BMW M5 saloon review
"Buyers in the market for a supersaloon will find it hard to look past the BMW M5"
- Plenty of standard equipment
- Incredible performance
- Steering lacks feel
- Could sound better
The BMW M5 is the high-performance version of the standard BMW 5 Series and competes with the Mercedes-AMG E63, Porsche Panamera and Audi RS7 for buyers looking for a ‘super saloon’. The Mercedes matches the BMW most closely in shape and price, though – both are four-door saloons that will set you back nearly £100,000 before options.
A substantial amount of what you’ll pay for the car goes towards what’s under the bonnet. Now only available in ‘Competition’ spec, the M5 is powered by a 616bhp 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine that takes the car from 0-62mph in only 3.3 seconds. Considering it weighs almost two tons, both the M5’s straight-line speed and agility are remarkable.
When this ‘F90’ model was originally launched, the M5 had 592bhp, with the 616bhp Competition model adding around £7,000 to the list price. As well as the extra power, it also had some styling tweaks, a sports exhaust and revised suspension.
In late 2020, the M5 Competition was facelifted along with the standard 5 Series. The changes included a tweaked front end, new LED lights and extra paint finishes. The interior was also updated with a new 12.3-inch infotainment system, and an array of new safety tech was added. Chassis changes were limited to a new adaptive suspension setup borrowed from the current M8 Gran Coupe.
While the facelifted version of the M5 Competition will set you back over £100,000 before options, BMW also introduced an even faster model. Dubbed the M5 CS (Club Sport), it’s lighter than the standard car and is billed as a track-focused saloon. It’s quicker too, thanks to an increased power output of 626bhp, managing 0-62mph in three seconds. Naturally, it costs more than the standard car, with a starting price of around £140,000.
The M5 Competition is equipped with BMW’s M xDrive four-wheel-drive system, which means there’s more grip and cornering performance than ever. Purists will be heartened to hear that firstly, the system has been engineered to give the car a rear-wheel-drive feel and, secondly, there’s a mode to send all power to the rear if you want.
While it’s incredibly quick, the M5 Competition is also capable of satisfactorily carrying out the duties of a luxury saloon car. In Comfort mode, the ride is soft enough to soak up all but the worst bumps in the road and the interior is plush and luxurious.
However, despite its brilliance as a high-speed cruiser and its competence on twisty roads, the latest M5 doesn't quite engage you the way its predecessors did – it feel like there's a hi-tech barrier between you and the car; the steering feels well weighted but it's surprisingly muted in terms of feel, for example.
But this criticism is also true of many of the M5's super saloon competitors and is something of a sign of the times. It doesn't prevent the BMW from being at least equal to its Mercedes rival, even if the Merc has the more exciting engine and in Competition form, the M5 is the best all-round supersaloon you can buy.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The M5 Competition is only available with one large engine and it’s been designed for power rather than fuel economy. The introduction of turbocharging and the downsizing of the engine compared with previous M5s is a nod to improving efficiency, but the 4.4-litre V8 still only returns around 25mpg, which we were able to get close to during our test. However, as with any super saloon, driving the M5 with any kind of enthusiasm or in heavy traffic will lead to fuel economy figures dropping into the mid-teens or lower.
After the first year's CO2-based road tax (generally included in the on-the-road price), every M5 will cost £150 a year to tax. With a list price of more than £40,000, the M5 is also liable for an additional surcharge of £325 a year in years two to six of ownership, bringing the annual bill to £475 during that period. CO2 emissions staring at 254g/km place the M5 in the highest Benefit-in-Kind rate for company-car drivers.
Engines, drive & performance
The M5 Competition uses a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 engine that produces 616bhp and gets the car from 0-62mph in 3.3 seconds. On paper, it has the edge on performance over the Mercedes-AMG E63 and only just falls behind the E63 S, but its engine goes about its business in a rather different way to its rival. Where the Mercedes barks and rumbles, the BMW screams and howls; it'll come down to personal taste which sound you'll prefer. The heart of the matter is that the M5 feels more like a racing car than the E63, but that's not necessarily what you want from a supersaloon.
The standard M5, originally launched in 2018, produced 592bhp and was capable of 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds, only slightly behind the 3.3 seconds of the Competition version.
While the M5 Competition isn’t noticeably faster in a straight line than the standard M5, it gets an array of minor suspension tweaks that really improve its overall performance. The changes mean the Competition is more responsive, with more precision and sharpness than the standard M5. Body control is even more impressive too.
The use of BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system for the first time in the M5's history means there’s no shortage of traction when you put your foot down, with immense levels of grip during standing starts and when accelerating through corners. Despite sending power to all four wheels, the M5 feels like a very balanced rear-wheel-drive car, with the majority of the engine’s power going to the rear wheels during normal driving.
The M5 also has a clever Active M differential that apportions power between both sides of the car to aid cornering performance, while the xDrive system can send power to the front wheels to help pull you out of fast corners.
The car’s setup and driving modes can be controlled via the red coloured steering-wheel mounted ‘M1 and ‘M2’ buttons allowing you to link each to a preset mode. For those who prefer to use the M5s standard settings, the buttons can quickly cycle through Road, Sport or Track mode as well.
It's a very responsive system and unobtrusive in operation, suiting the M5's eye-watering speed – we managed 0-62mph in just 3.2 seconds in testing. The eight-speed automatic gearbox performs obediently, too, changing gears smoothly and quickly when you demand it through the column-mounted shift paddles.
Carbon-ceramic brakes are an expensive extra at around £7,670 but they provide huge stopping power on a consistent basis and seem particularly suited to a car of the M5’s power and weight. This option also adds a gold paint finish to the brake calipers.
The optional M Pro package focuses on performance raising the car’s top speed to 190mph from an electronically limited 155mph. It also adds the carbon-ceramic brakes, and costs an extra £7,995. The package also includes a one-day BMW M driver training course at a track in either the UK or in Germany.
For all its power and prowess, the M5 Competition lacks the absolute ultimate in excitement, mainly because of its slightly inert steering. Although accurate enough in use, it seems to filter out some of your inputs, so you never feel quite as connected to the car as you'd like.
While the Mercedes-AMG E63 does provide a more visceral driving experience, with its snarling exhaust note and more overtly muscular character, there’s no doubt that in Competition spec, the M5 is closer to matching its German rival for sheer exhilaration and driving thrills.
Interior & comfort
The M5 comes with heated leather sports seats for the driver and front passenger, which give huge amounts of support and comfort. The dashboard is logically laid-out and the controls for the car’s on-board tech and systems are easy to use. The M5 comes with a leather interior as standard, giving it the upmarket feel inside you’d expect from an expensive BMW.
Also present is BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, which runs on a crystal-clear 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. It's quick and responsive to use, with clear graphics. Every M5 gets an array of technology as standard, including sat nav, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and wireless charging for your smartphone. A new 12.3-inch digital dial cluster also features, alongside a head-up display with unique M Division graphics.
The rotary controller has a touch-sensitive top, which allows you to sketch the shape of a letter on the pad with your finger (to enter a postcode for the sat nav, for example), rather than use the wheel to scroll through the alphabet. The system is packed with features and very easy to use.
The M5 is undoubtedly a performance car, but it’s also a luxury saloon and the ride manages to be impressively smooth when the car’s adaptive dampers are in Comfort mode. Even with large 20-inch alloy wheels, which can so often transmit every little imperfection from the road inside, the M5 is still sufficiently compliant to make the car a comfortable motorway cruiser.
This is one way in which the M5 trumps the Mercedes-AMG E63, as the latter feels much firmer and less comfortable by comparison. The Sport setting for the M5's dampers improves body control at the cost of some of the smoothness in Comfort, while the Track mode is best saved for a circuit, as the ride becomes so firm that any passengers will get shaken around.
Practicality & boot space
The M5’s chunky front sports seats don’t have a noticeable impact on rear space, so passengers in the back still have good head and legroom. Storage spaces are generously sized, with plenty of room in the door bins, glovebox and central cubbyhole. There are cup-holders and a place to charge the car’s Display Key or your mobile phone wirelessly.
Despite having a four-wheel-drive system, which can often impinge on boot space, the M5 still offers 530 litres of luggage room, just like the standard 5 Series. This is fractionally smaller than the 540 litres offered by the Mercedes-AMG E63, but certainly not enough of a difference to be a deciding factor in which of the two cars you choose to buy.
Reliability & safety
BMW finished in 27th place out of 30 manufacturers in our 2020 Driver Power poll, lagging behind German rivals Audi who placed 21st. it's a worrying trend, particularly as it was partly down to 20.8% of owners reporting at least one fault within the first 12 months of ownership.
The M5 won’t be crash-tested as a standalone model, but when the standard 5 Series was put through its paces by Euro NCAP, it was awarded a five-star rating, with an adult occupancy safety score of 91%. It achieved an 85% score in the child occupant category and the car’s autonomous emergency braking system was highly commended.
The latest M5 Competition carries over all of the safety technology from the facelifted 5 Series, including updated lane keeping, lane changing assist and a 360-degree camera. Buyers can also add the Driving Assistant Professional, which uses the Active Navigation to automatically perform lane changes in advance. Rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control also feature.
BMW’s Parking Assistant Plus system was added to the M5 in the mid-2020 facelift, and is capable of automatically reversing the car into a space for a distance of up to 50 metres. A further addition is Drive Recorder, which uses a series of cameras dotted around the bodywork to continuously record footage as you drive, automatically saving the 20 seconds before and after any collision.
Price, value for money & options
The BMW M5 is virtually identical in price to the Mercedes-AMG E63 S and both have the same 0-62mph time. There’s no escaping that the M5 is expensive, but you’re at least getting a versatile car; it’s great fun on a twisty road or race circuit but is also capable of settling down to transport five people big distances serenely, luxuriously and comfortably.
The M5 comes with four-zone climate control, adaptive LED lights with high beam assist, digital dials, sat nav, DAB, a head-up display, all-round parking sensors and heated powered sports seats with leather upholstery. You can also keep tabs on your M5's location and trip computer from afar, using a smartphone app, and even flash its headlights, lock or unlock its doors and set its climate control.
The M5 Competition has some body parts in gloss black and forged 20-inch alloy wheels to go with the suspension changes and extra power.
There are plenty of options for M5 buyers, too numerous to list exhaustively, but highlights include BMW’s ‘Laserlights’ headlights for £1,000, which are capable of lighting up the road for more than 650 metres. Buyers can also spec carbon ceramic brakes for around £8,000, a Bowers and Wilkins stereo at just over £3,000, 11 paint choices, an all-black alloy wheel design, a range of leather upholstery colours and trim finishes, premium and comfort packs, an electric glass sunroof and entertainment screens for the rear passengers.
For M5 buyers who want every conceivable option, the aptly named £19,000 Ultimate Pack adds a total of 14 options including a heated steering wheel, front and rear heated seats, front massage seats with ventilation, carbon-ceramic brakes, rear seat entertainment, a carbon engine cover and a TV receiver.