ROAD TEST: 2021 BMW M5 Competition

By Shari Prymak

As far as high-performance four-door sedans go, none are quite as legendary as the BMW M5. It has a history stretching back farther than most with a reputation for being one of the most exciting, capable, luxury super sedans money can buy. Much to the trepidation of diehard enthusiasts, the latest version, codenamed F90, is the first to introduce once-unfathomable technologies to a BMW M sedan such as all-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox with no manual option. Despite the philosophical shift, the F90 is the most advanced, capable version of BMW’s four-door icon.

One thing the M5 has never lacked is speed. The latest model has enough of it to seriously make you’re your head spin, if not rearrange your organs. The twin-turbocharged 4.4L V8, a heavily reworked version of the previous M5’s engine, produces 617 horsepower and 554 lb/ft of torque, good for a 0-100km/h time of 3.1 seconds with launch control. Just to put that in perspective, this is a large luxury sedan capable of outrunning a McLaren F1, an eight figure-priced hypercar considered the fastest in the world not two decades earlier.

The acceleration is so viscous that it’s a good thing this engine comes matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Had a manual gearbox still been available, I’m not sure whether it would be possible to keep up or even tame the savagery of this engine changing gears yourself. The automatic delivers crisp, rapid-fire gear-changes comparable to that of BMW’s M dual-clutch gearbox with the convenience of a smooth automatic mode that allows you to concentrate on driving rather than managing the fury under the hood.

Make no mistake, this is a large, heavy car with a strong lean on luxury. It will melt away the kilometres in total comfort as easily as it will carry four adults and a fair amount of luggage. The interior is finished in beautiful materials and includes just about every toy and safety nanny one could expect in a car in this price range. With everything set to Comfort mode, there is little indication of what it is truly capable of. It just goes about its business in a refined, fairly sedate manner. Tap a few buttons to crank things up a few notches, however, and things can become very different.

Everything from the chassis, engine, steering, transmission, traction control, to even the all-wheel drive system has settings to change the behaviour of the M5 depending on the scenario. Two custom settings can even be saved using a pair of red M buttons on the steering wheel, which is a nice way to simplify what would otherwise be an overwhelming exercise in choice. The easiest method is to just throw everything into Sport, where the M5 gives you a sense of its true capabilities. The steering precision, chassis control, and braking ability are impressive enough to convince you that you are driving a smaller, sharper sports car. Of course, the size, weight, and technology never really dissipate, at least not on the street. The M5 doesn’t let you forget what it is.

There is a playful side that can be unlocked in the depths of the M5’s calibrations. In its 4WD or 4WD Sport modes, the M-calibrated all-wheel drive system works with the massively grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires to provide endless amounts of traction, stability, and surefootedness under most circumstances. It does, however, give you the option to turn off stability control and go into a rear-wheel drive setting, locking out the front differential for full-on tire-smoking hooliganism. The times and places where the M5’s fun side may actually be utilized are obviously limited, but that’s the nature of the beast.

And that brings me to my only real complaint. The M5 is so fast, so capable, so technological impressive to the point where it feels almost wasted driving on regular roads with real-world issues such as traffic and speed limits. The endless customization settings can grow tiresome. The lack of any raw involvement is a bit of a letdown. It is an outstanding machine, and perhaps as good as can be expected given the expected levels of luxury and technology, but maybe it’s just too much for its own good, at least on typical Canadian roads.

Unless you are going to take it to the racetrack on a regular basis which you won’t because it’s a big, expensive, luxury sedan, the M550i (Tested Here) would likely do the trick just fine. It offers more or less the same looks, technology, and luxury, with nearly just as much noticeable performance and capability on regular roads. At $87,300 to start, it’s also a fair bit cheaper than the M5’s $122,000 starting price. Making the jump to the M5 unquestionably adds a significant amount of dynamic capability and speed to the point where you have what is likely the greatest super sedan on sale today. Having it is one thing. Being able to truly enjoy and experience the depths of its abilities, on the other hand, is more of a dilemma.