The BMW M Competition recipe is now fairly well refined. Simply take an existing M-car, add a touch more power and treat the suspension to a few well-chosen tweaks aimed at sharpening the driving experience. It’s an approach that has been followed to the letter (and number) with the M5 Competition. Launched quickly into the current M5’s model cycle, the Competition is a rival for supersedan such as the Mercedes-AMG E63 S.
In the Competition upgrade, BMW breathed on the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, raising power to 459kW – although torque remained unchanged at 750Nm. Performance gains are minimal, but the optional M Driver’s pack does raise the top speed from a limited 250kmh to 305kmh. Of more interest are the changes aimed at sharpening the handling, with a lower ride height, stiffer springs, recalibrated dampers and altered geometry. It all adds up to make a car that’s more involving and agile than before, yet with barely any reduction in comfort. What the updates can’t do, however, is shrink the size of the BMW, so it still feels vast.
External changes over the standard M5 are small but worthwhile, particularly the 7mm drop in ride height, which gives the car more of a hunkered and aggressive stance. There are also new 20-inch forged alloy wheels and a subtle gloss black finish for the trim and the badges. Inside it’s business (class) as usual, with only the red-finish starter button giving the game away that this is the Competition model.
Powering the M5 Competition is the familiar twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 459kW (an increase of 18kW over the previous ‘standard’ M5), while torque remains unchanged at a rippling 750Nm. This drives through an eight-speed torque-converter auto, which is connected to BMW’s trick M xDrive four-wheel-drive transmission. This specific engine, gearbox and all-wheel-drive set-up appeared in the M5 first, but has now spread to the BMW M8 and X5M/X6M twins.
Many of the Competition’s upgrades have been concentrated on the chassis, sitting 7mm lower than that of the standard M5, which in combination with the new 20-inch forged alloys gives the Competition a much more purposeful stance. Other suspension changes include the addition of ten per cent stiffer springs complete with recalibrated adaptive dampers, firmer anti-roll bar mounts front and rear, ball-joints for the rear toe links and more negative camber for the front wheels. Finally, the engine mounts have been changed for items that are 50 per cent stiffer.
Elsewhere the Competition is the same as the standard M5, which means you get the same M xDrive four-wheel-drive system. This allows you to run with all four wheels driven, or to disengage the front axle for some good old-fashioned M-car rear-driven fun – although you need to disengage the stability control to engage this function, so you’ll need to be on high alert behind the wheel. Happily, the transmission has rear-biased feel even in its standard mode, so you can have fun without fear of taking up the whole width of the road on the exit of a corner.
Performance and 0-100 time
The standard M5 wasn’t exactly a sluggard, evidenced by the fact the Competition knocks just a tenth off the 0-100kmh time, clocking the benchmark in 3.3sec. However, by the time the Comp hits 200kmh it’s three-tenths ahead of its less powerful M5 sibling, which is useful to know.
In all honesty, any performance gains are hard to detect, the Competition accelerating with the same deranged intensity that puts it toe to toe with some seriously exotic sports cars. What the Comp does add is a little extra spice in the form of a new Sports exhaust. This set-up allows the V8 to find the full baritone bark of its voice, and while it’s not as bombastically loud as the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, the M5’s more restrained soundtrack is more in keeping with the Q-car character of a true supersaloon.
Turbo lag is only hinted at with BMW’s S63 V8, and once engaged and under full throttle feels good for every one of its 459kW. The flat torque curve barely recedes at high revs too, keeping the engine’s urgency strong even if you don’t really need to keep it in that low gear for the performance.
The transmission only accentuates the almost endless-feel to the engine, with short ratios and super slick changes that do a good impression of DCT-like changes. Keep your foot buried for more than a moment and you’ll be quickly exceeding speed limits to an alarming rate though, making it a sometimes frustrating car to drive on challenging roads.
Ride and handling
The BMW M5’s reputation as the most dynamic of supersaloons hasn’t quite been the foregone conclusion it might have once been over the last couple of generations. As its physical size and spread of capability has expanded, so too has its interaction been dulled. This is only heightened by rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, which seems to have swapped roles with the BMW by feeling more dynamic and less polished as an everyday car.
The Competition’s upgrades over the standard M5 that was released in 2017 are welcome though, and obvious the moment you move away. The M5 rides with a little more stiffness than before, even in its Comfort mode, yet it’s still fairly supple and once you’ve upped the pace any small loss in compliance is easily offset by even tighter control.
Seek out some corners and you’ll quickly find the M5 now responds with greater alacrity to the (still too mute) steering, the front tyres biting harder on turn-in. It helps give the Comp a remarkable sense of agility for such a big machine, a sensation that’s enhanced by remapped dampers (Sport is best for hard road driving – Sport Plus best reserved for the track, where the Competition performs rather better than you’d expect for a 1865kg saloon) and tougher springs, which keep the BMW planted and poised over the twisted and torn stretches of tarmac. It would be stretching the truth to say the Competition ‘shrinks around you’ – on some of the tighter sections of road the M5’s girth causes a sharp intake of breath as you squeeze past oncoming traffic – but it feels more nimble than before and far lighter on its feet than most rivals.
As before, the trick M xDrive transmission plays its part, delivering both rear-drive adjustability to keep things entertaining and assured traction when it gets slippery. Like the standard M5 you can also shortcut your favourite driver settings using the M1 and M2 buttons on the dash, including the hooligan 2WD mode, which delivers the sort of lazy drifts you’d expect from such a long and stable machine.
The problem with the M5 Competition is that while the package is arguably the most complete of any supersaloon in 2020, its anodyne soundtrack and distant steering make it somewhat less satisfying to drive on the road in comparison to the AMG. It’s an undoubtedly talented performance car, but one that doesn’t elicit the sense of drama or fun that you might expect.