I am averse to airline travel. This is an odd character trait for an airline pilot, but as much as I love my job, there are other places I’d rather spend my time off than at the airport. The destination was a trip to Maryland to see my mother. I had budgeted for enough avgas to fly there and back in the Cessna Skywagon, but a healthy dose of rationality prevailed, and we decided to fly commercially. Perhaps I could use the extra avgas money for a fun rental car to offset the grind of airline travel.
On the last trip, I rented an ND-generation Mazda MX-5 (Miata) RF, which despite its 155 horsepower, proved Jeremy Clarkson’s words true: “The fastest car in the world is always a rental.” For this trip, a quick search of traditional rental companies resulted in not a single car being available, so I turned to car-sharing service Turo. I needed something that was comfortable, civilized, and had four doors to haul my family around in, but it also had to be sporty, aggressive, and powerful enough to satisfy my enthusiast needs—in other words, a BMW M5.
The car that caught my eye was a 2022 BMW M5 Competition posted by owner Christian Perry.
The F90 generation M5 is in the waning years of its life cycle, but it is far from being irrelevant. In fact, similar to the latter years of the E39 generation M5, it’s possible that the F90 M5 may be more desirable than its 2024 successor. Unlike the controversial grilles of the G8X M3/M4 and the Lego-esque boxy lines of the newly released G87 M2, the F90 M5 sparked minimal controversy on its release. Against the lens of the current era of ostentatious Bavarian design, it has only aged more gracefully. Plus, you can still buy a new one!
Finished in Donington Grey Metallic over Silverstone Merino leather, Perry’s M5 stood out from the other options on Turo thanks to a healthy garnishing of carbon fiber, Savini SV-F6 wheels, and a Valvetronic Designs carbon-tipped exhaust. The front splitter and M Performance “Pro” rear spoiler, in particular, added aggressiveness to the refined elegance that has always defined the M5. It was not as gaudy as the too-much-make-up-in-the-wrong-places Mercedes-Benz AMG E63S or the overtly insecure land-shark grille of the Audi RS7, but it still made a statement to the world that this was not your grandfather’s 5 Series. The M5 has always been the standard-bearer of the German supreme sport sedan, and the F90 steadfastly upholds that lineage.
I created a Turo account and reserved the M5, then messaged Perry, introducing myself and confirming that our late arrival time would be okay. He parked the car in the short-term garage and locked the key FOB in it with the BMW app. Then he went above and beyond, staying up until 2:00 a.m., after our flight ended up being three hours late, to make sure that we got the car. When we eventually arrived at the predetermined spot, there it was, waiting with statuesque poise in the early-morning light.
Once we gained access to the M5, the interior was resoundingly striking; even my wife, who has developed a tolerance to fancy cars, was handily impressed. The blue ambient lighting, instrument cluster layout, and ergonomics were familiarly modern BMW, and you could see design evolutions that first premiered in the i8. Although not as opulent as a Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG wagon I had in my side business early this year, the cockpit was every bit as spaceship-themed, but more logically organized and purposeful for the M5’s mission. That focus brings out the inner Transporter in all of us, which was aided by smooth pavement and a morning hour delightfully devoid of traffic.
Power is never in short supply, and even in comfort mode, the chassis is so composed that triple-digit speeds feel as benign as Regan-Era speed limits. Discretion is the order of the day (or night). however—with great power comes great responsibility. Unlike the fastest-rental-car-in-the-world Miata, this M5 belonged to a fellow enthusiast, so it was to be treated like a house guest on Sunday.
After sleeping half of the next day away, we loaded some friends for a late breakfast and a photo shoot. The deciduous forests of the East were starting to show their autumn colors, providing a wonderful contrast to the Donington Grey paint. As I put the car in position, we took great care not to scrape the front splitter. This would demand constant situation awareness throughout my time with the M5, but the hassle was worth it, because it was my favorite aesthetic addition to the car. (If anyone is listening at BMW: the next-generation M5 Competition should have a carbon-fiber front splitter and a Porsche-style front-end lift.)
The warm sun danced and glanced off the crease lines of the M5 as I circled the car. For better or worse, the era of less-is-more proportions that have defined BMW M cars is over, and with six years of perspective, the F90 generation M5 executed this perfectly. The black bow-tie Competition grilles, dark carbon-fiber accoutrements, and black Savini wheels only highlighted the form.
Beneath the hood, the carbon-fiber theme continued with dual Eventuri intakes that allow the M5 Competition’s S63 twin-turbo V8 engine to breathe better. I have no doubt that, combined with the Valvetronic Designs exhaust, BMW’s already sand-bagged 617-horsepower figure was significantly improved. My guess is that the real number was closer to 670 horses, but every time I tried to test that by maxing out the live power display, I either ran out of road or bravery. Car and Driver claimed a 2.8 second 0-to-60 time in the M5 Competition using launch control, and while I never subjected Perry’s M5 to that level of abuse, I have no doubt that it’ll do it.
Think about that for a second. Electric cars may have diluted our expectations in the 0-to-60 arms race, but sub-three-seconds is still proper supercar territory. And the M5 does it the old-school way, through explosions and fire! What makes the M5 so remarkable isn’t that it gets to 60 miles per hour in under three seconds, but that it does so without unsettling your 80-year-old mother—a true real-world test. Any sub-three-second car will be brutal, and the M5 can certainly be brutal when you want it to be, but having that kind of power without brutality is where the M5’s true wizardry lies.
As the weekend progressed, and the new-car-to-me novelties wore off, I only continued to be impressed with the M5. A carbon-fiber steering wheel was the only aftermarket interior addition, and it retained the dual M Drive buttons. It took some time, but I configured the M1 button for a leap to the Sport settings with 4WD and M Dynamic Mode (MDM) stability control on, and the M2 button for Sport+ with 2WD, which is only available with MDM off.
If there was any controversy about the F90, it was that it was the first M car that didn’t have an X in its name to signify all-wheel drive. BMW attempted to ease our concerns about this by setting a world record for the longest continuous drift, but that was wholly unnecessary, as having the front wheels claw at the pavement only improves the M5’s performance. The rear-wheel bias is clearly evident, and it is perfectly executed. Want to go 65 around a 25-mile-per-hour exit ramp? No problem: Turn in, settle the suspension with throttle, and you can feel the front wheels helping to keep the nose coming around. MDM will also allow a large amount of slip angle if you are smooth.
Throughout the balance of our trip, annoyances were few and far between. I never connected my phone to the iDrive or BMW Apps, and found the BMW navigation to be on par—a rare feat for any factory nav system. I preferred the iDrive knob to the touchscreen, which was slightly out of reach and would be annoying for a touchscreen user. In M mode, the head-up display was too cluttered by the tachometer, but this is configurable. The head-up display was fantastic for overlaying navigation instructions in unfamiliar territory.
I never took the time to learn the various Gesture Control commands, and periodically commanded something accidentally by moving my hand within the sensor range. The ambient blue lighting was lovely, and the illuminated M5 emblems in the seats were a fun curiosity. There was plenty of room for the rear-seat passengers, and they greatly appreciated the heated rear seats.
The real elephant in the room is the M5’s price; an M5 equipped similarly to this one is likely 30 grand north of the $100,000 mark, and for me, that price is reserved for something with wings. For 30 grand less, an all-wheel-drive four-door G80 M3 also makes a compelling argument, but I have yet to fully accept those chipmunk grilles.
Regarding company, my mother always says, “It’s lovely to see them come, and it’s lovely to see them go.” Although she wasn’t ushering us out of the door, our visit was soon coming to an end, and so was my time with the M5. Despite its price, the M5 lives uniquely on a pedestal of its own. Its renaissance-man character was probably best displayed after a several-hour drive to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where we arrived with all of my passengers blissfully asleep, but I wasn’t ready to stop driving.
My experience renting from Perry through Turo was exceptional, as was his M5. When it comes to the BMW M5, there is no substitute—and the F90 is no exception. If you can afford one, you should get one before it’s too late.—Alex McCulloch