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BMW M5 Competition: Driven

With the M2 now fully Competition'd, BMW moves onto the current M5

By / Monday, August 06, 2018

Last Sunday it was the M2, this week it's the M5. You'll forgive BMW its most recent bout of Competition-itus, I'm sure. At any rate, the saloon version differs somewhat from the job done on the coupe. With the M2, the manufacturer was intent on remaking the car wholesale with no standard version left to muddy the waters; in the M5, the current model remains as we know it, with the Competition badged car aimed at those who like their pencil lead with a little extra sharpness.

To that end, BMW has extracted 25hp from the same 4.4-litre V8 (peak torque remains the same at 553lb ft, but stays on tap for 200rpm longer) and dropped the car 7mm onto a modified combination of springs and dampers. These are reckoned to be around 10 per cent stiffer than before, and are complemented by increased camber at the front and adjusted toe-links and anti-roll bars to the rear. The Competition model is a smidge heavier than its counterpart; a 10kg penalty accounted for by extra measures taken in the cooling department.

If all that sounds reasonably modest from a mechanical tinkering point of view, then you'd be right. Which just goes to show how much of it is in the tuning then, because the end result is nothing if not immensely impressive. Granted, no-one would call the starting point sub par: the current M5 delivers that acutely modern combination of huge speed and all-round affability about as well as anything which could claim to be its equal in the luxury-feel stakes. But others, most notably the Mercedes-AMG E63, were arguably a bonnet length ahead when it came to the kind of charisma that might lazily be termed 'X factor'.

Not any more. Driven on a circuit - and on the sub-standard roads surrounding it - the Competition proved to be about as much fun as anyone could reasonably expect to have with a five-seat car that weights the thick end of two tonnes. As advertised, the gains are less about outright difference and much more about that extra level of finesse which comes with better incision. The rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, and its reassuringly neutral handling balance, are familiar, but the steering has been given a significant leg-up courtesy of the chassis changes, to the extent where it feels much keener even without any physical alterations made to the rack.

It's a similar story in the body control, where, as you might expect, BMW has achieved a flatter and quicker-witted chassis dynamic without sacrificing too much in the way of ride quality. The pay-off - not unlike the M2 Competition - is a greater level of precision, and with it, driver involvement. If you're serious about it enough to throw on the optional carbon ceramic discs (and honestly we're talking the zealous end of serious here) you'll have assuredly bought yourself the kind of heavyweight saloon that can be seriously mistreated for half a dozen laps without the middle pedal waving a white flag.

And even if visits to Ascari at the business end of July seem a bit far fetched for a car now nudging the six-figure mark, it's worth reiterating that the Competition's notable advantages easily extend into road use. Only a brave soul would opt to switch the adjustable dampers out of their 'comfort' setting, but the M5 hasn't lost its ability to round the edges off poor surfacing. The car can still be counted on to take most public highways in its stride - and where it is palpably less forgiving than the standard model, the Competition feels appropriately firmer, rather than specifically less able.

Throw in a new exhaust, one which judiciously unlocks some of the drama that was absent in its sibling, and it starts to feel less like a deliberately sharper M5 and more like a better one full stop. The distinction is important, too - not just because the Competition commands a £6500 premium in the UK, and needs to justify it - but because it better defines the real job of an M-car. In other words, if you're minded just to go very quickly and in great comfort, then a 540i xDrive will do the job just as well and for substantially less money. If, however, you want a proper supersaloon with all the trimmings as they should be, we'd recommend taking the less compromised, longer winded and newer M5 badge.


Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): 625@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@1800-5800rpm
0-62mph: 3.3-sec
Top speed: 190mph
Weight: 1950kg
MPG: 26.1mpg
CO2: 246g/km
Price: £96,205

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