Goodbye standard M5, hello M5 Competition; shortly the only version you'll be able to buy in Australia. Will the bump in performance be worth the jump in price?
Congratulations if you own one of the 50 examples of the new BMW M5 that have already made it to Australia. Because although the new M5 Competition is slightly better in several significant ways, you've just become the keeper of what history will doubtless regard as a limited-run collector's item.
Now you own a limited-run collector's item.
Both versions of the M5 will be offered alongside each other in most markets, but the Aussie love for big-hitters means that, as of now, only the Competition will be coming here. That means an increase in price – at $229,900 before on-road costs, the Comp’ is $30,000 more than the standard car – but also a (very) modest increase in power, some chassis tightening and a few cosmetic tweaks to help distinguish it, with some blacked-out exterior trim and, most obviously, the legend 'Competition' sitting below the boot badge. (BMW Australia has told us that there will be a strong uplift in standard equipment too - Ed.)
The power increase feels like more of a marketing requirement to ensure this turned-up M5 can be claimed to be fastest than a must-have. BMW claims the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 is now throwing out a peak 460kW at 6000rpm, a 19kW increase on the regular M5. That has trimmed a tenth from the official 0–100km/h acceleration time, which falls to just 3.3 seconds, with the 0–200km/h time dropping to 10.8 seconds – 0.3 seconds faster than before.
It's as brutally fast as those numbers suggest, although not discernibly quicker than the lesser M5. The turbos take a couple of beats to spool up with under 3000rpm on the tacho – although the auto ’box will downshift to counter this unless the transmission is in manual mode – but from then onwards it pulls relentlessly to the 6700rpm redline, accompanied by an appropriately angry bellow from a shouty sports exhaust.
While the switch to all-wheel drive has removed much of the edgy character of previous M5s, it also gives the sort of get-up-and-go traction none of its predecessors could manage. On the quiet Spanish mountain roads that made up much of the test route, the Comp’ proved willing to tolerate full-throttle starts and being hoofed hard out of junctions with barely a hint of squirm from the rear.
On raw poke, you'd need a drag strip to tell the Competition from the regular M5, but chassis revisions yield some more obvious differences. The Competition has been subjected to a similar tightening regime to that given to the M2 Competition we told you about last week.
Ride height has dropped very slightly – BMW quotes a 7mm reduction – but the more significant alterations are to geometry, with more camber at the front, a revised front anti-roll bar mounting, and ball joint links for the rear suspension links. Spring rates are around 10 per cent stiffer, the variable dampers have been tweaked, and the software setting for the electric steering and electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential have been turned up a couple of notches.
No surprise that it monstered the tight and technical Ascari track that BMW laid on for on-the-limit work. It's considerably quicker than the M2 Competition it shared the event with, carrying a good 20km/h more at the end of the longer straights. But although the M2 is slower, it still delivers more raw entertainment as well as a 50 per cent saving – if you're looking for an M-badged track toy, then look there first. The M5 Competition is lugging an extra 300kg, and it feels heavier and less willing to change the vector of its considerable momentum, but also less playful as the limits approach.
While all-wheel drive gives the Competition huge security on the circuit, allowing the car to be driven hard even with its stability control fully defeated, it also works to move torque away from a slipping axle. So although the Comp’ can be persuaded to drift in its AWD Sport mode, it will immediately try to pull itself straight once any degree of yaw is detected. Slides are short and tidy, rather than the sort of smoke-a-thons the F10 and E60 M5s were capable of.
Real hooliganism is possible by turning to the pure rear-drive mode, but this fully disengages the stability control, meaning that few owners are likely to experience it anywhere except a well-known circuit or a skidpan.
You will not be shocked to hear that the Competition is happier on-road, where it becomes a slightly firmer and slightly more accurate version of the already deeply impressive M5. The turned-up chassis settings do a minimal amount to compromise the regular car's impressive manners. Twisty roads are dispatched at a pace that seems impossible for something so big; the Competition finding huge grip in even tight turns, and with the ever-accurate front end guided by steering that feels so much better than the regular 5's anaesthetised rack.
As on-track, the Competition really needs Sport AWD mode dialled up to make it its best, and to give the sort of rear-led handling balance that M-Cars previously delivered as standard. Selecting this is a bit of a faff. It doesn't get one of the switches by the gearshift, so finding it means either digging through submenus in the iDrive system or (more likely) assigning it to the M1 or M2 shortcut buttons on the steering wheel. BMW should just have made it the default set-up for the car, as it's definitely where the chassis feels happiest.
The other mild criticism is of the eight-speed auto ’box. It changes gear smoothly in drive, and impressively rapidly in the transmission's punchier dynamic modes. But it lacks the whizz-bang sensation of the last M5's twin-clutcher; the motorsport feel of a big bump of torque on upchanges. Apparently, this M5 was meant to stick with the DCT until well into the programme, only being switched to the ZF eight-speed later on.
But, overall, the car is definitely not too harsh. Even sitting on harder suspension settings, ride quality remains good – firm but fair on broken surfaces and with still impressive insulation at higher speeds. The Competition remains a mightily impressive cruiser. If you had three hours to cross Germany and a clear autobahn network, it would be pretty much the optimum choice.
Thirty grand is a serious chunk of change, however well-off you are, but it's a relatively modest supplement on what BMW charged for the regular M5. For buyers of the Competition, the big question is whether to go for the carbon brakes or not – a $15,000 option. They handled life on the track predictably well, but if you're not planning regular circuit work, then they probably won't justify the supplement.
BMW Australia reckons that 70 per cent of the previous-gen M5s to come here had the Competition Pack once it was offered as an option, and the new car looks like a solid alternative to the Mercedes-AMG E63. The first ones will be here in September.