Car Reviews First Drives

2019 BMW M5 Competition First Drive: Fighting Weight

Worthy upgrades make a great car even better

Worthy upgrades make a great car even better

Not long ago it seemed that the BMW M5 was irreversibly sliding toward a midlife crisis. The F10 model carried the misguided swagger of a frat boy with the neglected body of a 26-year-old going on 40. But in 2018, the F90 M5 delivered a swift about-face. Instead of succumbing to the inevitability of middle age, it went to the gym, shaping up and slimming down. So if the 2018 M5 was the model to finally get off the couch and hit the treadmill, then the 2019 M5 Competition is a Tough Mudder, an ultra-marathon runner, an extreme athlete willing to go the distance and then some.

Previously an option package, Competition is now a standalone model for 2019, geared to the customer who demands even sharper reflexes for track days and is even willing to sacrifice a bit of daily-driving comfort in exchange for more dialed-in performance at the limit. Power comes from the same twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 as the M5, gaining a bump in power from 600 to 617 hp. It’s channeled through the same eight-speed automatic and drives all four wheels (a two-wheel-drive mode is available). All that hot air routes through a standard sports exhaust out back.

Nail the throttle, and the M5 wastes no time punching a hole in the atmosphere. BMW estimates the M5 Competition will leap from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds, but in our First Test of the regular M5, we recorded a petechia-inducing time of 3.0 seconds. Could the M5 Competition break the 3.0-second barrier?

But of course, straight-line speed is only a small fraction of the M5 Competition’s raison d’être. “It’s more than just upping the power,” says BMW M CEO Frank Van Meel. “It’s in the way the car drives.”

So in addition to more power, BMW firmed up connections throughout the car. Springs are stiffer by 10 percent, and the vehicle also rides 7mm lower. Ball joints replace rubber mounts on the toe links at the rear axle, while up front, the anti-roll bar mountings have been redesigned and camber has been increased. Even the engine mounts have been stiffened by 50 percent. The result: a car that bends, bobs, and weaves even less than the already-stout M5.

Flingable? Tossable? Yes. The M5 Competition approaches corners with a sprightly demeanor, eager and agile. Although the M5 Competition is expected to carry the same curb weight as the M5, the increased overall rigidity makes it a lot more enjoyable to throw that mass around. The last M5 we tested weighed in at 4,268 pounds (1,936 kg), which is only 200 pounds (91 kg) heavier than the college-weight 1999 E39 M5—made all the more impressive given the all-wheel-drive components and 20 years of safety improvements. The M5 Competition is also the lightweight contender in its category, besting the Audi RS7 (4,407 pounds (1,999 kg)), Mercedes-AMG E 63 S (4,581 pounds (2,078 kg)), and the Porsche Panamera Turbo (a cheeseburger-diet-worthy 4,662 pounds (2,115 kg)).

This lighter mass is instantly noticeable as I take the M5 Competition for a few laps around the wildly entertaining Ascari racetrack on the outskirts of Ronda, Spain. This private track includes turns with such charming names as The Screw, Piff-Paff, and The Kink. High-speed straights are followed by blind corners and sudden elevation changes. It’s as fun as it is demanding. As I rocket out of the last turn onto the front straight, the M5 Competition schusses down the tarmac as if carving through fresh powder.

The transmission is brilliant in its anticipation, trading gears up and down with a swift, keen intuition. In manual mode, I hit the rev limiter several times until I familiarize myself with the upper ranges of the V-8’s aural cadence: The increase in frequency doesn’t bring along a sense of corresponding urgency. It lacks the telltale note of an engine singing at the height of redline, ready to drop an octave in search of more rpms to devour. Blame the overboosted M Sound soundtrack, which pipes through the stereo speakers a literal false note—call it exhaust tuning by Bowers & Wilkins. Yes, yes, I get it; right now you’re a race car. If any engine configuration deserves to naturally show off the combustible fruits of its labor, it’s the burbly beauty of a V-8. Keep the flaps open on the pipes and dial down the digital enhancement, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the steering feel is as absent as the exhaust note is prominent. Though BMW has made strides on rediscovering the joys of tactile sensation, there’s still a disconnect between the wheels on the ground and the wheel beneath my hands. The only time I feel something approaching feedback is when the lane departure warning vibrates the wheel. BMW engineers have proven they can program a mode for every occasion. So how about this: I’d love to see a Natural mode added to the mix, delivering a purity of steering feel and exhaust note. The rest of the M5 Competition experience is so visceral, so thrilling, so involving. It’s only fair that these two components exhibit that same sensorial impact.

Speaking of the senses, sharp eyes will pick up the exclusive visual changes on the M5 Competition, beginning with the black “M5 Competition” badge on the trunk. Elsewhere, high-gloss black trim abounds, replacing body-color bits on the mirror caps, rear apron insert, and Gurney lip on the trunklid, while the chrome found on the tailpipes, side gills, and front grille also give way to the same high-gloss black. Exterior door handles lose their brightwork in exchange for a full body color treatment. The overall effect imbues the M5 Competition with a subtle yet sinister shadow, though the blacked-out kidneys look more like two amoebae on the verge of symbiosis than an iconic design element.

Fun Fact: When the M5 debuted back in 1985, it was the fastest production sedan in the world. According to Van Meel, it was built out of necessity: It turns out the security detail had trouble keeping up with BMW’s CEO of on high-speed autobahn runs, so they appealed to the M racing division for help. Van Meel sees the M5 Competition as a worthy successor to that legacy: a no-compromises sports car that just happens to have four doors and a trunk.

Available now, the M5 Competition starts at $110,995 USD, commanding a $7,300 USD price premium over the standard M5, but well worth the cost if frequent track days are in your future. The M5 Competition completes the about-face from its paunchy predecessor and charges headlong into middle age with a renewed sense of focus and vigor.