After the mild disappointment of its emotion-lite predecessor, the current BMW M5 marks a welcome return to form for the Motorsport division’s biggest sedan (we’re not even going to pretend that the M760i qualifies as a true M car). But BMW’s model-development program moves to a staccato drumbeat these days, and less than a year after the regular M5 went on sale, we’ve now driven the new, fractionally turned-up Competition version.
The new car marks the transition from an option package to a separate trim level, one that’s hairier than the standard M5 but some way short of the black-hearted transformation wrought to BMW models such as the M3 CS or the M4 GTS. Unlike the new M2 Competition, the M5 Competition doesn’t replace the regular M5. Instead it will be sold alongside it, carrying a $7300 premium and boasting a modest increase in power, firmer suspension settings, and some very subtle cosmetic tweaks—the most obvious being the Competition label that now appears beneath the M5 badge on the decklid.
The M5’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 has its own engine code—S63B44T4—and you can read about how it differs from BMW’s regular non-M V-8 of the same displacement here. The increase to 617 horsepower is pretty much a rounding error on the regular M5’s 600. Peak torque remains unchanged at 553 lb-ft, but it’s available across a fractionally broader rev range, all the way from 1800 to 5860 rpm. That means the BMW has more power than the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, but less torque. BMW claims a 3.1-second sprint to 60 mph, 0.1 second better than its claim for the regular M5, but considering that we recorded a 2.8-second zero-to-60-mph time in the standard M5, that number is sure to be unduly pessimistic.
The M5 Competition certainly feels brutally fast, although it’s subjectively no quicker than the regular car. As in the stock M5, the Competition’s all-wheel-drive system gives a sense of on-power security that no previous generation of M5 could approach. It will tolerate full-throttle starts and being hoofed out of corners without drama or complaint. There’s a hint of lag to the engine below 3000 rpm, something that can be detected only with manual gear selection, but once the turbos are spinning there is huge urge all the way to the rev cutoff. The Competition also gets a switchable sport exhaust that in its louder setting adds more bass and crackle to the regular M5’s already muscular soundtrack, even if it can’t quite match the crispness of the E63 S’s high-rev timbre.
The suspension changes have yielded a more obvious result. These are tweaks rather than radical alterations, but as tends to be the case with M’s magic tinkering, the overall effect feels considerably greater than the relatively modest sum of the parts. The Competition sits on springs that are about 10 percent stiffer than those of the regular car, and the adaptive dampers have been retuned accordingly. Geometry changes at the front have given more front camber, with revised anti-roll bar mounts also tightening the relationship between the front tires and the steering wheel. The engine has gained firmer mounts, and the rear axle has ball joints in place of the stock M5’s rubber bushings, as well as a heftier anti-roll bar.
On the Andalusian mountain roads of our drive route, the Competition felt like a slightly firmed-up M5. Although noticeable, the changes haven’t added any significant harshness, and in the suspension’s Comfort mode the damping is still impressively pliant. Switched to Sport, it didn’t feel excessively harsh even over rough road surfaces at speed. The steering does feel slightly more direct than in the regular M5, with incisive front-end responses and huge reserves of grip. While there were no opportunities to assess this M5’s abilities as a high-speed cruiser, we can report it was capable of some knuckle-whitening speeds even on short straights.
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