Top Gear's BMW M5 Competition review

By topgear, 28 October 2020

OVERVIEW - What is it?

The BMW M5 has enjoyed a similar refresh to the regular 5 Series, but with one crucial difference. While the regular saloon has seen its range swell with a handful of new engine options, the M5’s has halved, from two to one. In the UK, you can now only have the full-bore M5 Competition. And we’re the second biggest market for the M5 behind America (yep, ahead of Germany) so we ought to know a thing or two about how to buy one of these.

Yep, no regular M5. 2020 has definitely dealt us trickier revelations, but it’s an interesting move, because its big nemesis – the Mercedes-AMG E63 – continues with two power outputs, and an entry point below £100,000 (just). Something the M5 Competition can’t offer, prices starting at £102,325 before options. And you will add options. We’ll get onto those in a sec.

Your sole engine option is an almighty twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 with 616bhp and 750Nm of torque, which fling its two tonnes (including driver) to 100kph in 3.3 seconds. Three point three. Bullets have left guns slower than that. Your top speed depends, again, on options. It’s 249kph as standard, or 305kph with the M Driver’s Pack…

…which is incorporated into a new, £19,000 ‘Ultimate Pack’ that gives you all the juicy stuff in one hit. Carbon ceramic brakes, a carbon engine cover, that higher top speed, heating and massaging in the seats (to make 190 feel as comfy as 70), a big stereo and even a digital telly. BMW says 15 per cent of people go for it in the bigger M8 Competition.The M8 has actually influenced some of the other tweaks for this updated M5, too. The suspension set up from the M8 Gran Coupe is slotted in here, surely upping the big Five’s comfort game in light of the plusher new AMG E63.

There’s also a new M Mode switch on the centre console, which sets the car up ready for sporty road driving or gritted-teeth track driving with a respective push or hold of the button. Separate to all the engine and chassis settings (toggleable via separate M buttons on the steering wheel), this new one shuts off the stereo volume and safety systems at increasing levels for road and track.

Extra complexity? But of course. Modern sports saloons are chockful of it, and the M5 retains the xDrive four-wheel-drive system of before, one which switches to rear-drive only when you want to make mischief. But you’ll leave it largely alone, as it throws so much power to the back of the car in 4WD you’re hardly bumbling around in an understeering mess if you simply press the starter button and head off.

DRIVING - What is it like on the road?

The headline is a slightly comfier slant for the suspension, borrowed from the M8 Gran Coupe. Essentially, it appears to bring the softer edge of the old, ‘regular’ M5 to the quicker M5 Competition. If you’re unduly worried it’s become a big luxo-barge, rest assured there are new engine mounts, for better keeping that massive twin-turbo V8 in check (and thus improving body control by infinitesimal amounts).

It remains a sports saloon with absurd composure. Less of an unruly hot rod than a Mercedes E63, it’s like a DFS showpiece lounge that’ll crack 100kph at supercar speed. Its xDrive is achingly clever, too, and even on track we suspect you’ll rarely feel the need to switch everything to ESC-off, two-wheel drive ‘danger mode’. Keep the YouTube karma gods at bay, switch to 4WD Sport, and enjoy the amusingly rear-led balance of a car that shrugs off its size and weight admirably.


And flipping heck, is it quick. You’ll rarely be able to use full throttle for long, and if you’re manually flapping through its eight gears, you’ll be wise to tackle everything a gear higher than your heart desires just to quell the warp speed that accompanies you slingshotting out from each apex. The engine noise is fairly muffled inside the cabin – especially if you’ve not pushed those enticing red M buttons – so big numbers really will creep onto the speedometer with bafflingly little effort.

Much as they do in an E63, mind. The pair are still incredibly hard to split but the BMW remains the more rounded, comfy car; TV screens for rear passengers are a simple options box tick away. It covers all bases with a staggering depth of engineering and might well be the most complete sports saloon ever. To an enthusiast, though, such completeness can be a help and a hindrance. The Merc is less couth (read: louder), bigger hearted and encourages its driver to be more playful.

ON THE INSIDE - Layout, finish and space

As per the new 5 series, there’s a whacking great 12.3in screen betwixt driver and passenger. But technophobes needn’t worry, as it’s a doddle to operate. Touch the screen itself, or scroll the iDrive wheel.

Remember when iDrive launched in the old (old) 7 Series, baffling all who got near it? Well, now it’s beyond reproach. Choosing between screen or button control is a welcome luxury. Forget the (optional) gesture control, which just confuses things and makes you look like you’re displaying rude hand signals to your fellow road users. They hardly need an excuse to fire one back…

It’s not the classiest place in here – far too many red buttons and Transformer’s-knuckle gear selectors for that. But the materials are all delightful, a step up from the 520d your neighbour has, and there’s tonnes of space front and back.

It’s a car that’ll slip into your life devilishly easy. Our one room for improvement? The fact BMW still only offers a four-door. What we’d give for the M5 to join the latest M3 in offering a Touring version…


OWNING - Running costs and reliability

It’ll be a doddle to own. Such a big engine will be exceedingly understressed in day-to-day life, and while BMW claims mpg in the mid 20s (approx. 11.3 - 14.1 litres/100km), we reckon you’ll better it when you’re not waking up those turbos too much. Mind, expect the number to freefall when you do prod them into life. But forays into the orange and red bits of the rev counter will forever be stymied by pesky speed limits; away from an autobahn this car does inevitably feel a bit caged. But then the M5 is far from the only culprit in that regard.

Should you spec that mega, 19 grand options package? ‘Sup to you. We’d resist, but the carbon-ceramic brakes (£7,995 with the 305kph limiter thrown in for free) are a must, while the £1,000 laser lights will come in handy when you inevitably slip out late at night to unleash this thing free of traffic.


Is ‘too complete’ a valid criticism? The M5 Competition is almighty in its performance and comfort, but found a little wanting when you want a bit of verve and attitude at everyday pace. The kind of pace that doesn’t trouble your own morals.

We could list a dozen performance cars the same is true of, however, and at least as a big, posh four-door, this car’s not solely about putting a grin on your face. It’s about slipping into everyday life too. Which the M5 will with utter class.

Merc’s mighty E63 shows us what’s possible when a bit more anger is allowed to bubble to the surface, but in truth the pair of them – as well as Audi’s staggeringly good RS7 Sportback – operate at such high levels now they’re achingly hard to split. Try them all before you pick which one’s for you.

Words: Stephen Dobie

The quickest M5 ever is also the comfiest M5 ever. Maybe the most complete super saloon of them all


Rocketship pace in a sensible (ish) suit There's room for a bit more edge
SCORE 8/10