Because despite the big billing and the murmurs of approval from voices on the other side of the point, the CTS-V doesn’t quite handle well enough to cut it in this company. In isolation, I dare say it’d meet most dynamic expectations of a fast four- door – but in comparison with the incisive steering, supreme balance and unbelievable body control of the BMW, and a Mercedes that isn’t far behind in all of those respects, theCadillac struggles.
It struggles for outright grip and traction (surprise, surprise), for vertical body control at times and, very occasionally, for stability too. But what strikes you most about the big American, with familiarity, is the disconnect between the pace of the car’s steering and the softness of its rear axle, the latter seeming to take its time to settle onto its loaded side after the former has wrenched the car through the turn-in phase with all of the gentle moderation of a presidential handshake.
The M5’s handling, meanwhile, couldn’t present a starker contrast with that of the CTS-V. It’s so outstanding, in fact, that even the walloping E63 isn’t ultimately in the same league as a driver’s car. It’s a brilliance you have to invest in before you can fully unearth it on the road, though – which brings us neatly to the last of those big questions we talked about earlier: complexity.
The M5’s driving experience is complicated, you see, even by the standards of a typical modern performance car that seems to have adopted the concept as an end in its own right. The car doesn’t just have a handful of driving modeslike the Mercedes and Cadillac but also presents you with a dizzying number of choices about how you want its engine, gearbox, power steering, suspension, stability control system and four-wheel-drive system configured. With each system, you can choose from three preset states, which means this car doesn’t really have one driving experience you need to get to know but rather 18 of them.
Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s certainly a turn-off while you’re getting acquainted with the car, especially if you’re not used to the way BMW M division handles this stuff. But the funny thing is that it doesn’t take more than an afternoon to suss it all out. As you quickly learn, the top Sport+ and otherwise most aggressive settings for all of those individual systems are best left for track use, and with a lot of the rest of them, you’ll have an instinctive sense of what you like and what should work well for the road you’re on.
Chances are, you’ll find more than one combination of settings that works well, because the M5 is that kind of car: a rear-driven sabre rattler to be enjoyed at its most unhinged at one moment, and a more moderate, balanced, apex- threading precision instrument the next. And here’s the best news: you can have both, one immediately after the other, minimum fiddling required. BMW’s configurable driver presets allow you to save your two preferred combinations of steering weight, damper setting, shift logic, inter- axle torque bias and more, and then jump between the two with a flick of your thumb, using the anodised orange ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ buttons on the steering wheel spokes.