I just got back from a late-night drive in the 2021 BMW M5 Competition, and every single synapse in my brain is firing off like I’m being electrocuted. My pupils are dilated, my heart is pounding in my ears, and my fingertips are tingling. I need to take a walk around the block for a few minutes before I can go to bed, because I’m completely overstimulated and practically bathing in adrenaline. This is one fast four-door.
I’ve driven the mechanically similar M8 Competition before and experienced its pin-you-back acceleration and relentless grip, but the coupe feels more like an apparatus of speed than a four-wheeled plaything. After experiencing the M5 Comp on a deserted Decker Canyon Road, I can’t say the same of BMW’s other 617-horsepower offering. It’s as bombastic in a straight line as the M8, but whether it’s the disarming, nominally family-friendly sedan shape or some legitimate mechanical difference between the two, the M5 is much more involving. Of course, nothing’s perfect, but the allure of this M-powered sedan is hard to ignore.
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The BMW M5 Competition instantly impresses its driver with right-now acceleration, courtesy of a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that makes its aforementioned 617 horses at 6,000 rpm and 553 pound-feet at just 1,800 rpm. That’s 17 hp more than the non-Competition M5 and 94 more than the M550i xDrive that my colleague Jeff drove a few weeks ago – though keen eyes will note that all three share the same torque output. No matter: According to BMW, the Competition model is still the top dog in the 5 Series line, hitting 60 miles per hour in just 2.9 seconds, chopping a tenth off the regular M5 and seven-tenths from the M550i.
More impressive than the numbers is how the M5C puts them down. Set to its most aggressive drive mode, the big sedan provides nearly instant throttle response, sending grunt securely to all four grippy Pirelli P Zero summer tires. The eight-speed automatic transmission is just as good as the engine, picking gears perfectly and delivering lightning-quick shifts – who needs two clutches when the torque converter is this good? It all adds up to Top Gun performance in an executive-jet package.
It’s difficult to get anywhere near the M5 Competition’s limits on a public road, but even zipping around a hairpin turn at 30 mph gives you a sense of the performance available. Some thanks go to the xDrive all-wheel drive system, tuned by BMW M to provide more neutral, rear-biased handling. The automaker also provides a dedicated rear-drive mode that leaves the front axle shafts on standby, enabling lurid drifts. I didn’t tempt fate thus – 617 horsepower is a lot for such a tight road as Decker Canyon – but even with all four wheels churning, the M5 is nimble and enjoyable without sacrificing stability or corner-exit grip.
The M adaptive suspension also deserves some credit. Its stiffest Sport Plus mode is a mite too harsh for damaged roads, but Sport is a nice balance of compliance and wheel control, offering good transitional response between corners to go along with the M5’s pleasantly heavy steering.
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As undeniably sporty as the M5 Competition is, it also boasts flagship-level style and luxury. My tester wore a gorgeous coat of Verde Ermes paint, a BMW Individual selection that looks like every penny of its $5,000 cost – walk around it on a sunny day and the contours transform from black to green to gold and back again. Full Merino leather covers the seats, door panels, dashboard, and console, gently padding every surface your eyes and hands encounter. And build quality is nearly faultless; I’ve sat in Bentleys that felt less special.
With its various vehicle modes set to their most comfortable settings, the BMW M5 even makes for a decent daily driver. Those adaptive suspenders provide a smooth and pleasant ride on bad pavement, maintaining body control but limiting intrusions to a damped thump and little else. The leather-intensive interior boasts supportive and comfortable seats front and rear, and there’s 14.0 cubic feet of luggage space too. And if you don’t toe into the power, you’d never know the M5 was any different from a well-optioned 540i. It’s just as much a commuting pussycat as it is a canyon hellhound.
Too Many Settings
BMW really needs to get its performance ergonomics down. Instead of one single drive-select button that scrolls between Comfort, Efficiency, and Sport for the whole vehicle, the M5 forces you to enter iDrive and select each vehicle system’s setting – throttle, suspension, steering, and xDrive, with a separate button for the sport exhaust. And then on top of that, a button on the shift knob sets the speed and ferocity of each gear change. It really should be a two- or three-step affair to set the M5 up for performance (or a long commute), and instead, it requires a solid minute of iDrive intimacy before setting off.
The steering wheel’s M1 and M2 buttons store reconfigurable drive modes, at least. I set one to be as comfortable as possible and the other to be sporty while maintaining the safety net of stability control.
BMW: Break My Wallet
No BMW M5 is cheap – the lineup starts at $105,495 including a $1,000 gas guzzler tax and $995 destination charge. A Competition model starts at $113,095, a worthy sum given it includes a higher top speed, more power, gorgeous 20-inch wheels, and a multi-mode M sport exhaust system. From there, though, it gets hard to justify options. Yes, the $5,000 paint is gorgeous and special, but why does BMW demand an additional $3,500 for extended leather at this price point? Ditto the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package, which bundles the automaker’s excellent Level 2 semi-autonomous technology.
And I can’t envision spending $8,500 on carbon ceramic brakes. Who’s spending six figures on a BMW sedan and then taking it to the race track often enough to justify such expensive stoppers? The standard steel brakes are probably adequate for 99 percent of use cases. With a few other extras, this particular BMW M5 Competition costs a gasping $141,045, not bad given the performance on offer, but a savvy shopper could replicate most of the experience for $20,000 less.
A Bit Too Sinister
Every 2021 BMW 5 Series now comes standard with Shadowline lighting, which puts the head- and taillights in sickly, darkened housings. Furthermore, the Competition Package includes extended Shadowline trim, applying gloss black to the grille, mirror caps, and other body jewelry. I might be in the minority here, but I wish there were a bit more brightwork on the M5, especially since the Verde Ermes paintwork is so lustrous and attractive.
Gallery: 2021 BMW M5 Competition Review
2021 BMW M5 Competition