What is it?
This is BMW’s latest and greatest M5 super-saloon, which has received a series of tweaks for the 2014 model year.
It has a new kidney grille design, some optional adaptive LED headlights, an updated colour palette, and new leathers and interior trims. And there’s an obligatory power hike and chassis tweak as part of the revision, of course – but only for those buyers who are willing to pay extra for it.
BMW’s ‘competition package’ is a £6700 option available not just on the M5, but all three versions of the M6 (coupé, convertible and Gran Coupé) as well. It adds 15bhp to the top-end power delivery of the car’s twin-turbo V8 engine, doing nothing for mid-range torque and leaving official economy and emissions unaltered.
But that’s enough to shave a tenth of a second off the car’s 0-62mph acceleration claim. This is now a two-tonne luxury BMW that’ll roar to that speed in just 4.2sec: faster than a Ferrari 360 Modena.
Top speed remains electronically pegged at 155mph – which seems a bit odd for a competition-branded option on a car that would otherwise easily smash through the 200mph barrier. But there you go.
Alongside the engine changes, the competition package brings with it new 20in rims, a firmed-up tune for the variably damped suspension, a new power steering calibration and more aggressive settings for the active M Differential.
It doesn’t bring with it the one thing this car desperately needs if you’re going to fully deploy its power and weight on a circuit: better brakes. Standard M5 brakes have long been about as useful on track as chocolate crockery.
In the case of the current car, they’ll fade within five full-pace laps – as our track testing has confirmed. You can upgrade to BMW’s carbon-ceramics, but only if you’re willing to spend another £7395.
So even though items like Professional Multimedia nav, DAB radio and sports seats are standard, equipping this car to what we’d consider optimum equipment level makes it a £92k purchase. Which sounds like rather a lot for a go-faster 5-series, and which gives the car plenty to do to justify its place in the world.
What's it like?
Duplicitous is putting it politely. Which isn’t to imply that the car’s untrustworthy – just that it’s capable of remarkably well-mannered refinement and ease of use one moment, and then absolutely first-order grip, iron body control and incredible performance the next.
‘Comfort’ mode engages on the Drive Performance Control module as a default when you start the engine and move off. That leaves plenty of compliance in the suspension, adds plenty of assistance to the steering, makes the gearbox ease the car away smoothly and shift ratios in very laid-back mode.
The M5’s totally unwearing and absurdly easy-to drive like this. You could cover hundreds of miles, entirely untroubled in the multi-adjustable sports seats, in convincing luxury.
Move upwards into ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport+’ modes on the steering, powertrain, chassis and DSC systems and purposefulness quickly muscles its way into the driving experience. Most notably, the hand wheel goes from heavy to absurdly heavy if you let it, and the ride quality loses that pleasing compliance entirely, riveting the M5’s body to the ground on smooth surfaces, but making it crash and jolt unhelpfully on anything less-than-smooth.
It’s debatable if, even in its firmest state, the M5 allows its driver to connect with it any more meaningfully now than it did at launch. The extra weight in the steering requires effort levels way beyond the realm of delicacy, and it’s not obvious if there’s any more feedback – pertaining either to the state of the front contact patches or the amount of force exerted through the front suspension – available through it.
‘Sport+’ mode on the suspension, meanwhile, is much too hard to work on British roads. The optimum setting for fast road use is achieved by mixing ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes on the M5’s various systems – but it shouldn’t be so hard to dial up. And even when achieved, it doesn’t provide you with quite the kind of body control and handling we’d like the setting to.
The M5 is either abruptly disturbed over bumps that wouldn’t trouble a well-sorted sports saloon, or simply allowed too much vertical freedom to move over them. The fact is, you can have over-firm dampers, or under-firm ones – but never a set-up quite like a properly tuned, expensive-feeling passive damper might deliver.
Directional stability and cornering balance is good where imperfect surfaces don’t come into play. The chassis grips very hard indeed, and can be driven very quickly and smoothly, or as exuberantly sideways as you like with the electronics disabled.
BMW’s new diff settings have added a bit of extra progressiveness to the car’s limit handling, but the original car never seemed unwilling to oblige the hooligan in us either.
Overarching all of that, though, is the sense of incredible outright speed the car delivers at full power. Partly because the engine’s so docile under less throttle, but mostly because there’s just so much grunt, the M5 never fails to amaze when you downshift a couple of times and bury the pedal.
An engine that felt mighty before now feels almost omnipotent: capable, you’d guess, of running with GTRs and 911 Turbos and Ferrari 458s once it’s hit full stride. Magnificent, really.
Should I buy one?
Well, you probably will anyway. Nobody who’s genuinely in the market for an M5 is likely to settle for a smaller portion of oomph.
But for our money, the £7k brake upgrade is a much more important and effective buy than the £7k performance upgrade – and truth be told, BMW should have been generous enough to offer both for the price.
A standard M5 is a very fast car. An M5 Competition Pack variant ought to be an even faster, even better one – and while it may be the former, it’s not obviously the latter.
The more involving Mercedes E63 AMG S would definitely figure more highly on our shopping list and – if the idea doesn’t offend you – even a Vauxhall VXR8 GTS offers more charm and driver reward.
BMW M5 Competition Pack
Price £80,205; 0-62mph 4.2sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 28.5mpg; CO2 232g/km; Kerbweight 1945kg; Engine type, cc V8, 4395cc, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power 567bhp at 6000-7000rpm; Torque 502lb ft 1500-5750rpm; Gearbox 7-spd M-DCT semi-automatic