Like Goldilocks Says, “Just Right!” By: David Ray

2021 BMW M5 Competition

Good news! I scored an M5 Competition for a week – a heavy responsibility to share impressions and experiences with such an iconic automotive sedan. I was stoked to be trusted with this amazing beast of a sedan – and it did NOT disappoint. Here’s a quick overview of specs on the M5 Competition:

  • 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8 – 617 hp, 553 lb. ft.
  • 8-Speed Automatic/Paddle Shift transmission
  • All-wheel drive – with 2-wheel drive setting
  • Carbon-ceramic brakes
  • Weight – 4237 lbs.

The initial impressions of the M5 are 95% positive. Wait…not positive – ECSTATIC! This modernized, classic, sculpted four door sedan is a head-turner. The breathers in the front fender add some attitude, along with elegant/sporty wheels, and gorgeous blue color make this car a magnet in the paddock. And…it brings tears to my eyes that BMW must have listened to my article along with input from other writers that panned the U-G-L-Y probiscis kidney bean nose…I see it still survives some models, but here is the nose of the M5 after the nose job…. perfect!!

Nice Nose!

The interior is excellent in terms of seat position, console, and the adjustable steering wheel. With all adjusted to my preferences, it was perfect for performance driving. The line of sight, and mirrors are excellent, with comfortable and supportive sport bucket seats. Back seat? Nice enough leather seats, but boring, and the seat back is a bit too vertical to be comfortable for a long trip… good knee room.…fine but not special…which means a bit disappointing in a $141K car. For the enthusiast, the back seat is a secondary consideration so take this for what it is worth.

Non-descript back seat: Adequate

The dashboard and driver/user interface? OK…I need some therapy here. This is a GREAT car. You’ll hear me gush about it later in the article. It truly is special. But BMW interface engineers have come close to ruining this car for me. There are so many layers of adjustments, information settings, preferences, experiences, knobs and multi-function buttons – arrgghh… Advanced technology should be easy to use, with few clicks and intuitive visuals and tactiles, as well as common sense voice commands. Especially in a 600+HP street legal missile. It should not be a distraction and their interfaces are just that. Too many very rarely used functions that consumers never asked for…just my two cents. I’ll add – if this was my only car, a daily driver, where I’m the only driver and I can customize and utilize all of the features, I’m sure I’d get in a groove with them. But if I bought this car, it would be one of four vehicles, from three different manufacturers…and the systems are different in every car…Oh, but if the industry could get together on some standard protocols for things like speed control, putting the sound system buttons all on the same side of the steering…just the basics…life would be good!! OK, I need to calm down and move on from this…

Dash Display of “Experience” Modes: Seriously?

My time with the M5 went by too fast, but there were a flood of impressions, emotions, and special moments while imagining that I owned this car. First, this is a very, very subjective statement…but the M5 just felt more connected, balanced, and better at being a street/track car than the M3. The M3 seemed to have hard edges in many places – where the M5 was a better-balanced performance sedan.

Driving Impressions

If you are buying the M5 Competition to impress your friends, and will never drive it on the track, or even push it a bit on the public highways – STAY AWAY!! The city ride in this M5 is pretty harsh. You can tell that there is not much soft rubber in any suspension component. Bumps and cracks get passed straight through. So, if you are a city dweller and want a Euro status symbol, do not buy this car – your family and friends will complain. If, on the other hand, you are a little bit nuts like some of us are, you will ignore the firm City ride…because it is all about the country and track for the M5 Competition.

The highlight of my time with the M5 began with the drive through the Pacheco Pass. This route is a beautiful Central California drive but can be a bit of a handful. With four tight, twisty lanes, but NOT interstate standards…there is always a game between cars trying to make good time, while avoiding the fully loaded big rigs trying to maintain 35mph going up or down a grade. You can have open running through this series of big, sweeping curves…up and over a mountain pass, but then hit a temporary traffic jam behind four car transporters. With that as a context, the M5 was in its element. The smoothness of the ride, total silence in the cabin, unbelievable acceleration, all combined to create a religious experience. It was like flying a jet through a WW I dogfight. Squeeze on, squeeze off…brake brake…laugh at the sweeper you are in…tune the Bowers & Wilkins to Joe Satriani…driving heaven. I mentioned the quiet cabin – I will emphasize this point, as a car with the word “competition” in its name, I did not expect quiet. But stealth the M5 is. The little winglets on the rear-view mirrors appear to be actively silencing any blast around the side window…and with the turbos serving as mufflers, the M5 just purrs at 80mph.

There is one prominent driving impression that I’ll mention now – in the context of a rapid run on a winding, mountainous thoroughfare, which will show up in the track comments as well. The suspension engineers at BMW decided to give this car a true feeling of precision. While providing the comfort of a 4000 lb.+ sedan, the steering of the M5 is amazingly quick, responsive and precise. For those who have driven race/track cars, our test car felt like it had the alignment set at zero toe, giving the car instant bite with any steering input. In addition to this, the steering ratio felt VERY quick, with almost NO play at dead center. I got very comfortable with this – and learned to love it. But it calls for a much softer touch with steering input than I have experienced in a road car. Soft hands and gentle inputs are rewarded by instant steering response, with the chassis executing your wishes in a blink. The down side to this? Well, the dashboard diner concept could be in jeopardy here. You need to have hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. A casual sip from your Starbucks latte, if not done carefully, could have you driving on the rumble strips. Some might not like this…but I LOVED it. This trait, for me defines the “Competition” element of the car’s concept. OK – not a race car, but a true performance sedan, meant to be driven as such.

On the Track

This is what we have been waiting for, right? It was a gorgeous day for an HOD event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, so there were no excuses. Well, I had promised the fleet management company that I would not kill the tires, so hot laps needed to be done judiciously…and any tendency to attack the entry of a turn, scrubbing the shoulders of the tires, would remain in check.

Good news!! This big bomber TURNS!! I hit the track in three sessions…one to just get the feel, running the standard all-wheel drive, then a quicker session in all-wheel, followed by a two-wheel drive session. I did my best to turn off the nannies…but there are so many modes and layers I would have to interrogate a BMW engineer under oath that all the safety systems are off in Advanced/Track mode. Relating to my comment earlier about the quick steering…now is the time when it really comes in handy – SO handy that it made me settle down a bit while transitioning the car from a track-out point (like Turn 3) back to the track edge setting up the next turn (Turn 4)…it took me a couple of wiggles to settle down and do this very fundamental thing without upsetting the big Bimmer…Soft hands rule this car!

The M5 was a LOT better than I had hoped on the track. This is a big car, but as I found a rhythm flowing the technical Laguna circuit, I realized that the back seat had disappeared from my awareness. It just seemed that the bulk of the car was well-masked by the Track setting of the suspension, the amazing acceleration, and the good brakes. Regarding the carbon-ceramic brakes…they did the job, but I longed for steel brakes that have a more delicate feel and ability to modulate. These very expensive M5 brakes were hard to do gentle initial application – frequently leading to over-braking and the need to modulate the pedal to find the right pressure. Once slowed down, this car turns very crisply – rewarding trail braking on most turns. Body roll is about what you would expect with 4000 lbs. to get through turn 3, but manageable. I was able to stay put fairly well in the sport seat provided – with the common need to press my left knee into the door to provide an anchor point for lateral g’s. Trying to be civilized in our very quick D/Advanced Run Group, I had some fun surprising the drivers with the power that was on tap in this handsome four door. I certainly did not keep up with the GT3/ZO6/Shelby/Viper gang…but on power, I could annoy them for a moment or two in their mirrors. The car rotates well and is just a ton of fun to drive on track. Would I have this as THE track car for the family? Probably not smart…but for a handful of days a year…for sure…it’s a HOOT! The standard Pirelli P-Zero’s that came from the factory were surprisingly good…until I turned off the all-wheel drive and went to two-wheel drive motivation…I immediately wanted the stickier Trofeo R’s on board, as the car freed up a LOT and was a bit of a handful on exit as the 617HP went to work…she was pretty loose and demanded soft hands and squeezes on the go pedal. Earlier in the day, I had run in to Johannes Van Overbeek, ex-Flying Lizard and Patron prototype driver who had driven an M5 Comp before, and he’d warned me about just how fast this thing is in a straight line. And he was not lying!! One of our regular, VERY quick D drivers in his familiar purple Viper ACR caught me approaching Turn 10 and I had to hold my line to surrender the entry of Turn 11 to him (Turn 11 leads on to the long straight, with a kink at the top of a rise) …So – here was my chance to have a legal drag race!! I did my best to be patient, catch the very late apex at 11 as close behind the Viper as was reasonable, and dropped the hammer exiting 11 up and over Turn 1 bend with the Viper leading the way. Data would probably show that I might have lifted just a hair…over T1, but we fed the coals heavily all the way down to Turn 2. I was VERY impressed that I’d kept the Viper within 3-4 car lengths at the end of this long and exciting segment of the track. Exiting Turn 2, the Viper vaporized and was gone!! But seriously – this is a grocery getter, right? Doing amazing things!!

You’ve read my grumblings about the price of these great cars…. many are just beyond the reach of most of us. And, at a total with options of $141,045, so is the M5 Competition. Unless there is some surprise, a lottery win, or a second mortgage, I am not a buyer of this car. But my time with this car was very special. BMW has found a blend of super-car with super-transportation device that seems void of compromises. It does everything SO well. At this price, you can get a lot of luxury, OR you can get a lot of performance. But the M5 Competition is a miraculous blend of everything a car person would want  – Take a family trip to the mountains, or a foursome to the golf course…and yes, to an HOD event near you. Expensive, but worth it. Just think of two great cars in one. Good on ya, BMW.

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