Over 30 years ago, the BMW M5 was born to answer the call for a sensible family sedan with sports-car-like performance. When it launched, the M5 became the fastest sedan in existence. Today, the performance of that once world-beating car is what you'd find in a near entry-level BMW 3 Series.
That should provide some context about where our expectations now lie for performance cars. Today's offerings are nothing short of incredible — maybe even a little ridiculous — and the current BMW M5 ranks among the quickest in the world. Four doors be damned.
But every new performance benchmark becomes a reason to push the needle further to a new target. Cue the 2019 BMW M5 Competition.
How Is the M5 Competition Better?
With 600 horsepower firing out of the M5's eight cylinders, BMW didn't see a need for sweeping changes under the hood. But leaving the engine alone wouldn't have been acceptable either. So the torque peak of 553 pound-feet lasts a bit longer, teasing out an extra 17 horsepower that brings the total to 617 hp at 6,000 rpm. With the help of all-wheel drive and launch control, BMW says, the M5 Competition does 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds, besting the standard M5 by a tenth.
The engine mounts securing the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 in place have been stiffened by 55 percent, which reduces the movement of the engine in relation to the rest of the body. This improves the transfer of power and helps the M5 Competition move more as a solid form. Harder mounts usually result in a trade-off of more vibration transfer to the cabin, but we didn't notice much of a difference.
Alongside the engine mounts, many incremental suspension changes work to sharpen the Competition's cornering talents. Lowering the ride height by 0.3 inch, retuning the dampers, and stiffening up the springs and rear anti-roll bar by 10 percent help the M5 respond quicker to inputs and coax its rear axle to rotate through turns more freely. The front suspension's upper links have been shortened for slightly more negative camber (a little less than a half-degree), improving front cornering grip. The rear suspension's toe links, which help keep the wheels pointed in the right direction, have ditched the more flexible rubber mounts for solid-mounted ball joints.
The standard powerful braking system hasn't changed, peeking out from behind the new Competition-specific 20-inch forged wheels that are 6.6 pounds lighter than the standard car's 20-inch options. The six-piston calipers in front do most of the heavy lifting, while single-piston units work on the rear axles. Most of the M5 models we drove were equipped with the optional carbon-ceramic rotors, which are an expensive but worthy upgrade if you want to shed another 42 pounds of rotating weight and if strong, fade-free braking ranks high on your priority list.
The interior is unchanged, save for a digital Competition logo that flashes across the digital gauge cluster at key-up. And the exterior treatment is, in a word, understated. Gloss-black front grilles and mirror caps provide subtle hints, but the differences are easier to spot from the rear. The lower valance's gloss-black treatment frames quad exhaust tips that look identical to those on the standard car but emit a distinctly snarlier sound thanks to a new sport exhaust. The thin strip spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk is also now black and the M badge is underscored with the letters "competition."
How Does It Drive?
Ambling up to a 617-hp vehicle capable of 189 mph can be a little unnerving. But the M5 Competition puts concerns to rest within minutes of belting into the seats, as it insulates its occupants against sounds and vibrations that would indicate how quickly the world outside is flying by.
Everything about the M5 interior feels substantial, from the myriad electronic switches and heavily bolstered seats to the thick steering wheel and hefty gearshift. At a standstill, the weight of it all feels as if it would make for a clumsy drive experience. But once you're off and rolling, the M5 moves with an unnatural ease.
All the controls are light in effort, adding to the illusion of the weight evanescing away. Dive into a turn a little hot, and the carbon-ceramic brakes have easy stopping power. Get on the throttle with abandon, and the all-wheel-drive system's electronic sorcery sorts out when and how to best fire you from the corner. Even with the stability aids turned off, the M5 Competition feels sure-footed and unusually hard to upset given the amount of power.
The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts as quickly and crisply as a dual-clutch box. Though, if shifting in manual mode, the short gears and quick-revving engine make it easy to run into the soft rev limiter at 7,250 rpm. Best to let the box just do its thing.
The assortment of buttons adjacent to the gear shifter allows you to adjust settings for the engine, suspension, steering and exhaust volume independently and then store your preferences like a radio preset in the two prominently red M buttons on the steering wheel. The Comfort suspension setting felt a bit stiffer than usual out on the street drive. But it will no doubt still feel livable if your neighborhood roads are in good shape. The stiffest Sport Plus setting borders on punishing if you're on anything but the smoothest roads.
How Does It Stack Up in the Class?
Like German versions of Captain America and the Winter Soldier, the M5 only has one real rival: the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S. Cut from the same cloth, both of these flying family haulers come armed with twin-turbo V8s, sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems and over 600 hp.
Depending on your camp, you'll see advantages in both. The lighter M5 holds a slight dynamic edge. And for bragging rights, it wins by a hair in a drag race and boasts a slightly higher top speed, assuming you ponied up for the M Driver's package. The Mercedes is styled more aggressively and carries a more noticeable road presence as a result. It has a beefier exhaust note, and it looks and feels more elegant on the inside.
With the M5 Competition model, which goes for $111,995 (including destination and gas-guzzler tax), the speed gap grows just a bit and, if you're into the numbers game, so do the bragging rights.
Who Is the M5 Competition for?
The standard M5 already has the kind of performance that's difficult to explore on a public road. And the M5 Competition only raises those limits, so it's hard to see a rational benefit to it as a road car. We're told there are some M5 owners who take their cars to high-performance driving events — we applaud those individuals and hope to meet them someday.
The way we see it, there are some vehicles better suited for regular track use than the M5 Competition, especially if tire longevity is of concern. But few cars would be as comfortable making the trip out to said circuit, flying around corners for a few hours, and then heading out to a nice meal to finish the day.
On second thought, that sounds pretty rational to us.