Restraint. You’d think there mightn’t be much of it in a 1.9-tonne BMW M5 that plies 441kW/750Nm of fire and brimstone at all fours to enable 0–100km/h acceleration in just 3.4 seconds. And that's the regular version. So it’s fair to presume there's even less restraint on show once you crank up the heat to 460kW and stick a Competition badge on the boot lid, like some ostentatious middle finger to anything slower to triple figures than just 3.3sec…
No. With twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 motivation, dual-M modal dynamic calibrations, drift-on-command capability in two- or four-wheel drive, an alarming thirst and heroic 'fastest Bimmer ever built' accolades, the M5 Competition is arguably more in excess than a Michael Hutchence promise to never tear you apart.
And yet, if there were one heroic head-kicker from Munich’s M-stable that should – no, must – deliver genuine, realistic, daily driven restraint to counter its pulse-racing hedonism, it’s the big family-friendly four-door that wants for a formidable $229,900 before considerable on-roads.
Surely high-brow comfort and luxury complements high performance and pace at this heady pricepoint, right? That's because if thrills are your primary want, you’d just stump for the frisky and unruly ($156K) M4 Comp or the fun-filled and relatively cheap ($105K) M2 Comp, be done with it, and bank the bucketload saved to spend on track time and regular trips to Bob Jane T-Marts…
As BMW’s ultimate ‘velvet-gloved, iron fist’ combination, proof of the M5's worth hinges as much on that velvety 90 per cent of the driving ownership experience as it does measuring the impact of its solid 10 per cent punch. Yes, you're right, this is the harder-edge Competition version we're contending with, but it'd still want to pamper when circumstances warrant given that BMW has taken the softer ‘normal’ variant off the showroom menu.
Given this is our sixth review of the M5 in either trim, locally and internationally, we're well across its white-knuckled, tyre-frying potential, having spent more time stretching their long legs on-track than we have on-road. This time around, though, the ultimate fiver is tasked with perhaps a tougher test: a wet and stormy week of trudging through Sydney's urban sprawl to assess whether it's a fair dinkum daily commuter.
Minted in satin-grey paintwork with gloss-black highlights and a subtle smear of carbon fibre across its roof line, the 'Comp's' presence is purposeful yet dignified. On broad appeal, it's suitably more grown up than its smaller M brethren. It hasn’t been smacked with the boy-racer stick and is all the better for it.
Inside it's equally as impressive. Having just climbed out of the new 3 Series, with its newer, trendier interior design brief and gawd-awful ‘futurist’ digital dash, I was half expecting that the M5’s older, more tradition-leaning fiver interior would feel a bit stale and old hat. But I was wrong. It’s warmly sumptuous and welcoming, a cohesive blend of rich looking and feeling textures and materials, and the light touch in applying glitzy window dressing – such as the subtly applied mood and strip lighting – goes some way to maintaining a richly upmarket feel.
The front seats are brilliant: supple in support with lovely waxy-feel leather trim, racy in look and contour yet relaxed enough in shape to allow genuine comfort for hours on end. It’s as if Chesterfield applied its vintage lounge craft to a race-style bucket complete with multi-way electric adjustability. Row-two seating isn’t quite as fetching to the eye or form-fitting backside, though accommodation is reasonably roomy by large-sedan measures – fit enough for four-adult long-haul comfort, if a bit too narrow in width and foot space for certifiable five-seat convenience.
How the driver’s instrumentation of today's broader 5 Series blends hi-res digitisation with ‘analogue dial’-like stylisation makes it much more appealing – at least to stuffy traditionalists such as yours truly – compared with the more pretentiously techy designs favoured by Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Do I fear, though, that the new 3 Series' faddish fancy instrumentation will creep into this generation M5’s successor?
This complements nicely with the neat, frameless 'floating' infotainment display; a feature-packed if intuitive system that is a visually crystal clear, straightforward – once you get used to the horizontal tiling theme – and welcoming infotainment system. It's quick, sharp and hugely functional… If you ignore the gimmicky gesture control that can activate and change settings on you unintentionally if you don't keep your limbs still.
If there is a letdown inside, it’s that many highlights look metal but reveal themselves as plastic to the touch. Also, some of the buttons and controls are incongruent – whether it’s the disjoint between vehicle and infotainment controls on the centre console, or the mix of touchscreen and analogue interface for the climate-control system.
But it does present well right throughout the cab. That lovely suede-like headlining, lashings of double stitching, bright LED lighting and neat backlit drilled metal Bowers & Wilkins speaker cover effect found up front extends through to the rear occupancy, which gets dedicated climate controls, retractable window blinds and a single 12V outlet, yet as far as we can see, no USB port facility. Worth a shout-out, too, is the usability of the generously deep boot space and the handy powered tailgate.
Even before we move off, it’s worth mentioning two annoyances about the powertrain: at cold start-up, the 4.4-litre biturbocharged V8 buzzes away annoyingly at a high 1500rpm; at shutdown, even after leisurely driving, the thermo fan hums loudly for minutes on end. But anywhere and anytime between those two situations, the mighty engine and its eight-speed conventional automatic companion create one helluva potent, flexible and friendly around-town combination.
Again, we’ve gushed superlatives in reviews past about how this engine feels and responds uncorking all 460 kilowatts – or 625 old-school horsepower – at and beyond 6000rpm. But today let's talk the torque and focus instead on its 750 Newton-metres and on real-world response, low-RPM drivability and the quality of general driver-friendliness.
What’s certainly clear, even after a cursory punt in the thick of Sydney’s urban sprawl, is that it’s not only far less hard-edged than that Competition label might suggest, but it plies enough muscle for any situation you throw at it, without the need to chase the redline or change up out of its most leisurely drive modes. Better yet, it doesn't race for the tallest possible ratio and chase a 1000rpm idle on the move like a fuel-miser fanatic, which otherwise tends to rob the cruising state of a nice, toey and muscular vibe.
“It takes a couple of beats to spool up with under 3000rpm on the tacho,” we wrote at the international launch. And perhaps that's the case when you're asking the biturbo V8 to mount a maximum attack from idle when chasing time slips at the drag strip. But even when Comfort/Efficiency is displayed in the driver’s screen, a squeeze of the throttle returns near instant response and doles out ample torque in the narrow 800rpm window between idle and when all 750Nm clocks on at just 1800rpm. From here, it’s just solid, smooth, uninterrupted thrust while the engine maintains maximum torque through to 5800rpm, just 200rpm shy of peak power.
Impressive, yes, but it’s the restraint – there’s that word – at play that really demonstrates the depth in quality of this powertrain’s calibration. You rarely need to call on much more than 3000rpm to get a serious move on, to merge onto motorways, to exit a side street swiftly or to plug empty holes in traffic. And there’s no needlepoint throttle take-up either. It’s impressively easy and cooperative when modulating the right foot at low speed in slow traffic; an undeniable beast that is very easy to tame without thought, let alone concentrated effort.
For balanced driving, its cocktail of polite manners with on-command, squeeze-of-the-right-foot fury is extremely likeable and quite well polished, if not without the odd foible. The fluctuations of torque through the driveline when lifting on and off the throttle seem to cause minor, dual-clutch-like palpitations when slowly crawling in traffic that do tarnish the sheen on grand-touring comfort. It's minor and far from intrusive – a byproduct of a heavy-duty, performance-tuned automatic application – but it’s worth a call-out nonetheless.
While there is some spirit to the soundtrack, it’s not nearly as bold, brassy or loud as other heroic V8s out there. This will please only some of the buyers shopping in this segment. But for those not in it for the sonic showboating, and those happy to keep the peace with the neighbours, the fulsome if slightly muted soundtrack, particularly at part throttle during sensible driving, has a lot of appeal.
Indeed, the M5 Competition’s ability as a (metaphorical) turn-key, ‘D-for-Default’ mode boulevard cruiser impressed those of the editorial crew who drove it. And much like its powertrain, the ride and handling balance of this high-performance executive four-door is mightily impressive, if not completely devoid of the odd patch that’s not so much rough as not quite as lustrous as it could be.
Again, it’s proven time again to offer huge reserves of track pace and a keen ability to drift – in friendly four-wheel or hairier rear-wheel modes – depending on the driver’s whim. But harnessing body control and grip in 1.9 tonnes of inertia, with so much power and driveline complexity at play, has a residual effect on the ride.
The good news is that despite upping the spring and damper rates in Comp trim, the M5 isn’t overly stiff in Comfort mode. Those massive 20-inch wheels can thud with a jolt across potholes and the suspension damping does bounce and float in rebound noticeably across speed humps, but otherwise there's enough pliancy and bump isolation in the mix to make the suspension tune genuinely nice to live with around town.
I’d wager that even in Competition tune, this M-car would remain measurably comfier on the road than its key E63 S rival from Mercedes-AMG. (We would’ve loved to compare them had the marque from Affalterbach had a press car available at the same time as our M5 Competition booking…)
Minor ride-control quibbles aside, it really is a lovely, enjoyable and eminently easy car to commute in. The steering is particularly impressive – clear and communicative with a pleasing, middling weight. It’s accurate to place on the road, points precisely where it’s directed, and to parrot our international launch review, “feels so much better than the regular ’5’s anaesthetised rack”.
On-road, the xDrive hardware really doesn’t smother the natural driver connection. Sure, all-paw traction rubs purists the wrong way, but the seat-of-the-pants transparency means that you don’t really notice it there. At least, you don’t notice it until circumstances demand a quick lunge of acceleration in the wet, and you’re not left in a huge rear-wheel-driven torque hole as the traction control mans the battle stations.
Our tester was fitted with regular steel brakes rather than the carbon-ceramic anchors that seem like an unnecessary $16,500 overkill for use anywhere outside of the autobahn or autostrade. They’re powerful, progressive and easy to use, if prone to annoying low-speed squeal even when they’re cold.
Also playing to its strengths is the near absence of conservatively tuned active-safety hyperactivity; an affliction that does plague the new 3 Series and large performance sedans from some of BMW’s rivals. So no inadvertent AEB activation, no annoying automatic lane keeping, no permanently glowing blind-spot indicators in the wing mirrors. It does fit key active systems, but applies them with real-world and functional calibration that isn’t constantly distracting the driver with false positives or, more dangerously, inadvertent activation.
Despite the odd rough edge – and a thirst that parks itself at the high-teens end of the bar – the M5 Competition is not only an incredibly well-rounded high-performance grand tourer capable of Jekyll and Hyde in more or less equal measure, it demonstrates the right kinds of restraint in all the right places. I’d have no less hesitation handing it to a loved one with modest driving talent as I would to an experienced, wool-dyed petrolhead.
After witnessing the M-car plummet from a high of the fantastic bent-eight late-’90s E39 – my first M5 experience – to the woeful E60 V10 low before the F10 set the icon into a rebound, this latest F90 generation represents a proper return to form as a thoroughly likeable and comprehensively head-kicking grand tourer fit for the times.
And any concerns that its harder ‘Competition’ leanings might cause some daily-friendly luxo-performance imbalance have been allayed in my week with perhaps the finest premium four-door on sale right now, screaming redlines and lurid drifting be damned.