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The BMW M5 gets the same little tweaks as other 5 Series models this year, including new headlights and taillights and a larger multimedia touchscreen. Arguably, however, the more important changes are the ones you can't see. The M5 Competition gets new suspension hardware that make it eminently more comfortable without sacrificing sharpness.
To give you some context, the previous M5 Competition was so stiffly sprung that it made this sport sedan almost unlivable day to day. Even in the suspension's default Comfort setting, you could feel every little bump and blemish. It was kind of a nightmare.
Compared to a standard M5, the Competition has front and rear springs that are 10% stiffer, the rear anti-roll bar is firmer, the front tires have increased negative camber for better cornering grip and the body sits 0.2 inch lower to the ground. For the 2021 Competition, BMW adds new shocks and the damper control system is recalibrated, all with the goal of softening the ride quality.
Does all this work? Oh my, yes. Rolling over highway expansion joints no longer unsettles the entire chassis and you won't gnash your teeth encountering a rogue pothole. Even with the Competition's upsized 20-inch wheels and summer tires (the standard M5 gets 19s), the ride quality is so much better than before.
None of this comes at the expense of poise, either. In fact, because the default Comfort setting finally works as advertised, I'm not hesitant to call up Sport or Sport Plus for a little more stiffness under the right circumstances, like hitting a super-smooth California canyon road. The M5 Competition stays flat while cornering and the active all-wheel drive and electronic rear limited-slip differential quickly send power where it's needed most. It's great.
I still don't really care for the M5's steering, which seems to be a common complaint with today's BMW performance cars. Sure, it's heavy and direct, but I think a lot of people confuse weight for communication, and while the M5's steering has the former, it lacks the latter. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes are also kind of touchy, with hard-to-modulate characteristics that can result in jerkiness when inching up a driveway or parallel parking. These brakes also add $8,500 to the M5's bottom line. If you aren't going to be routinely halting your M5 aggressively from high speeds, as on a track day, maybe skip this add-on.
The M5's powertrain is unchanged for 2021, which is fine; it's been solid all along. The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 pumps out 600 horsepower and 553-pound feet of torque, though Competition models see a small bump to 617 hp. The eight-speed automatic transmission works perfectly with this engine, quickly and smoothly ripping off well-timed shifts while largely fading into the background. You can choose your own adventure with steering wheel-mounted paddles, but the transmission programming is so good on its own that I never really find the DIY shifters necessary.
The M5 Competition is still quick as hell, too, able to accelerate to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. Top speed is electronically governed to 155 mph on both Competition and standard models unless you splurge on the optional M Performance Package, which lets the limiter out to 190 mph. Fuel economy is unchanged for 2021, ringing up at 15 miles per gallon city, 21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined on premium gas.
Moving inside, the M5 upgrades to BMW's latest iDrive 7 infotainment tech, bringing a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch central touchscreen. iDrive's menu structure has a steep learning curve at first, but I like that the main display quickly responds to inputs. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, thank goodness, and it's relatively easy to switch back and forth between this smartphone mirroring tech and BMW's main iDrive menus. A wireless phone charger keeps your devices juiced while on the go, too.
Overall, the M5's cabin is very nice, with soft leather surfaces and tasteful metal accents. The seats are comfortable and supportive and rear seat passengers have ample head- and legroom. I definitely recommend adding the $3,350 Executive Package, which gets you parking sensors and a parallel parking assistant, 360-degree camera coverage, heated and cooled front seats with massage, heated rear seats, soft-close doors and a few other goodies.
Interestingly, BMW no longer positions the Competition as a separate model in the M5 lineup like it does with other M cars. Instead, you select the $7,600 Competition Package option. The standard M5 costs $104,495 to start (including $995 for destination), so an M5 Comp technically begins at $112,095.
The M5 Competition's, um, competition is mostly limited to the Mercedes-AMG E63 S and upcoming Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. But there are a number of alternatives in BMW's own portfolio to consider. First, there's the M8 Gran Coupe, which looks rad, but it's absurdly expensive; a Competition spec is $143,995. Then there's the upcoming M5 CS, which lighter, even more hardcore and has awesome gold accents, but it starts at a lofty $142,995. If you're looking to save some cash, the standard M5 is probably just as good 95% of the time. And along those same lines, honestly, the $77,795 V8-powered M550i is really all you need.
You're definitely spoiled for choice when it comes to BMW's big, fast four-doors. And now that the M5 Competition isn't stiff as a board, that choice is tougher than ever.