RONDA, Spain — In the beginning there was the iPhone, and it was called the iPhone. Now there’s an iPhone X, and an SE, and an XS Max, and on and on.
It’s happening to cars too. In the old days — way back six or seven years ago — when you bought a BMW M car you knew: This is the fastest BMW, the top model. An M5 was an M5, gosh darnit. But not anymore.
The new hierarchy of fast BMWs goes as follows, from slowest/cheapest to fastest/richest: M Performance models like the M540i; then proper M models like the M5; then Competition models like this new M5 Competition; then CS models like the M3 CS; and finally CSL models — which, there are none currently.
Each is quicker and more expensive than the last. Oh, and there’s also M Performance Parts and a range of M Sport options.
It’s 50 Shades of Fast. Do we really need them all?
BMW is far from alone in this nonsense. Mercedes has been at it for years, making countless AMG-badged models. Dodge rolls out new version of the Challenger every month and Porsche currently makes 20-something different 911 variants.
The M5 Competition is the first of its kind from BMW. Over and above bog-standard M5, you get 617 horsepower (a 17 hp bump), stiffened springs and dampers which let the car ride seven-millimetres lower.
There are also solid ball-joints and a beefier anti-roll bar in the rear suspension, stiffer engine mounts, more camber on the front wheels, and lovely 20-inch forged wheels.
For all that — plus the all-important “Competition” badge on the trunk lid — you’ll pay $121,000, a $7,700 premium over the base M5.
On the previous-generation M5, 40 per cent of customers ticked the “competition package” option. The difference now is this option pack has become a distinct model with its own trunk badge and everything. Mercedes-AMG did the same thing with the “S” models. This kind of hair-splitting is happening across the entire auto industry.
“It works when you have a pull from the market,” said Steffen Leppert, product manager for the M5 Competition. “When customers are requesting it, why shouldn’t we make it?”
And there is pull from the market. BMW’s M-brand sales are up globally.
In Canada, the fourth largest market for M vehicles worldwide, sales are up 50 per cent this year alone.
BMW expects the Competition model will make up roughly half of all M5 sales.
Not having a regular M5 to compare back-to-back with the Competition, it’s hard to pinpoint the handling differences. They’re subtle.
The stiffer rear-suspension joints and anti-roll bar seem to make turn-in more crisp.
There’s less body roll too, less hesitation. The exhaust note is more manic, with fiery pops and crackles on the overrun.
Driving this car around a racetrack is a kind of competence-porn. It’s like watching Matt Damon survive on another planet in The Martian.
He’s so good at what he’s supposed to do, you’re just in awe, happy to be along for the ride.
Roll into the throttle at any point going around a corner, and the clever all-wheel drive system shuffles power to give you the perfect amount of oversteer for maximum speed.
In other words, the M5 Competition can make any ham-fisted driver into The Martian.
But, the regular M5 can do that too. If you want to spend an extra $7,700 to make the M5 better for the occasional track day, you’d probably be happier spending that cash on the optional carbon-ceramic brakes instead — but then you don’t get that snazzy “Competition” badge on the trunk.
Unless you simply must have the fanciest, most expensive new toy, save your money. The basic M5 is the better choice.
- Base price: $121,000
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V-8
- Transmissions: 8-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD
- Drive: All-wheel drive
- Alternatives: Mercedes-AMG E63 S, Audi RS7 Performance, Cadillac CTS-V, Jaguar XJR 575, Porsche Panamera 4S
- Looks: It appears slightly more menacing, lower and angrier. The Competition model distinguished itself with glossy black exterior trim and kidney grilles. The lightweight forged alloy wheels save around 3 kilograms per corner.
- Interior: There aren’t really any changes inside the cabin. BMW could’ve tried harder here. A Competition graphic shows up on the dash, and you get M-stripes on the seatbelts.
- Performance: It does 0-100 km/h in 3.3 seconds, which is 0.1 seconds quicker than the base M5 and the Mercedes-AMG E63 S. Torque is the same 553 lb-ft. So, will you be able to tell the difference on the road? Probably not. Is it technically the fastest, raciest M5 ever? Yes. By a whisker. Be aware you’re sacrificing ride comfort for minor handling gains.
- Technology: The M5 has the all the latest driver-assistance tech, including lane-centering steering and stop-and-go cruise control. It all works well to ease the burden of a long commute.
- Cargo: The latest 5 Series is an enormous car, weighing in at 1,980 kg. Rear seat legroom is generous, even for adults. It’s a true luxury sedan, as you’d expect for the price.
- Score: 7.0 / 10: The base M5 is so good, the Competition model seems superfluous
You’ll like this car if… you often take your luxury family sedan to the racetrack, you mad genius.