The number of new performance cars to hit the market over the last decade is simply mind boggling. Whatever you're looking for—from high-performance wagons to 700-horsepower pickup trucks—you're bound to find it. Hi-po sedans like the BMW M5 aren't anything new, but the numbers we're seeing today out of these machines certainly are. For some, however, a regular M5 won't cut it, and that's why ever higher-performing variants like the 2021 BMW M5 Competition exist.
While I'm all for the kind of face-bending performance cars like the M5 Competition deliver, I'm actually too engaged with today's horsepower wars. This only leads to automakers grabbing already proper fast cars and turning them into speed demons by axing every ounce of practicality they have. As a result, the cars are everything but useful or comfortable on public roads. So is that the case here? Not quite.
2021 BMW M5 Competition: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $104,495 ($136,045)
- Powertrain: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 | 8-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 617 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 to 5,860 rpm
- 0-60: 3.1 seconds (est.)
- Top Speed: 155 mph | 190 mph when equipped with M Driver's Package
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 14 cubic feet
- Curb weight: 4,345 pounds
- EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city | 21 highway | 17 combined
- Quick take: A rocket with room for five passengers and some groceries.
The Middle-Child M5
When you think of a sports sedan you can't not think of the BMW M5. Arguably the most famous and most iconic of the fast four-doors, the M5 lineage has grown from using straight-sixes to V8s and V10s and back to V8s once again, albeit twin-turbocharged ones now. But the M5 isn't the only M-ified 5 Series sedan you can get today. From there, the hierarchy grows to include the M5 Competition, which is the trim BMW loaned me, and the top-tier M5 CS. That M5 has 627 horsepower, lightened this, stiffer that, and even rear bucket seats. Why? I don't know. In this sense, the M5 Competition is your Goldilocks happy medium.
Still, the M5 Comp's numbers speak for themselves: 617 hp, 553 pound-feet of torque, zero to 60 in an estimated 3.1 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 190 mph with the optional M Driver’s Package (otherwise it's "just" 155 mph). On the handling end, the M5 Competition boasts a suspension height that's 0.2 inches lower than the regular M5, a tighter anti-roll bar, and 10 percent stiffer front and rear springs.
The price for all this speedy goodness? A $7,600 premium over the standard M5—which itself already starts at $104,4950—for a total sticker of $112,095. Extra power, extra stiffness, extra expensive. And that's before you even start adding options.
Every car I've driven that's been put through the performance wringer has mostly sucked. Right off the top, I think about the Ford Focus RS, which was tuned in such a hardcore way it was no longer a practical hatchback. Hatchbacks must be practical! Then there's the Ram 1500 TRX, which just feels like driving a Hellcat-powered office building down the road. And lastly, there's the M5's cousin, the BMW M8 Competition Convertible, which was more fun when parked.
Based on all that, I expected the M5 Comp to be another overpowered, strung-out German cyborg that made more power than sense. But much to my surprise, it wasn't. Yes, it still has way more power than you'll ever need on the road and that's only accessible on a split-second basis—meaning you can only give it the beans for a split-second before you go to jail or cause a wreck. But despite this, and it's ability to keep up with Ferraris and Porsches, BMW knew where to draw the line between bone-crushing performance and everyday drivability.
Get Familiar With Those Settings
Getting it out of the way first: Yes, the M5 Competition is incredibly fast. Drop it a couple of gears, bury your foot and the car rockets forward with less drama than a Toyota Camry, its all-wheel-drive system putting down the massive power smoothly and without hiccups. Fast is what the M5 is good at and it'll do it all day every day without complaint. Pretty much the only ones complaining will be local law enforcement, so exercise some restraint and caution if you ever find yourself behind the wheel of one of these. Merely tap the brakes when you're ready to come down from those high-flying speeds and the giant rotors and discs will scrub the speed away like it was never there to begin with. But that's far from the M5 Comp's whole story.
On the road—and in spite of its stiffer suspension—the car felt at ease and behaved like most normal sedans that can't lap the Nürburgring faster than some supercars. The chassis plays a big role in the car's overall feel, of course, but even more so do the seats. The sporty and overly bolstered seats oftentimes found in these 'roided-up cars tend to get uncomfortable quickly, especially when you're driving on less-than-perfect roads. Not the case here.
In order to enjoy the M5 Comp, it's crucial to nail down the various driving settings to fit whatever type of driving you're trying to do. For my daily school run, I thought it was best to have the suspension and steering on their most relaxed settings (Comfort), but left the engine in Sport. This made the car feel plush and easy on the body while still giving me a quick response and plenty of power whenever I needed it. I found dialing the engine back to Comfort wasn't exactly a huge detractor, but it made the accelerator's response a bit too laggy for my taste.
Of course, if you're feeling feisty, you can turn it up to Sport Plus and have everything heightened and tightened. Heck, you can even disable all-wheel drive and make the M5 Comp a rear-wheel drifting monster by also disabling the traction and stability nannies. But that was far from what I was looking for during my test.
If you buy one of these, chances are it'll take you a while to really understand the car's behavior under the various driving modes. For this reason, I highly recommend having some patience and dedicating some time to understanding each setting and not simply opting for the most extreme ones, whether they be the most comfortable or the most hardcore. The beauty of BMW's M system is you can fine-tune each component individually and then save the configuration just as if you're saving a radio preset. Fool around with them. Find the one that best suits you.
Let's Talk About Those Seats
The car BMW loaned me for a week came equipped with all the bells and whistles: Motegi Red Metallic paint, a full Competition package, and carbon-ceramic brakes for a dizzying $8,500. More importantly, the car had the much more pedestrian (and enjoyable) $3,350 Executive package, which includes soft-close doors, powered rear and side sunshades, front ventilated seats, front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and massaging front seats.
The seats are well-padded and can be configured to fit almost any body size, all thanks to highly adjustable side-bolstering, telescopic thigh support, lumbar, and even shoulder bolsters. Nailing these adjustments provided me with the perfect position for driving around town, where I constantly had to get in and out of the car while running errands. But on a quick trip across state lines that netted me seven hours behind the wheel, a more relaxed, higher seating position for better visibility was the name of the game.
The massaging seats are lovely, too, offering a light but welcomed amount of pressure along the butt, lower, and upper back. Like in most cars that offer this feature, it doesn't replace an actual massage, but if you're going to spend hundreds of miles behind the wheel, it's a nice gesture for your stiffening muscles. The same goes for the ventilated front seats, in which I found the function to be stronger than in most cars I've driven.
The good news is the seats themselves, in their 20-way adjustable glory, are standard to both the M5 and M5 Competition. The previously mentioned Executive package simply makes them more enjoyable by adding the massaging, heating, cooling, etcetera. So whether you dish the extra change for the pampering features or not, you're guaranteed to have a comfy ride in your six-figure super sedan.
The back seat is spacious, comfortable, and the perfect place for companions on brief trips across town or long journeys alike. Like the front, the padding in the back seats is ample and heated. BMW also didn't forget about rear ambiance, adding two climate zones as well as several vents, cupholders, and power outlets. Unlike in most other sports cars, where everything caters to performance and the driver's needs are an afterthought, the M5 Competition pulled off blending the two well.
The Good Kind of Surprise
I expected the M5 Comp to be nothing but a shouty sedan for the rich. A sedan for the kind of person who really wants a sports car, but has to be bothered with taking their children to school once or twice a year when the full-time nanny is off on holiday, ugh. Thankfully, I was wrong.
It's a comfortable, practical, and daily drivable super-sedan that is more laid back than I ever imagined it could be. The fact that it can make you smile from the moment you start it up to the moment you shut it off is also a bonus. I do believe the less expensive, 523-HP M550i xDrive (which can still do zero to 60 in under four seconds) is probably just as enjoyable and less intimidating. But y'know, for some folks, it's all about the biggest power number available.
True, the M5 Competition BMW loaned me came with a lot of performance options, but take it from a guy who isn't tracking his car every day and uses it for normal car stuff: Comfort is king. Do you really need carbon ceramic brakes or a higher top speed? Like me, most people spend the time in their cars commuting or running errands. With that reality, what matters most in a car is not how fast it'll lap the Nürburgring, but how pleasant it is to sit in.
Stay tuned for our full run-down of the 2021 BMW M5 Competition coming soon!
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