BMW might have left it at new LED lighting and a cabin spruce up with the M5's LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) update, so convincing is its predecessor. But the opportunity to appropriate some of the M8 Gran Coupe's higher-grade chassis tech was apparently too good to pass up. Consequently, the car gets new adaptive dampers and engine mounts for 2021, alongside the interior upgrades and revised headlights. Oh and slightly bigger kidney grilles.
Clearly the M5 Competition's brief is slightly more focused than the one underwriting the M8 Gran Coupe's reason for being, but that doesn't mean BMW has thrown out the baby with the bath water when it came to retuning them for its flagship saloon. The manufacturer is keen to stress that reservations about the model's occasionally fidgety ride quality were taken into account. A slightly comfier Competition ought to result.
Conversely, the higher-spec engine mounts are said to stiffen the whole front end in Sport and Sport Plus modes, quickening the car's responses, without reducing overall refinement – a key strength of the F90 M5 to date. Compared with Mercedes-AMG's V8 - and the one deployed by Audi in the RS6 - the M5's 4.4-litre unit has proven itself almost docile. Certainly it's smooth enough to require an occasional glance at the rev counter to check it’s actually still on. Squeeze the accelerator though and you access one of the most tractable, muscular motors BMW has ever made. It shrugs off 1,950kg of M5 with disdainful ease.
This is unchanged for 2021. You still get boundless all-wheel drive traction from that decouplable two-axle system, huge punch when 553lb ft of torque arrives at 1,800rpm, and a 6,000rpm crescendo that makes keeping to the speed limit a nonstop challenge. The eight-speed torque converter is never less than instantaneous in manual mode, or less than happy to let the motor lug it out when left to its own devices. It’s as exciting as ever.
As for the chassis, our test handily takes place on the varied surfaces surrounding the Goodwood Estate, where the LCI’s ability to glide over aging tarmac is immediately clear. The way this near-two-tonne saloon allows its 20-inch wheels to bob and bounce over imperfections while the body above remains relaxed is impressive. You’re aware of all this toil thanks to the occasional, distant thud of rubber striking a ridge in the road, but by the time the disruption reaches your backside, it’s dissipated to the point of insignificance. On all but the worst surfaces, 'Comfort' mode is borderline supple.
The new M5 hardly flops about in the bends either. The new shocks allow for some body roll, but this is very much the tightly controlled Competition car it was before. Perhaps there’s a little more lateral movement in Comfort – think marginal – but when it comes to the vertical stuff the chassis is more than capable of pinning down the part-aluminium structure above. Switch to 'Sport' and 'Sport Plus' and, as before, the body control defies the kerbweight to become virtually unflappable. There’s still a small amount of lateral roll, but it only serves to inform you of the escalating pace, and increase your awareness of the car’s mechanical limits - which remain enormously high.
It takes a switch to 2WD mode – accessible when the ESP’s fully off – to conspicuously lower them. As before, you’re never more than a slight squeeze of the throttle from some serious rotation, to the point that using 2WD mode on a chilly autumnal morning drive is probably only for the foolhardy. That said, the way the M5 switches from straight to oversteer isn’t as snappy as the power suggests; the breakaway is instantaneous, but the angle generated is catchable enough if you're quick to react. Doubtless a slightly more forgiving ride and tighter mounts feed into its obedience. Either way, the combination of dulcet V8 excess and overworked rear tyres never gets boring.
Nor, it must be said, is the way the M5 gets up and goes. That’s obviously true in both two and four-wheel drive modes, all that differs is whether the car bolts forward in a straight line or whether it wiggles in second and third to keep you on your toes. With the driveline in 4WD Sport, the car hauls itself through and out of bends under power, to the point that you’re left wondering how much earlier you can get chasing the throttle before it begins to torque steer. That trait, combined with the quick ratio of the steering rack, makes what is a big and wide car feel substantially smaller at pace. Strong brakes, although lacking in feel, double down on that sentiment.
Plainly, it's nothing new, but the M1 and M2 steering wheel buttons - which make accessing the breadth of that performance in the right scenarios a split-second process - remain highly useful. The system is smart enough to not just remember your settings for engine, steering and chassis, but also the driveline and ESP, so you can have the Comp LCI’s 2WD madness saved under M1/M2, which may or may not be convenient at deserted roundabouts. Arguably, it's more drive mode faff to worry about, but in practice it does make accessing the M5 Competition's multiple personalities a little easier. Anything which reduces time spent staring at the infotainment display is patently a good thing.
On that subject, the updated car does get more in the way of tech, with a bigger 12-inch central screen joining the digital instrument cluster, as well as the M8’s mode buttons next to the gear lever. The LCI car is a very nice place to sit, but then so was its predecessor. It also looks the part with new LED lighting that swaps the old car’s rounded illumination for sharper, J-shaped segments, and more aggressive front bumpers. The car’s slightly larger nostrils are inoffensive on such an outwardly muscular machine, which, by the way, gets more customisable options for 2021. We particularly like the no-cost option of swapping red for blue or black paint on the brake calipers, to maximise the Q car look.
Ultimately, the LCI model will be very familiar to anyone accustomed to the current M5 Competition's way of doing things. But the final layer of superior polish added by the updates is telling enough to be worth seeking out. Whether or not it changes the status quo in a ridiculously talented segment is hard to say - each contender brings something slightly different to the plush world of scenery-blurring V8 heavyweights - but the idea that this comfier, cleverer BMW might be the most well-rounded flagship is now that much easier to get onboard with.
SPECIFICATION | BMW M5 COMPETITION LCI
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 625@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@1,800-5,800rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 190mph
Price: £102,323 (price as tested: £118,560 with Ultimate Pack)
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