2019 BMW M5 Competition first drive review: Higher track IQ with tradeoffs
Last year, I drove latest BMW M5 on road and track in Portugal and concluded that its migration to all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission were both good things. The M xDrive system can very effectively put 600 horsepower to the ground and still offers a rear-wheel drive setting for driving purist, while its automatic gearbox is buttery-smooth during regular driving and quickly swaps gears while attacking a race track. The new M5 is a seriously impressive piece, with better on-road manners and sharper performance chops than its predecessor. Yet just eight months later, I'm here in Spain to sample the 2019 BMW M5 in its new, somehow even more capable Competition guise.
Gander over the Competition's spec sheet and you won't notice a huge difference. The retuned 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 has only a 17-horsepower increase, for 617 total horses. Torque stays the same at 553 pound-feet, but is available up to 5,860 rpm, a 160-rpm increase over the standard M5. BMW says the Competition will sprint to 60 miles per hour in 3.1 seconds, barely edging out the 3.2-second time of the normal M5.
Judging from the seat of my pants, I'm not going to pretend that I feel the additional grunt lapping the massively challenging 3.37-mile Ascari circuit in Ronda, Spain. The M5 Competition is simply fast, the 4,370-pound four-door leaping out of corners and easily eclipsing 120 mph down straights, all the while sounding a bit meaner than the non-Competition M5 thanks to its specific M Sport exhaust.
The ZF-built 8-speed automatic transmission is again a gem, performing slick and well-timed gear changes in full-auto mode and immediately carries out manual shift commands when playing with the steering wheel paddles. In every scenario, this transmission is a solid improvement over the old M5's dual-clutch gearbox.
Where you really notice the Competition's improvements is at initial turn-in and while carrying speed through corners. In addition to the M5's all-wheel-drive system and torque vectoring rear differential, there's a hearty list of Competition-specific suspension tweaks to raise handling prowess. The changes include firmer engine mounts, different adaptive damper tuning, 10-percent stiffer springs, a roughly quarter-inch lower ride height, beefier anti-roll bars, more negative front camber and upgraded toe links. The whole package rides on 20-inch forged wheels, up from the standard M5's 19s, wrapped in grippy Pirelli P-Zero 275/35ZR20 front and 285/25ZR20 rear tires.
Really, the Competition just feels more eager to please. Dive into brake zones and the $8,500 optional carbon ceramic brakes confidently scrub off incredible speed. Direct and weighty steering greets you at turn-in with near-immediate input response, while the all-wheel drive system, torque-vectoring diff and suspension upgrades work together to provide incredible confidence and grip mid turn, meaning you can get on the throttle sooner for quicker corner exits. Body motions stay in check at all times through Ascari's tight chicanes, gradual banks and off-camber downhill runs.
To hammer home how much grip the M5 Competition has, a couple of my hot laps during a lead-follow track session are run with stability control completely off. During the brisk laps, the car is still surefooted, allowing for liberal mid-corner throttle application, but it never, ever gets squirrelly. But you can't drive the Competition like a complete idiot and expect it to pull you through everything. Enter a turn too hot and the front end will still wash out and have you heading towards the dirt.
Sure, the Competition seems like a no-brainer upgrade over the standard M5. There's more power, it sounds better and romps around a track in a more tenacious manner. But it's not perfect.
For starters, the soul-stirring howls the Mercedes-AMG E63 S creates at wide-open-throttle are a better soundtrack to my ears. But the biggest strike against the M5 Competition is the decline in daily ride comfort. After all, most M5 Competitions going out into the world will likely be spending most of their time as commuters, and not on track.
The firmer dampers and springs that are stellar on track are less stellar over bumps, even with the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode. Impacts from pavement imperfections are transmitted into the cabin and quickly grow irritating. It's not unlivable, but potential M5 Competition owners will have to be okay with giving up some suspension damping in exchange for the tighter handling reflexes.
Capping off the Competition's transformation are some light styling alterations. Joining the specific wheels on the outside are black finishes for BMW's signature kidney grilles, side gills, mirror caps, rear apron, exhaust tips and M5 Competition badge. The cabin gets M seatbelts, M5 logo floor mats and the M Competition graphic display on the gauge cluster at start-up.
Like the M5, the intuitive iDrive 6 system handles infotainment duties in the Competition with a 10.2-inch center touchscreen, gesture controls, 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound audio system, navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot and an available wireless charging pad. Apple CarPlay capabilities are also included but disappointingly BMW still doesn't support Android Auto .
For safety, a head-up display is standard and features like adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, frontal collision warning with automatic braking, active lane keep assist, parking sensors and 360-degree camera with 3D view are optional.
If the sharper and slightly quicker 2019 BMW M5 Competition sounds like the car for you, it'll be landing in showrooms in September wearing an $111,995 base price, which includes $995 for destination and a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. That represents a $7,300 price premium over the 2019 M5's $104,695 starting price, and I have no doubt many will happily pony up the cash for what's easily the most capable factory M5 to date. Of course, if you'd prefer better ride comfort and can settle for just 600 horsepower, the base M5 is still a total sweetheart.
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