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Friday mailbag: why does the Blackwing and M5 feel so different?

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Friday? Yes please. We’ll celebrate with a mailbag on the G87 M2, and the Cadillac Blackwing feeling so different from a similar car in the M5.

If you’d like to participate, drop me a question at And don’t worry, you’ll remain anonymous. Oh and by the way, many of you send me pics of your rides. I love it! If you email me and include a pic, I’ll post it if I pick your question.

Question – G87 M2

With the New G87 due to production, perhaps a little something about that. I have a 21 F87 non executive pkg, M Driver’s slick top. Not sure I’m willing to swap for the G87. The styling of the rear is so much nicer with the F. How significant would the G87 upgrade even be?

– Terry

Terry’s beautiful F87 M2. Thanks for sending!


I received many messages similar to Terry’s regarding the article I wrote last week on the new M2, and I wanted to clarify two points I made.

  1. The G87 M2 will almost certainly feel better (and be faster) behind the wheel than an F87 M2. If you’re eager to see what I mean, drive an F80 M3 and G80 back to back. It’s safe to assume the new M2 will represent a similar jump in performance, comfort, and livability.
  2. Just because a car is better on a piece of paper does not mean you need to sell yours and jump into it. I loved my E92, so much so that the F80 M3 never tempted me.

The name of this publication is an honest one. You make a connection with a car, and there’s no reason to get rid of it if you love it, Sunday popularity car shows be damned.

Looks play a very important role too. If you don’t love a new shirt in the Macy’s dressing room, you aren’t going to wear it out. Cars follow the same logic. If you don’t like how it makes you look or feel, you’ll sell it quickly.

So relax F87 owners. I hope you enjoy your cars for many years to come.

Question 2 – Suspension Dissection

Hey Mike. I loved the article on the Blackwing (it made me feel like I was truly in the cockpit with you!). I was wondering if you could clarify something for me.

You seem to think the Blackwing “feels” better, but what does that mean? How does it handle better? Both cars seem so capable, I’m wondering how you can tell the difference between the two?

– Jon


Thanks for the kind words, Jon. I think the best place to start is why BMW’s steering feels the way it does. In short, they’ve decided to filter out a lot of the feedback in their electronic racks that you might otherwise feel. Cadillac simply filters out less.

But there’s more to it than just the steering, so let’s move to the suspension. The V’s setup has struts in the front, while the M5 has a double wishbone. In the rear, both cars have a multi-link.

These systems in-and-of themselves are not really unique to the car industry. The M5’s double wishbone is technically a more complex and capable system than struts because it allows the tire to maintain better constant contact with the road, but they are heavier and more costly. From that point alone, you might be confused as to why the V feels more alive, and it comes down to this very big and science-y word: Magnetorheological.

Cadillac CT-5 Blackwing
The Blackwing is adept at both comfort and sport driving.

The Cadillac CT-5 V Blackwing’s suspension

A shock absorber is usually filled with a special type of hydraulic fluid that allows the piston inside to move with ease. But what if you could change the viscosity of that fluid? GM has found a way with magnets and electricity.

Inside the fluid of the shocks for the Blackwing, you’ll find tiny iron particles and magnets at each end of the shock. When you press the comfort mode button, those little pieces of metal are allowed to be at rest and sort of float around. How relaxing.

Ah, but suddenly, you see the red mist. The urge to tackle the next corner is strong, so you hit the sport button to stiffen up the ride. This causes an electric current to flow to the coils and create a magnetic field, which arranges the iron particles into lines, making the fluid more resistant to flow.  Stiffer chassis. No Viagra needed.

While some sport-oriented cars have a kind of harsh ride that only gets worse in sport mode, the Blackwing really has two personalities. It’s astonishing in this regard.

Cadillac CT-5 Blackwing

The BMW M5’s suspension

The M5 is just as capable as the Blackwing on paper.

BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension does the same thing, but goes about it a different way. In the M5, the firmness of the suspension is based on the amount of fluid in the shock absorber.

Electromagnetically controlled valves in the damper pistons allow the damping forces to be adjusted steplessly. When the valves are opened in comfort mode, more oil can flow from one damper pipe into the other. This allows the piston more travel, and for you to have a softer ride.

Think of Mike Tyson punching you under water, with the water acting both to slow down his fist and provide a buffer for the impact. Lots of resistance.

Now, we turn the M5 onto a track and hit sport mode. The valves close, allowing less oil through and firming everything up. Here, Mr. Tyson is punching you in the air, and you’ll feel every bit of that fist as it swings around.

The computer that controls the suspension in the M5 is very complex, taking readings from sensors at each wheel. Each corner of the car is on its own, so nothing unwanted happens. If you hit a bump with your left front wheel, the right side is going to want to compress, and this system allows for those kind of constant adjustments.

BMW themselves have an excellent explanation of how the system works in the M5.

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how smart a car’s suspension is, it can only react to what just happen, not anticipate what’s about to come. But the car acts within milliseconds to changing conditions. It’s imperceptible.


So what’s the difference?

There’s a lot more that just the shocks. The kinematics (metal parts) and elasto-kinematics (flexible parts) also play a vital role with how a car feels.

Remember that in the 90’s and 2000’s, BMW was the company for suspension tuning. This lead many other makers to purchase BMWs, tear them apart, and find out what makes them tick. They would then incorporate lessons learned into newer models they made. Thirty years later, we now have a Cadillac as the sports sedan standard for handling.

Other factors matter too. The Blackwing I drove had Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (same as my G80), but the M5 had Pirellis P-ZEROs. The Michelin is simply the best performance tire you can currently buy, for many reasons. It depends on if you win the tire lottery from the factory too.

When everything is in sport mode, the M5 becomes incredibly stiff.
Cadillac Blackwing
With the Blackwing, you can more or less put the car in the middle “sport” setting and leave it – the car adapts to almost any condition seamlessly.

The M5 weighs in at 4,300 lbs, the Blackwing, 4,100. That helps to reduce the amount of time it takes for a car to change direction quickly. And while BMW used to be king of the 50/50 weight distribution, the F90 comes in with a 45/54 split. The Blackwing? A perfect 50/50.

Lastly, consider that the M5 uses all-wheel drive to propel itself forward. From a technical standpoint, cars with this much power need it to maintain traction at launch and through some tighter turns where you want to shoot out of the corner. But as a playful thing, rear-wheel drive will always allow a more direct feel that generally features less understeer at the limit.

I truly love both cars, both for their performance and dual personality. The difference in each comes down to the preference of the engineers behind the machines, and perhaps a slighty better understanding on GM’s part of what American buyers might want in their big luxo high-performance sedans.

See you next week!

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