The long-dormant German horsepower war has broken out once again on a most violent scale. Its latest protagonist is the BMW M5 Competition. Ready, aim, fire
Ultimate is an oft overused word in motoring, but this right here seems an apt place for it. Summer in Spain, Ascari race circuit all to ourselves, three BMW M5 Competition models, two resplendent in silver and one in blue, stickered with Pace Car – yea, this’ll be one to share with the grandkids years down the line when everyone hyperloops everywhere. Dressed in carbon fibre roof, black badges and diffusers, and highly appealing alloy wheels compared to the standard M5, we await our session behind BMW factory driver, Nico Mensel. It’s in this peace that the indirect genius of the ‘ultimate’ M5 begins to tiptoe like fingers up my shoulder and whisper in my ear. You might think BMW has exercised extreme parsimony in not suckering it with a picnic-table rear wing and painting it with radioactive colors, and you’d be right. Now with a rampant 460 kW/750 Nm on tap, the M division has shown the heroic restraint of a heroin junkie with a syringe full of the stuff. But that’s always been the M5 remit: outrageous supercar power in a technical everyday saloon.
I climb aboard and prod the red starter button, the air intake snorkels, coughs then clears its throat, the twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 pulsing like an unhinged Deutsche orchestra turned Nascar tribute band for the day… a means to a brutal end perhaps. The rev needle trembles in anticipation; I take a deep breath and feel my own thump-thump through my hands and feet. It’s a 2000 kg leviathan with failsafe M Xdrive all-wheel drive and M Active Differential, but it’ll still dispatch 0-100 km/h in 3.2 sec, 0-200 km/h in 10.5 sec, before topping out at 305 km/h. That’s quick enough to leave you pale in the face. The rarest, fastest and dearest M5 is at my mercy for the next few laps. Can we be friends, this BMW and I?
There’s little time to think as we head onto the technical, 26-cornered Ascari race circuit, the twin-turbo motor superseding any turbo lag with almost telepathic obedience and throttle response that’s greedier than a starved tiger. Four ratios go by in the blink of an eye and the flick of a paddle, shifts from the eight-speeder are firm, positive and effortless. The power doesn’t feel dissimilar to the regular M5 on the long run down the back straight. It’s a very hot summer day just outside Ronda, mind you, so one shouldn’t underestimate the risk of turbo heat soak either. Although we’re knocking off big speeds for the moment, wind noise builds like a percussive adjunct to the raucous V8. I can make out something like 208 km/h on the head-up display before adjusting speed for the next complex of corners. The newly honed Competition chassis makes itself known the instant I fling it into the woobly left-right Senna S. More camber, toe-in and a lower ride height are all it takes for the Competition to nail the brief, the nose darts in assuredly, the rear end follows flawlessly on power, and repeats the feat again in the next left-to-right weight transition. While not quiet best friends, driver and car are being cordial with one another, but are cranial alarm bells about to ping in the tighter, more jolting Bathurst, Kink and Spa corners at the bottom of the circuit?
Not a bit of it. If anything, the tighter radius corners sporting catch-you-off-guard banking and unavoidable curbs are where the versatile M5 Competition, with intelligent AWD and differentials, shows its real worth. At this point I’ll mention we’re in a pre-programmed M2 mode with the following parameters: Sport+ steering, Sport+ suspension, Sport+ AWD drivetrain and M Dynamic mode (MDM) traction control – the quadruple jackpot on the speed slot machine. Sure, you can opt for tyre-slaying 2WD mode, which would inexorably alter its behavior, but doing so would only complicate the mission and be an exercise in futility. I straight line Piff-Paff and sling out of the next corner riding high into the banking, feeling the insane natural grip building up beneath me. If you drove like this every day you’d have a neck the size of giant redwood to cope with the g-forces. There’s so much grip that I sense the liquorice tyres splintering, spewing chards of rubber inside the wheel arches. A full set of 20-inch Pirelli P Zeros are being replaced every two sessions by mechanics. I’m not surprised.
We’re getting along swimmingly, the Beemer and I. Time to maintain focus and iron out any inaccuracy for the remainder of the session. Slow-in and fast-out is an absolute rule with a heavy car, particularly one that’s prone to tyre-culling hari-kiri when you throttle up too early in a bend. A smooth sequence of steering and throttle motion serves the M5 Competition best on track, inputs to keep you just below electronic intervention of MDM mode. Although the system does give an amazing amount of leeway – particularly in the nearly flat-out Brundle right hander – where I slew in too quickly, push wide, and get a bit cheeky by dabbing the brake pedal to transfer weight forward and change direction. It works a charm. I grab a forearm full of opposite lock with the nonchalance of Grandmaster Flash and the car pulls back into line. What a machine!? In the end we lap eight seconds quicker than the BMW M2 Competition you read about earlier. Eight seconds!
So there you have it, a sharper, stronger M5 in which driver immersion is by no means immaterial to big speed. Eliminate overly optimistic commands from the helm and this beast simply shrugs off its weight and becomes a more addictive drivers’ car than anyone could’ve predicted, with a character that’s like night and day compared to the base M5. More impressive from my point of view is how this protagonist in the German horsepower war has moved away from the unbridled hooliganism of its oversteer-for-oversteers-sake past. The M5 Competition proves we’ve entered an era of sophisticated, pragmatic performance, where speed is ferocious but the performance is accessible, the limits are manageable and the appeal – relative to the nearest 460 kW supercar – is less elitist. All hail the new super saloon king
In a nutshell –
BMW M5 Competition
Supercar speed in a pragmatic, practical package
It’s a little on the lardy side, but what all-in super saloon isn’t!?
Engine: 4 395 cc, twin-turbo, V8 petrol
Power: 460 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 750 Nm @ 1 800 – 5 800 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 3.2 sec, top speed 305 km/h (M Drivers’ package)
Tyres: 20-inch, 275/35 front, 20-inch 285/35 rear – Pirelli P Zero
Economy: 10.8 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 245 g/km
Price: R2 062 306