BMW M5 Competition (2018) International Launch Review

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BMW is clearly no longer content with launching fettled versions of its M models towards the end of their respective product cycles. Hot on the heels of the 6th-generation M5 super saloon, which we reviewed recently, comes a beefed-up Competition derivative. Has BMW managed to turn its 2-tonne 'bahnstormer into a genuine sportscar?  

What is it?

The BMW performance hierarchy looks something like this... At the bottom rung you have M Performance models (M240i, M550i etc.), then above that, you get the M cars (M3, M4, M5 etc.), followed by the Competition models, which are further honed variants of the "regular" M cars. Then, right atop the food chain sits the CS or ClubSport range, currently represented by the M3/M4 CS derivatives. That's the simple explanation, anyway.


Is the M5 Competition one step too far?

Compared with the M5, the M5 Competition develops 19 kW more power and although the torque remains the same, it's available in a wider band: 1 800 to 5 800 rpm. Dynamically it also benefits from a 7-mm ride height drop, 10% stiffer suspension and more negative camber on the front wheels.

The result is a claimed 0-100 kph sprint time of 3.3 seconds and, with the M Drivers Package fitted, a heady 305-kph top speed. Furthermore, the M Division reckons the projected 0-200 kph time (10.8 seconds) could easily be improved on a good surface.

Do I need a track day-limousine?

Probably not, but considering that South Africa is one of the top 5 BMW M markets (by global market share) in the world, there’s a good chance it will find a fair few buyers down here. It does have a sports exhaust as standard with a quiet mode for keeping the neighbours happy after hours.


Blacked out name tags mark the Competition M5.

You do have to wonder why BMW would further imbue the already-potent M5 with more sporty behaviour and stiffer springs if you consider that it's a car that will most often tear up freeways when it's driven in anger. The answer, however, came quickly after the 'Competition I was driving exited the pitlane at the Ascari race track and nudged up behind the pace car driven by BMW Junior ace Marco Wentzel.

The sum of the changes is more...

The 19 kW of extra power is almost unnoticeable compared to the other changes made to the M5's chassis. The lowered ride height has most notably improved the handling balance of the 'Competition. It no longer dives as heavily under braking or lurches when you hammer the throttle out of a corner. It corners with a much flatter attitude, almost as if it has a front-to-rear anti-roll bar system keeping the sedan's body level. That’s also probably why it doesn’t feel that much more powerful, the sensation of being thrown back into your seat is lessened with the lower, stiffer ride.


Small changes have really had an effect on the M5 Competition.

The camber change has had a notable effect, probably more than any single modification on the Competition-spec M5. It absolutely dives into corners. With a flick of the 'wheel the front end whips all 1.9 tonnes into the apex as easily as a supermodel would dismiss an amorous advance.

It’s remarkable that something that weighs so much can shift direction so quickly. The only reminder of the weight is the chunking of Pirelli PZero tyres as slabs of rubber are flung asunder. After about 7 flat out laps on the 20-inch lightweight wheels, the tyres were toast, thankfully BMW had ordered a Pirelli tyre-changing factory to accompany us to Ascari. They were certainly kept busy with the rate of wear at the 22-corner circuit.

And out on the road?

Back out on the Southern Spanish roads surrounding Ascari, which are precariously narrow as they squirm their way around the hills near Malaga, I was a little wary of the M5 Competition’s size. At nearly 5 metres long and 2 metres wide, its size is undeniable.


Did I mention the roads were narrow?

Still, with the 4WD Sport selected and DSC set to "catch me 1 tenth before death", I set off. As it had impressed on the track, the M5 Competition demonstrated its breadth of talents on the road. If anything, it’s better on-road than on the circuit, because you’re not travelling at speeds where you're likely to shred the (exceedingly expensive) tyres, but you can still get the most out of the sharpened front end. It doesn’t feel any harsher or skittish on the tarmac than the standard M5 derivative either. I was astounded, as I wound my way around the tightest of mountain passes, by how quick and eager the 2-tonne heavyweight was to turn into an apex or swap from one direction to the other.

It baffles the brain how the M5 Competition quite does it. And the 4WD system only adds to that confidence as you exit corners hard on the throttle without a peep from the rear tyres. In this circumstance, you want a car with a secure and dependable rear-end, especially when full throttle delivers 750 Nm. A lively rear-end doesn’t enhance the experience here, it puts the fear of God into you. As for 2WD mode, well, that's meant for a circuit.

Verdict


Lightweight wheels and Pirelli PZero tyres, they last about 10 laps at pace.

The M5 Competition may just be what the M5 should have been all along. The standard version, as rapid and dynamic as it is, tries too hard to be a brutal Autobahn cruiser and a dynamic-handling executive sedan simultaneously... Despite its valiant efforts to perform both roles equally well, it arguably fails to master either of them. By contrast, the M5 Competition is a "super-sportscar-saloon", but no less accomplished as an everyday car.

Whereas the Mercedes-AMG E63 S amazed us by what it could do despite its considerable heft, this M5 Competition takes it a step further. We’re totally in awe of how the small changes that BMW has introduced to its super saloon have altered the car’s character so distinctly. What's more, we're nothing short of amazed by how the Bimmer belies its gargantuan proportions to carve up mountain passes with the greatest of ease.

Compared with its standard sibling, the M5 Competition is much better to drive on a track, but we hasten to add that we doubt any set of road-legal tyres would be able to withstand the physical strain of delivering repeated (and consistent) hot laps when fitted to this 2-tonne sedan.

We wait to see how the newcomer will perform in our unique conditions here in SA, but the wait won’t be long: it's due here in September 2018.

Pricing

Upon its arrival, the BMW M5 Competition will retail for R2 062 306.50, which included emissions tax and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

Related content:

BMW M5 Competition (2018) Specs & Price

BMW M5 (2018) Review

Drag Race: BMW M5 vs Mercedes-AMG E63 S

Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic (2017) Launch Review

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