gave the M1 button all the Sport settings, and programmed the M2 button with Sport Plus. In addition to the programmed settings, the M buttons also trade standard traction control for BMW’s M Dynamic Mode, which allows some seriously enjoyable cornering. Getting out of the M modes was a little tricky. From M2, I had to push the M1 button. In M1 mode, I had to hold down the M1 button for a second, which reverted the car to its default boring mode.
After all of this button pushing and programming, I finally had a car that was fun to drive. Or almost. Public roads just do not do the 2013 M5 justice. In Sport mode, with the M1 button, I had the DCT dialed in at its most aggressive position in manual mode, sticking to second and third gears over a twisty back road. In second gear, the car could get well over 70 mph before hitting redline. Around the sharpest corners, the M5 evinced a uniquely BMW handling characteristic, letting the rear end come out just a few degrees.
On a more obscure road, full of hairpin turns going up a mountain, I got a sense of what Sport Plus could do. With the M2 mode activated, the car was very twitchy, reacting to the road surface minutely. It became a precision instrument, with my every input to the accelerator and steering wheel causing immediate reaction. The steering wheel gave tremendous feedback. This mode would really come into its own during very hard driving on a track.