Review: 2021 BMW M5 Competition
If there is anyone in your life who owes you a so-called “ten-second” car—a former spouse, a satisfied business partner, the kid who just showed up in his Mitsubishi Eclipse and saved you from being arrested after a very intricately staged street race, but then had the Eclipse blown up by notorious thug Johnny Tran—then the BMW M5 Competition will be one of the cheapest ways to handle that obligation out of a new-car showroom. The nice people at Car and Driver recorded a 10.8-second pass in the very same car we drove around NCM Motorsports Park last week. Admittedly, that time was “temperature-corrected” and “rollout-adjusted,” but still. You get the idea. This is a very fast car, period. The fact that it is also a 4300-pound four-door luxury sedan just adds a bit of spice to the deal.
With numbers like that, this Voodoo Blue M5 Competition, which now sits in the middle of BMW’s Fast-Five lineup between the plain-jane M5 and the why-does-this-exist-anyway M5 CS, doesn’t need any more power, any more brake, or any more sporting intent. Rather, it could use a little more charm, a little more savoir-faire, a little more joie de vivre. (Stop me before I get all the way to amuse-bouche.) In trying to be two very different things—first-rate luxury sedan and race track terror—the M5 Comp doesn’t quite make the grade as either. That being said, it does make a very profound impression on pretty much everyone who encounters it, so let’s take a look.
Our test car rang the register at a stunning $141,045, just south of the $142,000 entry price for the M5 CS and stratospherically above the $103,500 base price of a plain M5. I’ve broken down the list of options into Must Have, Kinda Nice, and Save Your Money.
- Bowers & Wilkins sound system, at $3400. This surely has to be one of the great bargains in BMW options-list history; the staging is outstanding, the dynamic range is perfectly satisfactory, and the clarity is first-rate. While it’s not quite up to the standards of what you’d get with the best audio systems in, say, a Lincoln Navigator or Genesis G90, it doesn’t cost very much, either.
- Voodoo Blue paint, at $5000. This option changes the character of the M5 from wanna-be autobahn tough guy to super-fun party dude who probably knows all about social-media sensation Melissa Ong. Those of us who remember the mighty all-black E28 M5 will be slightly put off by the in-your-face aesthetic of driving a two-ton, 200-plus-mph sedan in LOOK AT ME BLUE, but BMW is long past the point where they could unironically pull off something like the E28 M5. Or maybe society is long past that point. Leave your opinions in the comments.
- Black Full Merino Leather, at $3500. It’s really nice, not up to the standards of an old Jaguar but miles past what you get in most new Benzes. I suspect it’s not as scuff-resistant as the standard-equipment stuff.
Save Your Money:
- Competition Package, at $7600. It sure looks cool, and it’s nice to tell people that you have a “Comp,” but as we’ll see below it detracts from the fundamental excellence of the M5.
- Driving Assistance Plus, at $1700. In theory, this will drive you around in a traffic jam. In practice, it yanks the wheel out of your hands in the dead of night, in the rain, on Kentucky freeways that aren’t painted to TUV standards.
- M Driver’s Package, at $2500. Increases the top speed, something you could probably do with a chip tune, and entitles you to a day of instruction at BMW’s Performance Center. For most owners, that latter will either be something they don’t need or something they need a month of, not a day.
- M Carbon Ceramic Brakes, at $8500. Please skip this option out of respect for your car’s second owner, who will never financially recover from the expense of refreshing the pads and rotors. Yes, it works on track. No, it’s not helpful anywhere else, and it adds some unwanted, ah, verve to the way the M5 slows down in city traffic.
That’s the options list. Add in $1995 of gas-guzzler tax and destination charge, and you get … well, you don’t get $141,045, because I left out the most polarizing option of all: the Executive Package. This gives you rear sunshades, massage seats, soft-close doors, surround-view 3D camera. Basically the package for people who are driven in their M5, rather than driving it. And it’s a relative bargain at $3350. But the very existence of the Executive Package, particularly in a car badged “Competition,” should give you some sense as to the existential crisis in which our particular test car found itself. Consider this: This M5 has a carbon-fiber roof, ostensibly to save weight, but it also has soft-close door motors. Is there any reason for a car to have both of these features?
On the thousand-mile round trip from Michigan to NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Executive Package really shines. You can put the M5 into “Wellbeing Mode,” at which point it will rub your back, dim the interior lights to a faint orange, and probably do a few other things that aren’t immediately apparent. The soft-close doors are nice as well, although your humble author has long had a personal fetish for such devices that was only accelerated by owning a couple of Volkswagen Phaetons and therefore is not a reliable narrator in such matters.
Thirty-five years ago, long road trips at elevated speeds were the M5’s very reason for existence, but now even the lowly 530i has enough power to stroke along between 90 and 110 mph with no fuss whatsoever, and enough tire to handle pretty much any maneuver a sane person might attempt at those speeds. In fact, for most purposes you’d rather have a 530i, which would ride better, permit less noise to enter the cabin, and offer more security in foul weather courtesy of its less aggressive tires. A well-equipped all-wheel-drive 530xi with the (less ambitious in this lower model) Executive Package is sixty-four grand. What do you get when you more than double the price? Just bragging rights—and race track pace, of course.
To evaluate the latter, I ran the M5 around NCM’s West Course for the better part of an afternoon, in the company of a Shelby GT500 and Cayman GT4. As you might expect, the big Bimmer wasn’t quite as handy around NCM West as those dedicated-purpose sports cars—but it wasn’t as far behind as you’d expect. Two or three seconds per lap, tops, and that was with a couple of passengers on board. That herculean 617-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 has a lot to do with it, as does the all-wheel-drive system. BMW will let you turn off the front axle in a no-stability-control 2WD “M Mode,” but here’s a secret: leaving the front wheels out of the party costs you about half a second a lap, almost entirely in the slow corners where two 285-width Michelins simply aren’t enough to handle the available torque. Can’t blame them; at most points in the rev range, this sedan is making a lot more power than a fifth-generation Viper.
That absolute power is also probably why the transmission feels so dim-witted at times. It’s slow to upshift through the first few gears at full throttle, likely to prevent every cog in the box from being force-shredded, but it’s also remarkably reluctant to downshift going into a corner. You can hold (or repeatedly) slap that left paddle as much as you want, but it’s anyone’s guess as to which gear you will actually get. Say what you like about the fussy and balky single-clutch automated manual in the V-10 M5, but it was far more predictable in these conditions than this entirely conventional eight-speed torque-converter automatic could possibly be.
Thanks to the carbon-ceramics, the M5 stops as well as it goes, though the expensive rotors are not immune from the laws of physics involved with something this heavy moving at this kind of pace. The steering is about as good as it gets in a modern sedan, which is another way of saying not great. There is absolutely nothing unpredictable or scary about running the Voodoo Blue machine on a track, and that’s a singular achievement in itself. Any reasonably competent track-day driver could have a very good time behind the wheel. The rough edges have all been smoothed off. What’s left is simply rocket thrust, a supremely helpful chassis, and massaging seats.
For $141K you could get a new Corvette, which would be more fun around a race track, and the aforementioned 530i, which would be more enjoyable off it. But that’s not the kind of calculus most M5 buyers are doing. They want something that combines ten-second dragstrip pace, massive road course capability, and possibly soft-close doors. The M5 Competition delivers all of that and more. Yet we can’t help but think that most buyers would be more satisfied with a standard M5, which rides a little better and causes a little less fuss, or an M5 CS, which is purely focused on the rather arcane hobby of two-ton track times. If someone owes you a ten-second car, it’s hard to argue against satisfying that debt with an M5. But you might be happier with a different one.
2021 BMW M5 Competition
Base Price/As Tested: $113,095/$141,045
Highs: Exceptional engine, delightful sound system, standout color, capable of dispatching Spec Miatas with aristocratic indifference.
Lows: Not a great value at this price; Competition package is a Goldilocks choice that won’t be just right for most people.
Summary: About as far from the intent of the original M5 as an Airbus A380 is from the Wright Flyer, with similar increases in weight and comfort.