I have a confession – I’ve driven this, the BMW M5 Competition, before in sunny Spain on a racetrack and a few magnificent ribbons of tarmac that snaked through valleys and up hillsides. The problem was that I barely remembered being in the 616 horsepower, 553 pounds feet super saloon.
I blame this on BMW. On the same day they tossed me the keys to an M2 competition with a manual gearbox that demonstrated exactly why I think it is possibly the best car on sale today. On the track it showed supreme chassis balance and I was left physically shaking and sweating after an intense session of what I’m going to call not driving, but love making, on the circuit. If that wasn’t enough, a PR named Mr Santa offered to let me take an M3 CS on the same roads *insert Christmas coming early joke here*.
The problem was, the M5 Competition did not have my heart pumping adrenaline on the tremendously testing corners of Ascari, nor did it really come into its own on narrow mountain squiggles. It felt good, effortless, capable – but I felt that BMW hadn’t given the car a chance to shine, particularly not in the company of the M2 Competition and M3 CS which I won’t stop shouting about and forcing my friends to buy (Jay, please buy one).
Fortunately the lovely people at BMW UK called and offered me an opportunity to have an M5 Competition to do whatever I liked with for seven days. In seven days I covered 800 miles and discovered why this, like the M2 and M3 CS, is a class leader and a car I fell head over heels for.
What are the headlines – obviously, the M5 Competition is based on the M5 which is, obviously, based on a 5 Series. The 5 Series is a car that faces pressure like no other in the industry. Much like a Porsche 911 or Mini Cooper, the 5 Series is a staple go to car for enthusiasts and Joe Bloggs alike. It must demonstrate characteristics that have made it the icon that it is and always has been. In this instance, it means the 5er has to be comfortable, spacious and powerful enough to waft around with ease. Being a BMW, even the entry level four cylinder cars communicate a slightly sporty edge if you want to take the long windy route home after dropping your little munchkins to play school – this, however, is not in any way a priority.
Transforming a bog standard 530d into a fire cracking 1,950 kilogram rocket is the M divisions challenge and I feel so terribly sorry for them. This isn’t cosmetic surgery, this change could be likened to gender reassignment coupled with transplants of every organ in the body and a touch of botulinum toxin (botox) to complete the job. What you’re left with is someone different, but still the same. That’s what BMW have done with the M5 Competition.
Why? Well make no mistake, this is still a 5 series – it wafts, it’s massages your bottom whilst ventilating and cooling it all at the same time. It has 360° cameras and you can adjust the volume by wiggling your finger and answer a telephone call by making a gesture that I’ve only ever used before to poke a bully in the eye. It’s a tech fest and my gosh is it comfortable – what I couldn’t do in sunny Spain was drive an hour to my office from my home and get stuck in traffic. A racetrack is irrelevant in any purpose other that to showcase the new all-wheel-drive systems and to highlight the different traction control levels in extreme track circumstances.
In my mind, that’s not what the M5 is for. It’s there to be all things to all people that use cars everyday and on the occasional long drive to visit the countryside or the beach with two kids in the back – things people really do. To prove it, that’s exactly what I did with it and in every possible scenario the Beemer beamed with character and showed off its mega ability in so many varying environments (minus the non-existent kids).
The commute to work was the best since I was sat in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. It proved to be an extremely relaxing place to drive, the seats are terrific, more like sofas than a car seats – they are huge. The loungers even kept me calm and comfortable whilst stuck for in London’s famous parliament square for an hour as protestors complained about the free worlds cheese coloured leader and the shambolic chronicles of brexit.
Then the same seats, with tightened bolsters, hugged me on a early morning A-road blast down to the south coast. A friend joined me in a McLaren 570S and my mind boggles just thinking back to how the M5 was so closely matched to the pace of the bonafide supercar when putting the hammer down at motorway cruising speeds. The juxtaposition from the soothing comfort the day before on my ride into work was profound. Just prod the angry red M1 or M2 Shrek ears protruding from the steering wheel (configure them each as you like) and the character of the car is night and day. The brute torque and power had the M5 booming toward the horizon and a lengthy prison sentence. Then there’s the utterly bonkers exhaust that the Competition cars come with. With the engine in Sport Plus every time you release the throttle pedal the pops, bangs and crackles will turn heads streets away. Bystanders would expect to see something like a Lamborghini Huracan, but double take at the site of a family saloon with two child seats in the back. It’s comical, artificial and rather silly, but very amusing. Another hilarious juxtaposition.
Following a day at the beach a visit to the country was in order to see if undulating, broken, hedge lined British B roads could unstick the M5 Competition. Remember Shrek’s angry red ears? I had set the left ear to put the engine and transmission in maximum attack Sport Plus, suspension and dampers in Comfort, Steering in Sport (Sport Plus just makes it overly heavy without any real benefit) and the traction and stability control in M Dynamic Mode (MDM). In this configuration the car, once more, blew my socks off. The all wheel drive traction was supreme, the 4.4-litre V8 engine was instantly jaw-dropping with no hint of lag and the soft forgiving suspension and damping took the bounciest most broken roads with ease.
Ahh yes, that all wheel drive traction. I’m the first person in the queue to scoff at the thought of performance cars going 4WD, but the M5 has made a case for just how much more useable a car can be with all four wheels tussling for traction. Yes, I would still prefer that we lived in an age with 500 horsepower rear wheel drive cars as opposed to 600 horsepower all wheel drive ones, but as the power battle heats up quicker than North Korea and Iran’s nuclear plans, it is inevitable to we will have to compromise on fun for outright, face bending speed.
The M5 and it’s competitors have the ability to go rear wheel drive, but engaging such lunacy requires the systems to be off and for the driver to dye their hair green, don a purple suite and move into an asylum. In the moist British winter you would have to be madder than a box of frogs or have the surname Senna to dare play with all of that power with none of those aids. I imagine the adrenaline rush could be likened to texting your ex girlfriend saying you want to get back together and then seeing the word “typing” on the screen as she responds.
The M5 Competition is charming, flattering and is possibly the best all rounder I’ve ever driven. The Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ (catchy) is the natural rival to the M5. Having spent time in both cars I can comfortably *turns massage on* say that the M5 would be the choice for me.
A lot of it is personal preference, but the M5 is better at doing the whole comfort thing which is what these cars spend most of their lives doing before doing 0-100 in 2.9 seconds (magazine tests) at the traffic lights.
I relished the opportunity to drive the M5 Competition as far as I could as often as I could with every mode in comfort listening to the phenomenal Bowers & Wilkins speakers and being bathed in soft satisfying ambient light before finding a motorway slip road and unleashing that supercar embarrassing power and those mad exhaust noises.
Take a bow BMW – the M5 Competition is as thrilling, talented and just better than it has ever been before – an absolute delight.