From £89,7058
Extra-special super-saloon comes with added handling agility but a bit too much hardcore attitude for UK roads

What is it?

The BMW M5 Competition is the new extra-powerful, sharpened and honed version of the M Division’s already pretty powerful and sharp BMW M5 super-saloon. We drove it in the summer on Portuguese roads; now's our chance to find out how well it takes to British ones.

This car is a result of BMW M’s decision to spin off at least one added-performance ‘special standalone model’ from every M car it makes from now on. That standalone model might be branded Competition, like this one, or it might be a CS, a GTS or possibly even something all-new. The suspense is unbearable, isn’t it? Whatever they’re called, there has been plenty already in what seems like a short space of time, and, quite clearly, there will be plenty more.

The clever bit is that, by committing to making them as a matter of course, BMW M evades much of the cynicism you might otherwise confer on it for milking yet more money out of the early adopters who always rush to buy one of the first examples of any M car on the market. If you want the ultimate M2, BMW M4, M5 or M8, you’ve now been put on notice that it almost certainly won’t be one of the very first ones in the showroom.

And if you choose to buy an early car anyway, run it for a year and then chop it in for the new and improved Competition version? Well, more fool you. Some would simply call that effective product lifecycle management.

Bmw m5 competition rearcorner

What's it like?

There is, at least, a reasonable amount that separates the M5 Competition from the regular M5 in terms of mechanical make-up, and pleasingly, this isn’t just an engine ECU reflash, a dampers software update and a bootlid badge.

The Competition gets lowered and stiffened suspension springs all round, as well as shorter auxiliary (or helper) springs and retuned adaptive dampers. Other suspension hardware changes include ball-jointed rigid rear suspension mountings, new front anti-roll bar mountings and a revised geometry up front that increases negative wheel camber. You get a 20in forged alloy wheel as standard (up from 19in on the regular M5), but there’s no super-sticky ‘cup’ tyre here and no free upgrade to carbon-ceramic brakes.

Under the bonnet, the Competition overhaul endows the M5 with 616bhp, up from 591bhp, but no more torque (553lb ft) – at least not nominally. Compare the power and torque curves of the two cars and you’ll note they’re identical up to 5500rpm. Just at the point at which the regular M5’s power curve is reigned in and made to flatline between 5600 and 6700rpm, the Competition’s is allowed to keep rising to a true 6000rpm peak on the likes of which, had they found something similar at the top of Everest in 1953, even Hillary and Tenzing might have struggled to stand for that famous photograph.

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The freedom to rev that bit harder also means the M5 Competition’s V8 makes peak torque for 200rpm longer than the regular M5. But that, too, seems a bit ‘so what?’ given that the 627lb ft of wallop you get from the Mercedes-AMG E63 S remains such a distant prospect. You do get more rigid engine mounts if you opt for the M5 Competition, though, which not only improve throttle response, BMW claims, but also deliver enhanced steering response by virtue of stiffening up the car’s frontal structure.

So, when you account for everything you’re getting, the M5 Competition is probably not such a bad deal at all for the £6500 premium that BMW asks over a regular M5. And yet BMW UK only expects about one in three M5 owners to plump for it. And if you’re wondering why that might be, it won’t take you long in the driver’s seat to find the answer.

There's plenty of uncompromising focus about the M5 Competition’s ride, which, although comfortable enough on good surfaces, gets quite tetchy and firm, and occasionally hyperactive, on uneven cross-country roads. The car’s adaptive dampers have the familiar Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, and all but the firmest of those keeps the ride civil on smooth motorways and fast A-roads. But even Comfort struggles to cope with the topography of a British B-road, where the M5 Competition seems notably short on wheel travel and manages its bodily mass quite abruptly and aggressively over medium-sized intrusions.

Elsewhere, though, there’s a lot more to like about the M5 Competition’s dynamic makeover. Much as you might say that the regular M5 wasn’t in need of either, there’s even quicker steering response and more instant agility about the car’s handling around tighter bends, junctions and roundabouts. And because it comes hand-in-hand with a weightier and more tactile steering rim, that’s a change that seems intuitive and is easy to assimilate.

The car’s configurable all-paw driveline still has more influence over how it corners than anything else in its make-up. Set it to default 4WD mode and the M5 Competition feels quite stable and surefooted, with lots of traction. 4WD Sport mode partnered with M Dynamic mode on the electronic stability control makes the car feel more rear-driven, giving you plenty of opportunity to steer using your right foot in longer, lower-speed corners and standing ready to shift torque forwards as and when it thinks helpful. And 2WD mode with the electronics completely off gives you as lurid a drift machine as ever you could want. The choice is yours, sir. Welcome to the veritable smorgasbord that is the modern super-saloon driving experience.

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That was all true of the regular M5, and so it is of the M5 Competition, except that the extra handling agility the Competition’s tweaked suspension grants makes the sportier driveline modes feel even more clearly defined from the default than ever they do in the regular M5. On smooth surfaces, the M5 Competition wants to swivel really keenly underneath you when you set it just so, even before you’ve switched out the front driveshafts completely. And in a wide lane at big speed, the sense of precision and the connected feel it delivers is quite special. 

Bmw m5 competition straightdash

Should I buy one?

If the additional straight-line performance would be the main draw, I’m not so sure. The big-hitting E63 S remains the defining sledgehammer thrust-monger in the current super-saloon niche, and an extra 25bhp for the Competition version of the M5 doesn’t change that, much as the BMW is also the polar opposite of slow and boring.

But if you’re attracted by the idea of even sharper, more pointy and more lively handling from the M5, and the best impression that such a large, four-wheel drive executive saloon can possibly do of a spry two-seater sports car, fill your boots.

At its best, the M5 Competition certainly eclipses the regular M5’s already remarkable high standards on handling poise and driver engagement. However, what it gains in those terms isn’t quite worth what it surrenders compared with the standard M5 as regards ride suppleness and general suitability to the full gamut of road surfaces on which you might drive it in the UK.

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Less may well be more when it comes to M5 ownership – particularly since it's only 25bhp less.

Bmw m5 competition badge

BMW M5 Competition specification

Where Oxfordshire, UK Price £96,205 On sale now Engine V8, 4395cc, twin-turbocharged petrol Power 616bhp at 6000rpm Torque 553lb ft at 1800-5800rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1865kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 3.3sec Fuel economy 26.2mpg CO2 246g/km Rivals Mercedes-AMG E63 S, Porsche Panamera Turbo

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
5cylinderT 17 May 2019

by the way this thing

by the way this thing produces nearly 700hp not 616 like the specs say.

flukey 8 November 2018


I don't get why people buy BMW, they all look identical when they're riding 2 inches off my back bumper on the motorway. 

Do people not want some kind of distinction for all this money? (The new Alfa's seem nice)

For me, these cars are some of the most uninspiring machines on the planet, and for cars that apparently 'drive well' it's pretty funny that nearly every nurburgring crash video on youtube is basically a BMW idiot tailspin compilation. 

Nah, doesn't appeal.  

Prince-Kay 8 November 2018

M5 Competetion Vs M5

From your review of the M5 Competetion the first time and this second time in the UK, it's clearly not as good as the M5 all round!

Pointless if you ask me!

BMW are only chasing sales to become number one by every means possible!

Why don't they put the best into the M5 and make it as good as it can possibly be, instead of another nich one called Competetion?!