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Understated Excess: BMW M5 Competition

This well-designed, comfortable, and highly practical sedan is also blisteringly fast and capable of extraordinary performance.

It’s Friday night at 9 p.m. and I am just returning from a quick one-day trip down to LA, driving back from the airport in the BMW M5 Competition. I have been up since 5:30 a.m. It has been a long but productive day. I accelerate down the ramp out of the SFO daily parking with the snarl of the M5 V8’s exhaust ricocheting off the walls, head swiftly out onto the 101 with the M5 rapidly accelerating into the slipstream of red lights of the traffic heading up to the city.

The M5 feels comfortable and familiar — the warm glow of blue and red in the instruments, the superbly supportive M Sport seats with the whiff of the Merino leather upholstery, and the excellent ergonomics of the cabin. The M Sport steering wheel is just the right diameter and thickness, presumably honed and refined through what is now six generations of this iconic M car. The placement of the switchgear is intuitive and exactly where you would expect it all to be. Even the red machined aluminum switches for the programmable M performance settings, the paddle shifters, and steering column switchgear are neatly located for ease of cockpit management, as we refer to it in aviation. 

I am listening to the superb fidelity of the Harman Kardon sound system. For some reason I am going through a bit of a country music phase at the moment: Cody Jinks, Colter Wall, and Whiskey Myers — go figure. Lulled by the deep bass and melodic tunes, I am reflecting on my busy day, beginning to relax, and looking forward to the long weekend ahead with the M5 Competition. I glance at the head-up display, and to my surprise, I am doing well over 95mph. This sums up the M5 Competition: It is capable of dispensing the miles with extraordinary, surgical proficiency in a brilliantly functional and luxuriously cossetted package. 

My only previous experience of the M5 Competition has been on-track at Monticello Motor Club, where the M5 proved to be a highly capable and dexterous track machine. It swiftly carved through the corners with deft precision and incredibly agile handling entirely belying it’s not inconsiderable 4,262 lbs and with straight-line performance more akin to a supercar. I have been looking forward to spending a few days with the M5 Competition to see what this formidably capable machine is like to live with day-to-day. 

The first impression of the latest F90 version M5 that arrived at my house was one of familiarity. It looks superb in the Voodoo Blue with the design and styling refined in the latest mid-generational facelift. The F90 is already a great looking and well-balanced car, but these latest changes, like the newly-designed LED headlights with L-shaped tubes, larger and lower kidney grille, and restyled front apron with more aggressive styling and a bolder hexagonal central air intake, give this latest iteration a more edgy look. The rear end gets a similar treatment with a new 3D design for the lights incorporating illuminated L shaped bars and a redesigned rear bumper. The rear apron insert and diffuser are now in a gloss black, giving it a more burly look, and the tailpipes have a slimmer finish for a more technically precise appearance. The M5 and Competition variants have an aluminum hood and roof made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) which adds to the detail and uniqueness while also saving weight and lowering the center of gravity. The Competition also has a series of other signature styling details including the side gill in gloss black with the M5 Competition badging, black surround on the kidney grille, black mirror caps, black rear spoiler, and tailpipes finished in black chrome. 

My demo car came with the 20-inch M Performance forged wheels with Y-spokes in Ferric Grey matte which are part of the Competition package and contrasted beautifully with the glitzy gold brake calipers that signify the Carbon-Ceramic package.

The interior gets a larger 12.3-inch central display that incorporates a variety of options and functionality to configure the myriad of BMW M xDrive settings. BMW has clearly thought about ease of use and reducing the complexity of the performance configurations, as there is also a new two-button operating concept on the center console that allows you to easily toggle between the Road and Sport settings. In the Road setting, all the standard driver assistance is fully activated, while switching to Sport allows you to set up different configurations by disabling the various steering and braking interventions. It also switches the views in the instrument cluster and head-up display to the digital speedometer, M rev-counter, shift lights, and a range of additional options to show coolant temperature, tire condition, and g-forces. 

There is also a new set-up button that goes straight to the central display menu to select more tailored configurations for the engine settings, variable damper control, Servotronic steering, and brakes, as well as a function to switch between two- or four-wheel drive. 

There are literally hundreds of different configurations, which is part of the fun of the M5. With these new buttons, however, you can make the M5 as user-friendly or as precisely dialed into your own highly curated specification for different road and track environments. 

The M5 Competition has an even stiffer chassis and uses the same shocks that were developed for the BMW M8 Gran Coupe. The Variable Damper Control (VDC) offers the opportunity to transition the M5 from Comfort mode, which offers the most absorption for everyday use, Sport mode, which reduces the wheel and body movement and enhances dynamics for greater connectivity with the road, and Sport+ mode, which minimizes wheel and body movement for smooth asphalt track conditions. BMW has worked on reducing variations of wheel loads when the M5 is at the limit, which has resulted in enhanced driveability for more precise handling while on the track.

The M Servotronic steering can be switched from Comfort, which provides a lighter touch for urban driving, and Sport mode, which noticeably tightens the steering requiring more force and increasing feedback. Oh, and you can also choose between the quiet and sport exhaust settings. All of these options can be personally configured and pre-programmed into the M1 and M2 buttons on the dash for ease of use, so you can convert the M5 Competition from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde at the flick of your thumb.

I found that my go-to for the M1 setting was Sport for the engine and steering in 4WD and of course the louder exhaust for most of the time. For a more spirited experience, my M2 set up was Sport setting for engine, chassis, steering, and brakes, with two-wheel drive and the traction control off, allowing for some delicious drifts of the rear wheels in second and third gear.

The heart of the M5 Competition is the high-revving, twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine, which offers an incredible amount of power with 625hp and 553 lb-ft of torque on tap. It is a pure joy to drive with plenty of low-end power. Peak torque comes in at around 1,800 rpm and is sustained as you wind through to 5,860 rpm. The performance statistics of the Competition are well within supercar territory, reaching 60mph in 3.1 seconds, and with the optional M Drivers Package, my demo car is capable of almost 190mph. Quite something for a family sedan. The oil supply system has been specifically designed with a fully variable, map-controlled pump to cope with the rigorous g-force of longitudinal and lateral acceleration. The Competition also has bespoke engine mounts that are stiffer than the M5 to provide for a more rapid engine response and transmission of power through the drivetrain, and according to BMW, increases cornering precision. 

The ZF eight-speed M Steptronic transmission incorporates BMW’s superb Drivelogic system that in addition to manual and automatic offers three different adjustments that will hold on to the revs in each gear and shift up and down more rapidly for a more exuberant driving experience. The rocker switch on the gear selector can be switched between Efficient, Sport, and Track modes for increasingly rapid shifts. The M5 will rapidly downshift when braking into a tight corner, and in Manual, there is also no automatic upshifts when the engine hits the rev-limiter for the purists among us.

The acoustics of the exhaust note can be varied based on the engine mode and M Sport exhaust sounds wonderfully sporty, with a throaty growl and bass on acceleration and eliciting a cacophony of crackles and pops on the downshifts, particularly with the more aggressive engine and transmission settings. It can also switch to a more understated note from the switch next to the transmission, so I was able to spare the neighbors on my 5:30 a.m. start this morning.

The M xDrive system on the M5 Competition has a rear-wheel bias that can be switched between 4WD, 4WD Sport, and 2WD for a more purist BMW M experience. The M Dynamic Mode (MDM) has been optimized for track driving and offers a series of settings with purely rear-wheel drive without the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) for controlled drifts.

There are also significant changes with the M5 Competitions suspension with increased camber at the front axle to absorb higher lateral forces, ten percent stiffer springs, and a drop in ride height of between 5 and 20 millimeters, intended to lower the center of gravity and reduce body roll for higher cornering speeds. 

The M Carbon ceramic brakes offer weight savings of 50 pounds, with enhanced braking performance, fade resistance, and thermal dynamics to significantly increase endurance in track environments. They are easily identified by the striking gold calipers with a six-piston fixed caliper at the front and single-piston floating calipers at the rear. 

As I reflect on my week with the M5, BMW seems to have really created the perfect package of functionality and performance. There is an ease and familiarity with the M5 — this is a well-designed, comfortable, and highly practical sedan, but it is also blisteringly fast and capable of extraordinary performance that puts it right up there with Ferrari, McLaren, and 911s. It easily and effortlessly switches personalities. It is the ideal car for all seasons, and with the vast array of configurations and settings, it can be tailored for every environment and occasion from comfortable cruiser to extremely aggressive track environments.  

The BMW M5 has a base price of $103,500, with an additional $7,500 for the Competition Package. My demo car came in the Voodoo Blue ($5,000) with Black Full Merino Leather ($3,500) with the Driving Assistance Package ($1,700), Executive Package ($3,350), M Drivers Package ($2,500), M Carbon Ceramic Brakes ($8,500), and Bowers & Wilkins Sound System ($2,500). Destination and gas taxes brought the total price to $141,045.

For more information visit the BMW M5 Competition

Photos courtesy of James Henderson