It’s enough to take a gander at what most publications are saying these days about BMW and its M division, and you’ll notice two cars that stand above all others: the BMW M2 Competition and the BMW M5 Competition. The Germans have been on a roll since they changed their approach to building M cars and introduced us to a bit more variation than before, with different tiers of performance included.
Launched shortly after the F90 M5 was introduced, the M5 Competition demands only about $8,000 more than the ‘regular’ flavor and, while it may seem a lot to some, considering price tags for these uber sedans start at over $100,000, it’s really not that big of a difference. Is it worth it? Well, definitely for bragging rights, as the extra 25 HP of the Competition model and the shorter 0-60 mph sprint time will definitely not be observed by just anyone.
However, take the two to the track and the more expensive and more powerful car will also feel more poised and agile. Keep in mind though, that’s only going to be felt on the track and only by a very skilled driver who knows what to look for.
In the case of the M2 Competition though, things are a bit different. The initial M2 had to be retired as it used an older engine. The upgraded N55 mill under the hood of the original F87 M2 was adored by fans, but regulations dictated that BMW do something about the exhaust gases it released into the atmosphere. Thus, BMW did a really neat trick and shoved the S55 engine under the hood, gave the car a bit more power in the process and created the M2 Competition for the facelifted version. Mind you, that’s the only flavor you can get for the M2 now and, to be honest, it plays into the whole philosophy of the car, if you will.
The two are the media darlings of today, as far as BMW M is concerned. They have been getting glowing reviews and this one particular editor didn’t drive any of them up until last week. It was eating at me, especially since I see them everywhere on the street- the M5 more than the cheaper M2, for some reason. Thus, when BMW called and offered them both up for a day of fun on one of the best driving roads in the world, I jumped at the chance. I also wanted to see which one would fit me better and which I’d like most, since these are arguably two of the best cars BMW M ever put together.
A comparison was bound to be written. So, here we are, discussing the two in a rather unusual head to head. Why this is to be considered unusual? Because they appeal to different customers and play in different leagues.
The M2 is the small, affordable, entry-level M car you can actually buy without being rich. It’s the playful small coupe that gets you smiling in an instant and doesn’t actually require selling a kidney. On the other hand, the M5 is a big bully, a sleeper with more power than you could ever need and an eye-watering price tag. It’s the beast of the range right now and a car that appeals to a completely different demographic. Can they be compared? Absolutely. Let’s begin.
When it comes to design, I prefer not to make bold statements. Usually, in all my reviews, I let the audience decide whether they like the way a car looks or not, because it’s simply a matter of taste. It’s almost guaranteed that if a heated discussion is to take place, it will mostly be focused on the design so I don’t really have my say, unless someone comes up to me and asks straight up. In this case, I’d have a seriously tough time choosing a favorite.
The M2 Competition is small and wide. It’s a car that looks good from every angle and has a certain menacing feel to it from the outside. The Competition model has a different front-end compared to the original M2, featuring larger kidney grilles, to get more air into the engine bay. To me, that looks a bit off and a bit too angular and I prefer the non-LCI M2 as far as the front is concerned. Other than that, I can’t really complain about anything in regards to the design of the smallest M car you can buy today.
As for the M5 Competition, it’s a sleeper by all definitions in the book. That’s especially true if you get a dark color. Only the keenest of eyes will catch the details that separate the M5 from any other 5 Series with an M Sport package on. The larger air intakes up front, the M5 badge and gills on the front fenders, the four tailpipes and different bumper at the back are almost the sole giveaways. Step closer and you might also notice the golden brake calipers of our tester, telling you this car’s brakes are made of ceramics. Picking a winner from the outside is a tricky job then.
Inside the cabin things change and they change a lot. You immediately notice why the M5 is so much more expensive, as it feels that way once you’re seated in it. The leather is better, the seats are better, everything inside feels better to the touch than in the M2. Our tester had Alcantara headliner and a Bowers & Wilkins sound system among other things, as well as a fully digital dash and carbon fiber bits here and there.
On the M2, luxury was reduced to a couple of items. Sure, the seats are supportive in the M2 as well, but not nearly as comfortable as those in the M5. What I do like about the M2’s interior though, are the analogue gauges and the simpler center console. However, that’s a recurring theme when comparing these two cars.
We are now getting in deeper water. Both cars have proper M-developed engines under the hood, which is definitely a good thing. On the one side we have the S55 engine, a mill developed atop the N55 3-liter straight six unit, coming with two turbochargers and a unique setup for the M2 Competition. It develops 410 PS and 550 Nm (406 lb-ft) of torque, numbers good enough for a small car like the M2. It’s a good engine, no matter how much some people like to hate it. I like the S55 and have liked it from the moment it was launched so I might be a bit biased here.
The power delivery has been optimized in the M2 though, unlike on the earliest M3 and M4 models it was used on. The surge of power and torque doesn’t take you by surprise and lag has been reduced as well. The amount of power you get is plenty, too, as the rear axle can get overwhelmed, especially at high revs. The brilliant M Active diff at the back does a hell of a job at putting the power down and, since we were driving this car on the Transfagarasan highway, I had plenty of tight corners to test the car’s response to my inputs.
The engine pulls hard up to 5,500 RPM and even a bit higher but after that you do feel it tones down a little. It revs faster than the M5 and it likes to go up to over 7,000 RPM, but if we’re talking about pulling, it definitely tones down after around 5,500 RPM. Thus, shifting would probably be ideal around 6,000 RPM, if you want to stay in that torque range all the time. The gearbox is brilliant and I think it helps out a lot. On our tester, we had the 7-speed dual-clutch unit which I simply adore it. Sure, a manual might be the purist one, but not on the roads we were on.
With no guardrail on one side and some menacing rocks on the other, you might want to keep your hands on the wheel at all times. Furthermore, the tight corners I had to handle would’ve made the manual the slower model, by far. Speed might not be everything, but I felt more comfortable knowing the gearbox does the work for me. It’s super-fast and very intuitive so really, there’s little to complain.
On the M5 Competition, we’re no longer dealing with a straight six but with a meaty V8 and a more conventional 8-speed ZF gearbox. It’s a twin-turbo 4.4-liter unit, with twin-scroll turbos positioned inside the ‘V’ for better throttle response. Does it work? Hell yeah it does and turbo lag is reduced to a distant memory. Full torque comes in at just above 2,000 RPM and stays with you up until close to 6,000 RPM. You’re basically wafting in the 750 Nm (553 lb-ft) of torque almost all the time and it’s quite a feeling.
The pedal response is sharp and the car simply goes whenever you touch the throttle. The xDrive all-wheel drive system is so confident, so you’re not afraid to push this car to the absolute limit. I was afraid of turning off the DSC and switching to 2WD, considering the drops around me but I did push the car to the limit in MDM mode with 4WD Sport mode engaged. What I can honestly say is that this is probably the perfect mode to enjoy the M5 Competition and the M5.
Pushing the car hard into a corner is absolutely mind bottling how precise the nose is and how it can carry all the speed you throw at it and then say ‘give me some more’. It induces so much confidence, it’s intoxicating. The tires are doing a brilliant job at digging into the asphalt, but it’s the M xDrive system does a lot of the legwork too. It is the first car that actually allowed me to brake and turn at the same time, a conclusion a certain Mr. Jochen Neerpasch shared with me after he drove the M5 Competition as well. As a matter of fact, Mr. Neerpasch, the founder of BMW M, said this had instantly become one of his favorite cars of all times, mighty high praise from the man that invented the 3.0 CSL and M1.
Once you reach the apex, all you have to do is accelerate and you just jump out of the corner. The 4WD Sport mode will allow the rear end to step out of line for your dose of adrenaline, but it will also keep you poised on the exit point, without too much drama. It’s is incredible how neutral the M5 Competition feels, even in these really tightly knit corners.
Speaking of agility, I have to mention the M5 Competition hides its weight brilliantly. I don’t know how they managed to do so, but this thing doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as the spec sheet would tell you. Going in, I expected the M2 Competition to be the agile butterfly, but it’s the M5 Competition that would deliver that.
The M5 Competition actually felt more composed than the M2 on these roads, something I definitely didn’t expect. It’s just as sharp and does a brilliant job at hiding its weight. Sure, you do feel a bit heftier inside the M5, but it is so easy to drive this car fast, you don’t pay too much attention to it.
On the M2 Competition I was actually disappointed in how the car reacted. Admittedly, the road surface was not nearly perfect; the Transfagarasan highway is a really breathtaking place, filled with hairpins and tight corners, but the road surface is poor, with plenty of uneven bits, potholes and gravel. However, do you always drive on silky smooth roads? On this particular bit of road, the M2 Competition was all over the place, to be honest. Rebounding was off, and you’d just get launched into the air whenever you hit an uneven surface or a small bump. This is where the biggest different could be noticed, as the M5 felt like the ‘more engineered’ car whereas the M2 was the more analogue alternative.
And that’s what truly separates the Coupe from the Sedan here. The M2 is a lot less complicated and that comes with both pros and cons. On the good side, you can just get in and go, without having to set all your individual parameters to the preferred setting. On the other hand, this more analogue feeling, when compared to the complicated M5, makes the M2 feel pedestrian.
On the M5, things can get a bit complicated at first due to the plethora of different parameters you need to set. Luckily, you have presets you can save now in the form of two buttons on the steering wheel. I had the M1 button set up to the Sport+ settings for the steering, acceleration and transmission, in 4WD Sport mode and with MDM on. The M2 button was the chilled version, with everything in Comfort. This made my life easier but it did take a while to find out the perfect setup.
It’s a bit unfair to compare these two particular cars in terms of braking. That’s because the M2 was riding on its stock steel rotors while the M5 was riding on optional Carbon Ceramic Brakes. ‘But the M5 is a lot heavier, it needs the extra stopping power!’ you might say. And you’d be right. However, both cars have been given adequate standard brakes that BMW considers good enough anyway. So, even though the M5 would win this category, since it had ceramic brakes on, I don’t think this would count.
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine
I left this category last as I think this is what defines a BMW M car. This is what separates a BMW M from anything else on the market. It’s that dual character that allows you to go to the market and then to the track, without changing cars.
These two definitely both are worthy of the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ title. In terms of fun and enjoyment, it is truly hard to match them these days only a select few other cars coming close. They both are true BMWs and considering Herr Neerpasch loved them both, I think the original spirit of the Motorsport division is alive and well inside each of them.
They do appeal to different demographics though. The M2 Competition is clearly aiming at those looking for a more analogue feeling. Get it with the manual gearbox and it’s basically a time machine back to the early 2000s. It’s the rawer experience overall and its price tag, especially compared to the M5 Competition, gives it an incredible bang/buck ratio.
For me though, the M5 Competition would be the way to go. Some things I just can’t overlook and the uber-sedan simply feels like the better car here. The engineering put into making this car simply transcends metal and nearly becomes tangible when behind the wheel. It’s better damped, more composed and just as fast, even on more twisty backroads. The sound is better, that meaty V8 making the hairs on the back of your neck rise and it’s also more comfortable, by a lot. What was most impressive though was the immense gap between the M1 and M2 driving setups, as I had them configured.
This is the basis of all M cars, the cornerstone upon which they are built: a dual character. Inside the M5 Competition if feels as if you truly are buying two cars: one that can endlessly cruise on the Autobahn at 124 mph with your kids asleep in the back, and one that burns rubber like there’s no tomorrow on the Ring the next moment. And for that, the M5 Competition just rose to the top of my all-time favorites list.