Although it’s the home of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, the Shanghai International Circuit seemingly was a random place for BMW to set the M5’s first lap record.
Except there’s never anything random about where automakers choose to showcase their new performance cars.
BMW announced Wednesday that the 2018 M5 now is the fastest four-door production sedan to lap the 3.387-mile circuit. And the reason it didn’t pursue that record at the Nurburgring almost certainly is that the German automaker knows it’s out of reach.
Porsche and Alfa Romeo battled for the record throughout much of 2016, with the Panamera and Giulia Quadrifoglio, respectively. Alfa Romeo ultimately returned to the 12.9-mile track with a Giulia equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission and bested the Panamera’s time by 6 seconds, forcing Porsche to concede.
This very public defeat likely served as a warning for BMW, especially given that it developed the M5 on “The Ring,” so it’s well aware of the model’s limitations. The 2018 M5, like the Panamera, is fitted with all-wheel drive, whereas the Giulia is rear-wheel-drive.
The extra two driven wheels provide the BMW and Porsche with extra traction in slow corners, but at the expense of weight. Both the Panamera and the BMW have a curb weight on the wrong side of 4,000 pounds, compared to the Alfa Romeo, which tips the scales at 3,029 pounds.
The Alfa is 95 horsepower down on the BMW, but given that it also has 65 horsepower less than the Porsche, its weight difference clearly makes up for its power deficit over the course of a lap.
It’s admittedly possible that BMW has beaten Alfa Romeo’s time and is waiting until after the new year to announce the feat — though it’s not plausible. Based on the when it announced its Shanghai record, it’s more likely that BMW wanted the M5 to generate some buzz before the holidays and knew this was its best chance at doing so.