First Drive: Can BMW’s M5 Competition come out top of the super-saloon pack?
What is it?
Is the BMW M5 the quintessential super saloon? With 30 years and six generations of experience behind it, BMW should be rightly able to claim that the latest hot 5 Series has real pedigree. In the push to make the M5 easier to live with, though, some reckon that Bavaria’s super saloon has lost a little edge over the years.
BMW’s answer is the M5 Competition: with more power, firmer suspension and an active exhaust, it’s the standard car’s meaner brother. But can it compete with the likes of the Mercedes-AMG E63 S?
From the bottom up, there’s the new 20-inch forged alloy wheels – a smidge wider at the rear than the front, underpinning that the M5’s four-wheel drive system is still very much rear-biased. Then there’s the chassis tweaks: the Competition is 7mm lower than the standard M5, and sits on stiffer suspension.
Naturally, BMW hasn’t left the drivetrain alone either: an extra 24bhp has been squeezed out of the engine, and an active exhaust system has been added.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Competition is powered by largely the same engine as the standard M5 – a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 – but now with 616bhp of power and 750Nm of torque on tap. For all that extra oomph, the Competition will hit 60mph ever so slightly faster – 3.3 seconds instead of 3.4 – though as usual, top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
That all makes the Competition quicker not only than the standard M5, but also Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S. Numbers aside, the Competition feels blisteringly fast – but then in truth, so does the standard car.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s fair to say that the standard M5 is multi-talented in the handling department, and the Competition is no different. Despite the huge muscle available, even this – the most hardcore M5 available – doesn’t feel like a challenge to drive. Where a few generations ago you’d be cautious of nearly two tonnes of saloon stepping out of line on slippery tarmac, the M5 now feels as safe and grippy as – dare we say it – an RS-badged Audi.
That’s assuming you keep the M5 set its standard four-wheel-drive mode, of course. For those that want to tease the back end into more playful behaviour, there are options to shift more – or all – power to the rear wheels instead.
What’s a bit harder to quantify are the changes that the Competition pack brings. The lower, firmer suspension feels a step too far for British roads, and undermines the M5’s usability as a premium saloon. Conversely, while the active exhaust is a welcome addition, we’re not sure it’s gone far enough. Compared to the level of theatre Mercedes-AMG can tease out of a set of pipes, BMW’s efforts sound a bit quiet and clinical – though we’ll admit it comes down to personal preference.
How does it look?
The M5 is rather a handsome beast, embellishing the 5 Series’ stylish lines with some subtle performance-focussed additions like quad exhausts and a carbon fibre roof. The Competition goes a few steps further: the familiar BMW kidney grille is framed in gloss black rather than chrome, while the mirror caps and the lower part of the rear bumper get a dose of black paint too.
The larger, 20-inch alloys are hard to miss too, even if they do only look subtly different in design to the standard 19-inch ones.
What’s it like inside?
Aside from a few performance touches, it’s very much 5 Series business as usual in the cabin – which is to say it’s nicely appointed, sensibly designed and well-built. In the current fad of multiple touch screens, the M5’s interior can look a little button-heavy – but it’s not without good reason. An array of buttons alongside the gear selector let you switch between the multitude of individual modes for engine, steering and suspension, while a pair of menacing red ‘M1’ and M2’ buttons on the steering wheel let you save your favourite combinations for quick access.
Naturally, the M5’s sports seats are a touch less forgiving than the standard 5 Series’s cushy armchair-like creations, but they can still be heated, cooled, and adjusted every which way to make up for it.
What’s the spec like?
Being the most expensive 5 Series available, the M5 gets a decent chunk of equipment thrown in – electrically adjustable heated seats, four zone climate control, Harmon Kardon audio, a 10.25-inch touch screen for navigation and so on.
The Competition itself adds £6,500 to the price – a not insurmountable lump of cash – though you do at least get the fancy exhaust, extra power and a tweaked chassis.
There’s still plenty of scope to spend extra cash on the options list though, so exercise restraint if you want to keep the Competition under £100,000 – particularly if you get tempted by things like carbon ceramic brakes at a painful £7,495.
The M5 remains one of the most exciting sports saloons on sale today, and depending on the specification, one of the easiest to live with too. Opting for the Competition, though, requires a little more thought. The extra firm ride, only mild performance upgrades and £6,500 premium are hard to square unless you absolutely have to have the most hardcore M5 available. For us, we’d stick to the standard M5 – already a fantastic all-rounder – and spend the extra cash on the extensive options list instead.