Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
As part of the M5’s mid-life facelift, BMW made a concerted effort to simplify the set-up process for all the driving modes. So instead of having separate buttons for steering, engine and suspension calibration like you did in the old car, there is now just a button labeled ‘setup’ and another marked ‘M Mode’ sitting alongside the gear lever.
Hit the setup button and instead of having to scroll through each menu individually, you can now just use the car’s central touchscreen display (more on this in the interior section) to do everything at once. It’s certainly easier than the old system, and if you’re worried about not being able to find the ideal set up, as a general rule, if you keep the standard adaptive suspension in its softest setting and select Efficient mode via the Drive Performance button – for tamer accelerator response and less aggressive gearchanges – the M5 bumbles around in a more relaxed fashion than the always more aggressive-feeling Mercedes-AMG E63.
Its turbocharged V8 also remains hushed and flexible, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox shuffles neatly through its gears. That said, it must be noted that the Competition isn’t the most relaxing car of its type. It’s not overly firm, but the ride is noticeably less plush than an Audi RS6’s or Porsche Panamera’s, with the large wheels pitter-pattering over town roads in much the same way as an E63’s do.
The firm suspension finds its rhythm on considerably faster roads, though, and imbues the M5 with incredible body control. And that’s a good thing, because when you decide to deploy all 616 horses, the M5 fires you up the road like the angry hand of God has just given you an almighty smack on the bottom. And while the gearbox doesn’t quite have the instantaneous responses of the Porsche Panamera Turbo’s ’box, for a turbocharged engine, the accelerator response is virtually instantaneous and the grip from the four-wheel drive system is stupefying.
In dry conditions you can slam your foot to the floor at any speed and in any gear with virtually no drama – beyond the peril in which the rapidly rising speedometer needle places your licence. In fact, it feels more like a grand tourer than a performance saloon in the way it effortlessly dispatches many miles in the blink of an eye, on any road.
Yet it does at times feel rather too easy; a bit too digital. Even the V8 engine sound is partly synthesised noise pumped through the speakers. So from a purist’s point of view, is it a damp squib compared with the bonkers and shouty E63? Well, no. If you switch the stability control to its midway point (called MDM mode), the rear-biased four-wheel drive system really lets you have some fun; get it on track and it will slip into tail-out oversteer like the great M5s of old.
And of course, if you’re a true adrenaline junkie, you can always take the nuclear option and switch off four-wheel drive completely to make the M5 rear drive only. Mind you, because this also completely disables the traction and stability controls to leave your skills ruthlessly exposed, this option is certainly best left for a closed circuit.
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