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Future Classic: 2019 BMW M5 Competition–a four-door supercar?

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2019 BMW M5 Competition./All images by Terry Shea

Some 30 years ago, Nissan dubbed its Maxima SE sedan the “4-Door Sports Car,” going so far as to put nifty “4DSC” stickers in the corners of the windows. As a sporting car, the Maxima SE, with its OHC V-6, five-speed manual, and lowered suspension certainly made for a sedan far more sporty than all but the most expensive European competition, but a true sports car? Let’s just say there was no shortage of skeptics.

So, if a manufacturer’s rep offhandedly mentions that their latest, greatest sedan is a “four-door supercar,” well, you’d have to excuse me if my cynicism gland flares up. Supercar today means a whole lot of speed, grip, brakes and style. As BMW’s product communications guy walked me through the ins and outs and do’s and don’ts of its latest high-zoot sedan, the M5 Competition, he mentioned the “supercar” word.

I’d driven plenty of hot BMW sedans, coupes, sports cars and SUVs in the past. In recent years, that means vehicles with 400, 500, and higher horsepower engines. They are certainly quick and capable cars, but they don’t necessarily stack up to true supercars. Well, didn’t might be a better word here, because the new M5 Competition delivers on that offhand supercar promise.

The M5 Competition, looks, to the average observer, like any other mid-size sedan. Perhaps the untrained eye might look at the massive 20-inch alloy wheels with sticky summer-only rubber on them, or the relatively subtle “M5 Competition” badge on the trunk, but that observer would have to be pretty close to actually read the tiny type that spells out “Competition” on the trunk.

Our test vehicle featured a Donington Grey Metallic finish, well done by any standard, but not a particularly distinctive color these days. The carbon fiber roof, which yields to standard steel if the sunroof option is checked, adds to the subtly sporty flare of the car. The Aragon Brown extended leather interior was another story, the handsome, two-tone, multi-adjustable sport seats more of a giveaway of the car’s mission that extends up to an electronically limited 189 mph top speed. With adjustable side bolsters, the seats can be conformed to keep a driver in front of the wheel during the most spirited driving. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, too, more than hints at the car’s high-speed mission.

The materials inside are all top notch, as should be expected on a car that starts at $110,000 ($7,300 more than the regular M5). Though “Competition” is literally part of the name, this super sedan is laden with luxury features, particularly as the tester included the Executive Package, a $4,000 options bundle that includes such niceties as soft-close automatic doors, sunshades, front and rear heated seats, front ventilated and massaging seats, four-zone climate control, Parking Assistant Plus, wireless smartphone charger, enhanced USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and so on. A $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins audio system was a separate option.

The Competition has a host of other luxury features standard, such as a heated steering wheel, automatic high beams, seatbelts embroidered with BMW M colors, full LED lighting, WiFi hotspot, navigation system, BMW’s latest iDrive system with a touchscreen and gesture control, and a power-operated trunk, among many other features. With many of these features on non-luxury brands these days, BMW needs to include them on a such a high-priced car. The Competition gets a few other visual nods outside, like unique mirrors and other trim.

Check the M Driver’s Package for $2,500 and BMW will reprogram the car that moves the electronically controlled top speed from 155 to 189 mph. Yeah, it’s sort of lame that a car’s baked-in capability is hindered by software, checking that box also includes a unique one-day performance driving class at a BMW Performance Center (in South Carolina or California) that allows the owner to experience BMW’s M cars at their limits in a safe, controlled environment on the track rather than the road.

The “base” M5 makes do with “just” 600 hp, but the Competition ups that ante to 617 hp (that’s 625 metric horsepower). Torque remains the same at 553 lb-ft from the twin-turbo, all-alloy, DOHC, 4.4-liter V-8, but all of that number is available from 1,800 to 5,860 rpm, a slightly wider band than the regular M5’s engine, though it should not be considered so much a torque curve as a torque plateau.

BMW has been building turbocharged V-8 gasoline engines for more than 10 years now and its design was somewhat unusual in that the exhaust manifolds were inside the vee between the cylinders, with the intake on the outside. BMW engineers chose this design to minimize lag. In the M versions of these engines, given the name M TwinPower Turbo (the company’s got a branded name for so many of its technologies and innovations), the exhaust manifold shares pulses across the vee to further minimize lag and increase power. In the M5 Competition’s engine, the company adds cross-bolted main bearing caps for bottom-end strength.

The mill also produces a ton of heat to go along with all of that horsepower. Lots and lots and lots of heat. On a warm afternoon with the thermometer headed high into the 80s, the car’s fans ran for several minutes after shutdown. Cooling is supplemented by an oil-to-air heat exchanger as well, part of the reason why the sump is nearly 11 quarts in total and that the car uses two oil pumps. The eight-speed automatic transmission gets its own cooler, too.

Suspension and chassis wise, BMW tightens things up a bit from the base to Competition, starting with far stiffer engine mounts. BMW insists that “The car turns into corners with noticeably greater directness and precision due to the mountings’ stiffer characteristics.” We’ll take their word for it because we had no base line comparison, but the M5 Competition surely turns as precisely as any mid-size sedan I’ve previously driven. Ride height in the Competition is 7 mm lower than the regular M5 while the already crisp suspension gets other tweaks, such as increased negative camber at the front wheels, ball joints instead of rubber mounts at the toe links on the rear axle, and a revised spring rate for the rear anti-roll bar that enhances the rear bias during high-speed cornering.

Red M1 and M2 buttons allow for driver configuration of adjustable systems to be programmed and preset, like a radio station.

BMW has long fitted its performance variants with larger brakes, but with the latest M5 Competition, it now offers a pretty significant upgrade in the form of M Carbon Ceramic Brakes, an $8,500 option that gives race-car like stopping performance to a sedan with a curb weight of 4,370 pounds. With fixed six-piston front calipers and floating single-piston rears, the mighty brakes offer plenty of stopping power along with longer rotor life, if correctly cared for.

The M5 Competition uses an all-new for the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system—a first for any M sedan and a practical necessity when trying to get 617 horsepower to the ground. But as this is a “competition” model with modifications designed to bring out the car’s best on the track, the xDrive system has a default rear-wheel bias along with torque vectoring on the rear axle so that the an outside rear wheel can get the lion’s share of power in a hard corner. For the bravest of heart, the system can be set to rear-wheel-drive only, but that requires entirely disabling the stability-control system. While certainly a ton of fun for, say, doing burnouts and the like, it’s certainly not recommended for anyone not named Vettel or Hamilton.

This disc is not damaged. The carbon ceramic surface on these rotors is supposed to look like this.

As this is a modern, electronics-laden supercar, many of the car’s systems can be adjusted, including the all-wheel drive system, the electronically controlled dampers, the steering, the throttle response, and even the M Sport exhaust, which has a flap-controlled dual exit. In “Sport Plus” mode, the exhaust barks and cracks and crackles and just makes a host of noises that will endlessly amuse the driver, while likely also annoying the neighbors if he lives in a quiet neighborhood. It’s a bit juvenile and entirely unnecessary, to be sure, but I don’t think there is any world where such a car in its entirety could ever be thought of as a true need anyway.

The eight-speed automatic’s “Drivelogic” controller offers three modes, one for efficiency (though don’t expect Prius-like mileage even in this mode—the M5 Competition is officially a gas guzzler, as you would expect in a 617-hp car), one for quick shifts on the street, and one for lightning-fast gear changes on the track. Manual, paddle-controlled shifting is always available as well, and a treat when ripping through the gears with the exhaust in Sport Plus mode. The shocks offer three modes as well: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. Like the efficiency mode of the transmission, the Comfort mode is not exactly plush as the stiffly suspended car with 35-series, 20-inch tires all around doesn’t exactly soak up every little bump, irregularity or expansion joint in the road. The M Servotronic steering (as I said, BMW’s got a name for everything in this car) also offers Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus modes, which varies the feedback torque to the driver and the response to the steering.

Instruments are fully LCD and driver customizable.

Essentially any of these systems modes can be set to any desired level, mixed and matched to your hearts content. What to do when you’ve discovered the options you like, without having to wind through a bunch of menus or flip a bunch of switches? BMW’s got you covered. Two bright red buttons on the steering wheel labeled “M1” and “M2” allow for a driver to make the adjustments he wants and then press and hold the button to store those settings. For the few days I was in the car, the M1 button was pretty much set to mellow mode, with all settings at their most relaxed, giving the machine a more compliant livability. The M2 button had the angry—but safe—settings programmed to it: Sport Plus shocks and steering and the barking exhaust, but still in standard 4WD mode.

So, how does it all work together? Frankly, it surely feels the part of a super car. With 10.1 compression and 25.9 psi from the turbos, along with direct fuel injection—operating at an astounding 5,000 psi, throttle response and power delivery are immediate and immense. The cars just rips through the gears as the revs climb to the 6,000 rpm power peak and beyond. The road test magazines have reported 0-60 mph times of the non-Competition M5 at just 2.8 seconds, and the quarter-mile at 11.0 seconds at 130 mph, and we’ve no reason to doubt those very supercar-like numbers.

On a deserted stretch of highway, I slowed down to about 40 mph, hit the M2 button for the sporty settings I had preprogrammed in, and hammered the throttle as the car brap, brap, brapped through the gears, the speedometer, tach, and gear selection broadcast in front of me on the head-up display. As soon as the car reached 125, I slammed on the brakes and it was as if I had snagged the arresting cable on a carrier deck and there I was again at 40-something mph. The whole exercise was drama free and over in a matter of seconds. The confidence-inspiring components and systems in the M5 Competition truly do imbue what might be mistaken by a layman as an otherwise ordinary mid-size sedan with supercar talents, if that supercar had a proper trunk and comfortable room for five.