2021 BMW M5 Competition Road Test | More improved than you think
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Sorry to BMW and everyone I misled in my last BMW M550i Road Test 2021. I was wrong in suggesting that it be the best executed 5 series with an M badge. This honor lies where it rightly belongs, in this M5 competition.
I made the classic mistake of outdoing myself, assuming the refreshed M5 competition would suffer from the same issues that plagued the car before the refresh. And the X5 M competition that I drove last summer. And the X6 M competition that I drove in the fall. They're all too damn stiff and serious for their own good. Great for a racetrack, but endlessly annoying under the vast majority of circumstances.
I feel just like an old man for typing as you probably think I read, but it's true. The M550i felt like the perfectly balanced success story I was looking for in BMW's legendary midsize sedan: quick angry, a skilled driver, silky smooth on the autobahn. That checks a lot of the boxes, and while it's still a spectacular sports sedan, the M5 competition is the M sedan in every way.
How the M5 competition got there is pretty straightforward. The car has all-new adaptive dampers and a recalibrated control system this year. According to BMW, the new parts and the revised tuning should "improve driving comfort when driving on high-speed roads and on bumps". These new dampers are brilliantly successful in these tasks and make the M5 Competition a sedan that everyone can live with on a daily basis without having to realign the spine later in life. But don't think that the M5 has gone soft. Put the car in full Sport Plus mode with the dampers at maximum stiffness, and the vicious tiger inside is still very much alive.
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That duality of excellence is what a car like the M5 is all about, and it's one of the reasons the model remains an avid icon to this day. Industry-leading steering feel and a third pedal are no longer part of the equation, but the chassis of this new M5 is in some ways a return to the car's well-known fame as an all-round vehicle for the wealthy enthusiast who wants a single car for every circumstance.
In addition to the chassis changes, BMW updated the M5 this year as part of its mid-cycle update with a number of improvements for the entire 5-series. There are some hard-to-see changes in the design of the front and rear bumpers, improved interior technology with two 12.3-inch screens (one for the instruments, the other for infotainment), Android Auto, a new "Track" program for gaming the screens and new colors galore. The one shown here is not new, but it is a highly recommended Voodoo Blue option from the BMW Individual Manufaktur range.
There were many parts on the M5 that didn't need improvement and BMW made sure that these were carried over. The 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 is still a total beast. It produces 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque in the Competition spec (just 600 horsepower in the standard M5 version), which is good for 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, a tenth faster than the standard car. The competition breathes through an extra loud exhaust system (seriously, it can't be much quieter than a Hellcat) that you'll fall in love with as quickly as your neighbors will start to hate you. Whenever there is a conversation near the large quad pipes during a cold start, everyone involved has to shout back and forth. It's awesome! A titanium exhaust option valued at $ 7,240 is available through BMW's M division.
The competition's chassis setup continues to be more severe than the standard M5. It sits 0.2 inches lower, has 10% tighter front and rear springs, a firmer rear stabilizer, increased front negative camber, and ball-and-socket mounts instead of rubber bushings. It also gets 20-inch forged wheels with summer rubber with a width of 275 sections at the front and tires with a width of 285 sections at the rear. This makes the observed improvement in ride quality even more impressive.
You can distinguish the competition from the standard M5 by the expanded use of glossy black trimmings. All of the following parts are painted black: kidney grille border, side mesh inserts, mirror caps, trunk spoiler, badges, rear bumper inserts and the exhaust tips. On the inside of the package there are M sport seats, surfaces covered with merino leather, M-striped seat belts and a luminous M logo in the headrests. All of this is an additional $ 7,600 price tag over the standard M5.
Well worth it if you want to use the M5 the way it is meant to be used. And use it the way you should. This car is a 4,295 pound rocket (if it's equipped with the carbon-ceramic brakes like our tester did). Compared to a new M3 with newly available all-wheel drive, this M5 Competition is only 305 pounds heavier. That's more of a Tsk-Tsk for the M3 than an Atta-boy for the M5, but it helps put this big sedan in perspective.
When using the launch control system, the acceleration is brisk, to put it simply. This engine hits its huge wall with maximum torque at 1,800 rpm and then carries it on to 5,860 rpm. The M550i may be fast, but this brilliant engine is simply overshadowed by the fast-revving hardcore version of this M5 - the M550i's engine loses its maximum torque 1,000 rpm earlier than the M5, making the version of the M5 look more like a High to the touch - stringed power engine. BMW continues to demonstrate its expertise in developing some of the best engines in the world, and the M version of this V8 is among the best of the best. The throttle response is as good as a turbocharged engine and pulls without slackening up to the impressive speed of 7,200 rpm.
Adding all-wheel drive to the mix with this generation M5 was and is a great idea. While it's an absolute hoon mobile in rear-only mode (believe me, you will instantly become a kid when you power the rear of this car), you'd want the all-wheel drive to take full advantage of the M5 is able to do so. Driving through a corner and out of a corner is just silly fun. You can feel the active differential cleverly sorting out the torque distribution in the rear and the fronts that scrape out the car on the other side. But don't worry, there's still more than enough power left to put the car on an easy slide, assuming you're in BMW's expertly tuned 4WD sport mode, which loosens up the nannies without turning them off completely. In this mode, BMW chooses “relaxed traction control” as well, if not better than anyone else. In this case, you can feel like a hero, but tune in before the tail twitch turns into a 360. However, pay attention to the RWD mode. There's no BMW hero waiting to instill your confidence in 617 horsepower when he drifts into a telephone pole.
The softer dampers that make freeway driving and driving on rough roads so much more acceptable this year don't seem to detract from handling. However, this is one of the rare BMWs that requires damper stiffness to be switched to Sport or Sport Plus mode to get the most out of it. Comfort mode is really comfort now in the M5, and given the size and weight of this car, the lack of an edge is compounded. When the M5 is set to maximum attack, it will stubbornly grip corners with its summer rubber. The limits are clearly high enough that it would take a racetrack to fully explore what this car is truly capable of.
There are only two major disadvantages. First the brakes. While the gigantic carbon-ceramic ($ 8,500 extra) will get this car out of speed in a rush, the feel of the brake pedal is just terrible. It's muddy the first time you hit the brakes and never really tightens or provides useful feedback. You feel like you're geared towards casual city driving where you want an easy-to-modulate, softer pedal. Even after a week of driving it was still difficult to judge the brakes properly when braking in corners. And unlike many other BMWs with adjustable brakes (thanks to brake-by-wire technology), the M5 is just what it is with no modes for cleaning. The second issue is steering feel, or lack of it, which is just the lowest hanging fruit on a list of BMW ailments these days. It weighs naturally around corners, and the non-flat tires help this BMW steer better than many runflat vehicles of the past, but BMW still lags behind Mercedes-AMG when it comes to getting connected to feel the road by the wheel.
And here this BMW falls into the hierarchy of mega-strong German luxury cars behind the Mercedes. We still prefer to drive the E 63 S (sedan or wagon) - it's the rougher performance car - but the BMW is a better driver than Audi's closest competitor: the 2021 RS 7 Avant. If BMW were to produce a touring long-roof version of the M5, we would have the feeling that it would have been brought to its knees in the middle of our Superwagon group test after AMG, but better than Audi Sport. With the tested price of 141,045 US dollars, it can even compete with the other German competitors.
All technical and functional updates ensure that the M5 keeps up with the equally fresh German Bruisers, and the new suspension bits make it really useful as both a day and weekend racing car. Given that, I can conclude that the BMW M5 is back and rightly at the top of the M-Baded throne of the 5 Series. Sorry for your short-lived reign, M550i.
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