Small cosmetic changes hide the big ride-altering changes beneath the exterior. Picture: BMW
Small cosmetic changes hide the big ride-altering changes beneath the exterior. Picture: BMW

The F90 BMW M5 is a fabulous machine. The M5 Competition is better. Tangibly and sparklingly better.

It’s not that it’s just quicker in a straight line, but that it’s so much more precise, predictable and fun through corners.

Has there been a better time to be a buyer of sophisticated muscle cars? Buyers have a choice of the BMW M5 and its perennial arm-wrestling foes, the Mercedes-AMG E63 or the Audi RS6/7. It’s the way hot car makers are finding niches, like mainstream brands have done.

For the M division it means the F90 M5 has just become a mini range, topped by the M5 Competition, and it’s a glorious, bend-belittling odyssey.

The M5 Competition will officially be the mid-level version of the M5 family when a limited number of them land in SA in September. There is even talk of an eventual M5 CS, which might be a giggle.

For now, the M5 Competition will do a fine job of bringing the heat, with 460kW of power and 750Nm out of its 4.0l, V8 twin-turbo motor.

But the Competition isn’t about how much extra power it generates. It’s about how much more speed it retains mid-corner and how it uses the power getting back out again.

It’s only another 19kW of power over the stock M5 sedan, the torque figure is the same and the sprint to 100km/h only drops by 0.1 seconds, to 3.3 of them. M claims the sprint to 200km/h is more indicative of fast car performance these days, but even then its 10.8 second figure is only 0.3 seconds faster than its cheaper stablemate.

So that’s not the reason anybody is buying an M5 Competition, and that’s not the reason M thinks it’s special.

Extra work

It’s largely special because of the extra work M has done underneath the car, especially up front.

There are new engine mounts, the body rides 7mm lower, the front end’s camber angle grows to about 1.3 degrees, the springs are stiffer and the active dampers have been tweaked. The back end has different toe links and anti-roll bars, plus its suspension subframe is attached to the chassis with ball-joints instead of rubber mounts.

If they wanted to make it crystal clear what the M5 Competition was all about, they’d have called it an M5 Handling Package. But they didn’t.

We wrung its neck at the Ascari Race Resort in Spain, attacked it on mountain roads and cruised it down highways. And there wasn’t anything the M5 Competition didn’t excel at.

The interior is mostly stock M5. Picture: BMW
The interior is mostly stock M5. Picture: BMW

The positive impression begins when you look at it. There are blackened kidney grilles and the glossy carbon accents on the boot spoiler, the mirrors and the M5 badges on the front quarter panels, plus its own set of forged 20-inch alloys wrapped in not-cheap 275/35 ZR20 and 285/35 ZR20 Pirelli PZeros.

Just like the exterior, the interior design doesn’t scream that you’ve spent an extra few hundred grand, with M colours stitched into the black seatbelts, its own floor mats and a new instrument cluster graphic (only when you start it up). That’s probably apt, because flashier people might prefer the more easily demonstrated option of more straight-line speed, while cornering is a more subtle art the M5 Competition has come close to perfecting.

That throbbing, menacing V8 confronts you first, and it’s either brutal or calm and oddly quiet, depending on the mode you want to drive in.

It’s an easy urban companion, which seems odd at first, but then you see that the enormous torque peaks at 1,800r/min and it becomes clearer. It’s so strong that it doesn’t need to worry much about the noisy drama of kicking down gears to overtake. It just stays in the same gear.

Its ride quality pays a surprisingly small price for all of its stiffening, and the body remains firm and accurate to the touch.

The M5 Competition is at home on the track as it is on almost every type of road. Picture: BMW
The M5 Competition is at home on the track as it is on almost every type of road. Picture: BMW

We drove it on a narrow, broken mountain road and wondered if it was too firm, only to drive the same road in the M2 Competition the next day and realise that the M5 Competition was a creature from another world. Where the smaller M was sliding and slipping in its progressive, giggles-per-mile way, the M5 Competition got on with the job of punching more spin into the speedo needle, disdainful of the horrid road beneath it.

The electro-mechanical power steering is a bit arcade game in its Comfort setting, but it comes alive in Sport and Sport+, delivering a flow of nuanced feedback to the driver. It’s the first point of contact with the road, and it’s a big step forward, clearly aided by the extra stiffness and accuracy at the front of the car.

It’s even better on the track, and the best part is that you can customise the setup so you can have the rest of the car (powertrain, suspension damping, exhaust note) in full good manners mode and keep the steering in the oh-so-tasty Sport mode.

The easiest thing would be to separate this all out into its different bits, but it can’t be done. The M5 Competition is too coherent a package for that. It has the M2’s ability to shrink around its driver so that the 1,865kg, 4.96m sports sedan feels like every tyre is just there, an extension of the driver’s arms and feet as they touch the road.

So you bellow out of the Ascari pit lane with the M1 and M2 modes switched on via bright red buttons on the steering wheel, flicking its abilities up and down. That mighty engine howls all the way to the 7,000 revs cutout in its manual mode, then the front end yaws so hard into the first, downhill left-hand bend that at first you take too much corner. Cars near to two tons aren’t supposed to hide their weight like this.

Derived from the big X models, it’s matched to a lightning-quick computer and the electronically controlled torque vectoring M diff on the rear axle, and it eats all of the V8’s output from the slick eight-speed auto and smashes it into the road.

It’s a joy to toss around, either on the track or on the road. It can be either cruised around using surprisingly little fuel or driven briskly with a calm assurance or picked up and thrown at corners like it’s a fat tarmac rally car.

Whatever you choose to do with it, it will just give you the confidence to know you are in control of every situation.