RONDA, Spain – Alongside the new BMW M2 Competition (read my impressions here), we also had a chance to experience the M5 Competition on the technically intricate Ascari circuit in southern Spain, as well as on Andalusia's spectacular (and spectacularly tight, if you're in a broad-beamed M5) mountain passes.
I last drove an M5 when CAR pitted it against the Mercedes-AMG E63 S in a comparative test that was as fiercely contested as it was thrilling for us to compile. The M5 just managed to edge a win, the CAR team praising its more fluid everyday driving manners, lower price and superior ride comfort when the road turns rough.
A mere four months later, I'm sitting behind the wheel of the new M5 Competition, a model that supplements rather than replaces the standard version (think E63 to E63 S in the pecking order). Its 4,4-litre V8 engine has been massaged to deliver 19 kW more than before and, while its maximum torque figure of 750 N.m remains, it's delivered across a wider spread of engine speeds.
Alongside the bump in power output, the Competition features a model-specific M Sport exhaust system with pipe ends painted black; new engine mounts that are said to enhance cornering precision by eliminating drivetrain slackness; suspension that's been lowered by 7 mm and tweaked across its springs (10% firmer) and dampers, plus increased camber fore.
How the changes translate to the road
Unlike the M2 Competition, which we first drove on Ascari before moving to public roads, we first have a go in the M5 on the lanes surrounding the racing complex. As I alluded to, the roads snaking around the Spanish town of Ronda are butt-clenchingly narrow and often unsighted, which isn't a natural proving ground for a vehicle so endowed with girth and mass as the M5 Competition is.
That said – and despite the firmer suspension – the xDrive AWD system easily finds purchase on even the trickiest surfaces, settling the vehicle mid-bend before shooting it out on a monstrous wave of torque (did I mention it'll reach 100 km/h in just 3,3 seconds, which feels entirely accurate if our 3,43-second measurement with the standard model is any indication?). It sounds better, too (though it's still easily bested by the AMG's indulgently tuneful V8).
And on the track?
We were afforded six laps of Ascari – of which four were hot – behind a BMW pace driver and, on setting out, I couldn't help but feel confident behind the wheel of the M5 despite still being unfamiliar with the track's intricate layout. This M5 has AWD, after all. Well, what I didn't anticipate was how much playfulness was built into the traction-control system's M dynamic mode (MDM) setting, which we changed to halfway through the lap allocation, allowing a healthy (eye-widening) degree of tail-happiness before reining in the fun.
Driven with precision, the M5 Competition feels alert and linear in its responses. Switch to MDM, however, and a welcome degree of slip is introduced. I didn't have a chance to sample the 2WD mode but, considering how hot BMW's test driver kept the pace, I was happy with the safety blanket of ESC.
Ultimately, the M5 Competition feels exactly like a slightly more honed M5. There's a definite firmer edge to the suspension, which is something that could become intrusive if the vehicle is used daily, but I'd say it still rides better than an E63 S. The 4,4-litre V8, meanwhile, sounds brawnier than ever and the chassis still breathes with a road surface like few cars weighing two tonnes have any right to. If you've been torn choosing between either an M5 or an E63 S, with the spectacular Competition model, BMW has just made your decision (somewhat) easier...