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The next-generation BMW 5 Series hasn't even arrived yet, but BMW is hard at work testing the hottest version of the popular sedan – the sixth-generation M5.

Now admittedly, these photos might not look much like an M5. The wheels are big, but not uncommonly so. There's no wild and crazy body kit, or hugely flared wheel arches. But what's that in the back? Are those four exhaust tips? Why yes, yes they are. And take a second look at those wheels. Notice the pizza-pan-sized brakes and huge calipers? Yet another M5 giveaway.

But as our spies rightly point out, even though this does represent development work on the next M5, it's a very early prototype. That could also explain the charge port on the driver's side front fender, a feature that we've seen on other 5 Series prototypes. This does not mean the next M5 will be a plug-in hybrid, however.

What the next M5 will likely be, though, is all-wheel drive. This isn't a huge surprise, considering that the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG has already gone AWD, while the Porsche Panamera Turbo and Audi RS6/7 have always had four driven wheels. BMW has even hinted at just such a development, with former M boss Dr. Friedrich Nitschke going as far as saying AWD could arrive on the next M5.

"On our cars we are thinking of all-wheel drive, but it won't come before we get the successor of the M5 and M6," Nitschke said in an October 2013 report. "That's the timing and it's not practical to react in the current life cycles."

At this point, it's simply too early to guess at when or where the next-generation M5 will debut. We're expecting the next-gen 5 Series at either the 2016 Geneva Motor Show or Auto China 2016 in Beijing. The next M5 could join it, although it's possible it'd get its very own debut at a later date.

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