ESTORIL, Portugal – Stiffer suspension, 15 extra horsepower, louder exhaust and unique wheels are part of the Competition Package for the 2014 BMW M5, M6 coupe and cabriolet and M6 Gran Coupe.
On most cars these changes wouldn't garner much attention. But when applied to the most powerful vehicles in the BMW lineup they're worth noting.
The Competition Package available on these models comprises a suite of finely tuned upgrades to the engine, suspension, steering and brakes that is aimed specifically at improving their already-exceptional driving dynamics on the track.
Other than a stiffer ride and some visual distinctions, the changes are hardly discernible on the road.
But they sure are on the track! Which is why BMW chose the Grand Prix circuit here for the global launch of the package. We were turned loose for hot laps in M5 sedans and M6 coupes to experience the upgrades and the cars in the element they were designed for.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the duo was the uber-cool, optional matte paint in grey, burnished orange or black on the fleet assembled for the drive day.
While not a personal favorite – I’d spend too much time getting trying to get them to shine – they sure look menacing sitting in pit lane on the big 20-inch alloys specific to the Competition Package.
The wheels were wrapped in sticky 30-series Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, while the front wheels were crammed full of optional carbon ceramic brake discs clamped by gold-colored calipers.
With the growth of wheel sizes it has become common to see puny brake discs surrounded by lots of space. Not here!
The only other visual differences of the Competition Package are black chrome exhaust tips.
Behind the wheel
Get in, sit down in the deeply bolstered seats, buckle up, adjust steering wheel and mirrors and fire it up. First impression not exactly overwhelming.
The exhaust note, like that of the the other new M5 and M6-series cars, is muffled in comparison to high-performance V-8 competition from Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. An active flap in the exhaust system increases noise at high speed, but it didn’t really sound much better on the track or when listening trackside.
But that was the last brief moment of disappointment.
Select M1 on the steering wheel spoke to maximize driving dynamics (the Active M Differential has a reprogrammed control unit; the Dynamic Mode allows a greater degree of slip and the steering is 20% more direct). Pull the shift lever, toe into the throttle and things start to get interesting. Very interesting!
As familiarity with the track and the car grew, my speeds climbed. The power was clearly evident and impressive but the biggest smile-inducers were the steering and brakes.
The development team has done a lot of work on a myriad of details that combine to enhance handling properties.
The springs and dampers are 20% stiffer, the anti-roll bars 15% thicker and the ride height 10-mm lower, bringing with it the centre of gravity and roll center.
The electronically-controlled active limited slip differential gets some extra lines of code that result in more grip, which in turn allows the engine to strut its stuff.
The 4.4-litre V-8 with a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers between the cylinder banks, gets 15 more horsepower with this package – 575 in total – and while the torque peak remains the same, at 500 lb-ft, it is available over a broader range of engine speeds.
Exiting pit lane you are greeted with a tight right-hander and it was here the sharper steering with excellent feedback became evident. The added body control came into play next.
A few laps later, when I shut off the electronic aids while exiting pit lane, I was immediately reminded how much they bring to the game, as I got seriously and unexpectedly sideways when I mashed the accelerator.
A load of opposite lock and a fresh appreciation for how far the stability control systems let you push things in competition mode followed.
But even in its most advanced mode, the electronic stability control system intervenes too readily for my taste. I saw the warning lights flashing well into triple digits, but was most dismayed by the inability to power out of slow, tight corners.
The seven-speed M-DCT dual-clutch gearbox and optional carbon ceramic brakes are almost equally awesome.
The ability to select and immediate enter a chosen gear was almost as much fun as mashing the brake pedal while approaching corners at ridiculous speeds and being rewarded with powerful and consistent stopping force.
For the first few laps I found myself slowing too much, not appreciating just how good the brakes are at hauling two tonnes down from speed repeatedly. They did it all day long with nary an inkling of fade.
The Competition Package enhances the changes to all M5 and M6 models for 2014, which include revised grille and tail lights and the availability of LED headlights. Inside there is a new steering wheel, chrome trim and a touchpad for the iDrive controller.
Canadian MSRP for the Competition Package is $6,500 in both the M5 and M6 models.
It is not for everyone but for those able to fully exploit its attributes, the result is much more intense and focused M-cars. Too bad about the exhaust note.