Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 22, 2021
We have fond memories of the F90 BMW M5 ever since we test drove it in the Portugese countryside, not just because of its prodigious performance or handsome new styling, but for its balanced road manners and top-notch interior. To put it all into a wider perspective, BMW also gave us the rare opportunity to test drive the entire M5 family tree, from the progenitor E12 M535i all the way to the F1-derived, V10-powered E60.
So when BMW decides to update and refresh their sixth-generation M5 that we already thought was damn near perfect, we’re equally excited and worried. What lies in front of us in the 2021 BMW M5 Competition equipped with a 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 617 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. It runs that output through an 8-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels via a trick AWD system that can be switched to pure RWD with the flick of a button, and it will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 3.3 seconds. For context, the M5 Competition will easily outrun dedicated two-door sports cars like the Mercedes-AMG GT R and Porsche 992 Carrera 4S but more importantly, it’s one-tenths of a second quicker than its chief rival, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S.
Performance wise, the M5 Competition remains largely carried over. It’s the same, hunkered down, otherworldly executive sedan that blows minds and rearranges organs under full acceleration. What’s changed for 2021 mainly comes down to aesthetics.
There’s a new, sharper, and sleeker kidney grill design, narrower front headlights with blue-accented laser lights, a new rear light signature, and larger front air intakes. To differentiate itself from the base M5, the Competition model also adorns high-gloss black finishes on the door handles, mirrors, front kidney grills, rear bumper, and rear spoiler. New paint colours adorn the palette for 2021 with Brands Hatch Grey and Motegi Red, though our test vehicle was draped in the eye-popping shade of Imola Red II available with the BMW Individual program. Forgive those dinky 19-inch wheels in our photographs, though. They were the only set of winter tires that were available, and hardly suit the aggressive shade of paint - it’s like putting Ketchup on a filet mignon.
Inside, the M5 Competition receives a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen display for 2021 and while we never thought the outgoing unit was diminutive, the crisp graphics and carried over rotary dial unit is more than welcome. It is hands down the most impressive, intuitive, and friendly infotainment system on the market, besting the somewhat convoluted Mercedes unit, and the overly touchscreen-dependant Audi system. There’s no guesswork or ambiguity to the rotary dial’s operation, and no taking your eyes off the road to adjust a quick feature. BMW just does ergonomics better.
And to relieve users of the overwhelming army of customizable buttons and drive modes, BMW has distilled the center console unit down to a more simplistic arrangement with a Setup and M Mode button, and their adjustment is carried out on the touchscreen instead. The two red M buttons on the steering wheel remain, and these can be individually programmed to summon a shortcut setup that you have chosen.
The M5 Competition is a legalized missile on wheels for all intents and purposes. Anything with over 600 horsepower is pure excess in the concrete jungle and in most cases, you won’t be able to access or utilize most of that. Good thing then, that that maximum torque of 553 lb-ft starts right at 1,800 rpm, so while you may not hit 250 km/h on a daily basis, you can feel the adrenaline rush with a simple prod of the right pedal.
The M5 Competition rides 7mm lower than the standard M5 and also comes equipped with specially designed engine mounts and anti-roll bars to keep the chassis tight and its innards from flying about. The result is a wildly capable five-passenger sedan with oodles of track potential, but it also demonstrates impeccable road mannerisms and a balanced ride that isn’t unbearably stiff thanks to shock absorbers carried over from the M8 Gran Coupe. The M5 Competition is surprisingly more supple than the 2019 model we tested - some of that could be down to the smaller and softer 19-inch wheels. In its softest suspension setting, there are less vertical motions and vibrations translated into the chassis, and it feels much more composed over pockmarked roads. It’s more than usable on a daily basis and as an urban commuter car. If only Alpina offered the B5 on this side of the pond - now that would be one hell of a sleeper car.
But the biggest surprise we had was the exhaust. We’ve heard the M5 in its standard and Competition form before, and both were addictively loud with V8-powered burbles and bellowing roars at high RPMs. But our M5 Competition came with the optional Titanium M Performance Exhaust with carbon tips. It’s a $6,000 addition but transforms it into the loudest BMW I’ve ever heard coming straight out of the factory. While not as sonorous as the V10-powered E60, it’s F-Type SVR levels of loud and clearly borders on legality. Wring out first gear and let off the throttle right before the redline, and what ensues is an artillery barrage, surely to annoy and scare neighbouring cars, transporting them into a suburban warzone. All the pops and bangs on overrun that made the outgoing BMW models so emotionally enticing are still there, and the classic V8 roar is still present under acceleration. The loud pops may be a little excessive to those who are more sensitive to sharp acoustics, but you can shut it all up with a simple push of the exhaust button underneath the gear shifter. A pricey but highly recommended option. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notesvideo above to hear it for yourself.
The BMW M5 continues to be one of our favourite road cars, now demonstrating balanced road manners with an upscale interior and overwhelming performance. The updated sheetmetal makes it one of the most visually appealing M5s to date, and the infotainment unit remains the gold standard. The only negative thing we have to report is that there isn’t one currently in our garage. That, and we are significantly short of its $122,000 entrance fee.
Model: 2021 BMW M5 Competition
Paint Type: Imola Red II
Base Price: $122,000
Price as Tested: $150,250
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,966 / 1,903 / 1,473
Curb weight (kg): 1,971
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 617 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,860 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.1
Tires: Michelin Pilot Alpin 5; 265/40R19