Be it the countryside or the continent, for many years the Audi RS6 has arguably been the go to machine for those looking to cover ground as expediently as possible with a family in tow. Recently the ageing Audi may, for us at least, have been deposed by Mercedes' new E63 S but, whichever your current preference, both the RS6 and E63 had had the beating of BMW's F10 M5. Setting aside the differing practicalities of their estate/saloon layouts (the M5's boot is plenty spacious enough for the majority of uses although, admittedly, it's probably best not to try and fit your dog in there) as platforms they remain direct rivals. In the Autobahn arms race, therefore, it's BMW that has been losing ground.
The latest M5 though, the F90, has clawed some back, and now BMW has unleashed its latest upgrade in a bid to regain the upper hand: the M5 Competition. Unlike the recently-launched M2 Competition, which has entirely replaced the regular M2, the M5 Comp is offered alongside its standard sibling as a more focussed alternative. That may seem like a puzzling decision at first, but when you consider that the M2's sportier second act - which markedly improves on its predecessor in many ways - costs only £2,500 more, then keeping both options on the table makes little sense.
The M5, on the other hand, is a different proposition. The standard car delivers on BMW's remit almost flawlessly - i.e. the transportation of its occupants as quickly and effortlessly to their destination as possible. Such composure hasn't always been the perceived purpose of an M5, however, and the howling V10s and manual transmissions of the past have, understandably, led many an M enthusiast to find the F90 a little sterile, even a touch soulless, perhaps.
The Competition may not return us to the E60 era, but BMW still hopes it'll assuage those doubters by livening things up a bit. For an extra £6,500 over the regular car, then, it increases the output of its twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 to 625hp (up from 600hp previously) and widens the rev band to make 553lb ft of peak torque available between 1,800 and 5,800rpm. 0-62mph is taken care of in just 3.3 seconds (the same as before) while 124mph can now be reached in 10.8 seconds, three tenths quicker than the conventional car.
That extra oomph is a needle to the M5 Comp's 1,950kg haystack, though - weight having increased by a similarly negligible 10kg. It's in the rest of the changes that the Competition's genius lies. Immediately apparent is its more purposeful stance, a byproduct of a seven millimetre drop in ride height, and increased camber at the front. Less obvious are the new damper hydraulics, 10 per cent stiffer springs, firmer engine mounts and redesigned anti-roll bar linkages.
Modest alterations on the face of things, maybe, but combined they work to equal far more than the sum of their parts. Right away the M5 Competition feels more nimble than standard. The car is up on its toes now, and there's a renewed sense of agility in the way it sweeps through corners. Turn in is noticeably sharper, too - even in the most laid back of the steering's three settings. Lateral grip and traction is much as it was before; which is to say, phenomenal.
Despite its sharper focus, the ride is not overly uncompromising, nor uncomfortably firm. Again, three selectable settings help in this regard, although the softest 'comfort' mode feels slightly too loose for UK roads; its excessive rebound precipitating a wallow over undulating ground. The intermediate 'sport' setting seems the best compromise here, firming things up nicely without being too extreme - but potholes, cracks and cats eyes will still make their presence felt.
Certainly you'll find yourself becoming familiar with the latter. At 1,903mm wide the M5 is only 8cm narrower than a Range Rover, meaning that its fit on the South Walian B-roads on which we drove it could best be described as snug. Yet again, though, the enhanced precision offered up by the steering, if not able to completely disguise the width, goes some way to mitigating any resulting sense of unease.
New exhaust pipes round out the changes, emitting a deeper rasp, as well as barrages of ever-exciting crackles and bangs. While the soundtrack still can't claim to match its rivals' intensity, it combines with the Competition's other modifications to imbue the M5 with a greater sense of intent than the F90 generation has previously known. The logic behind BMW's decision not to simply replace the standard car with this one certainly makes sense on paper, but for us the choice is a no-brainer. When it comes to the M5, the Competition is the car to have.
SPECIFICATION - BMW M5 COMPETITION
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): 625@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@1,800-5,800rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 190mph