Lightly facelifted after three years on-sale, the 2014 BMW 5 Series has also been loaded-up in a bid to counter its assertively specified arch rivals.
As of the end of September, the BMW 5 Series was more than 100 cars behind the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in the sales race, a big gap in what is usually a close-fought battle.
BMW has now responded to the recent E-Class facelift – which included sharper prices and additional equipment – by throwing in more kit for in many cases less cash, coinciding with minor styling revisions such as new tail-lights, redesigned wing mirrors, fresh grille trim and new interior touches.
The new content additions mean the entry-level 5 Series model banishes the feeling that you were missing out by buying the ‘cheap’ model.
The prices car companies attach to ‘added’ content are often a little massaged, but there is no doubt the new 5 Series cars now come standard with a fair amount of content that would have cost a substantial amount if ordered as options on the previous model.
The company says that between $12,800 and $13,100 of value has been added to the 520 petrol and diesel models, $22,000 has been added to the 528i, between $18,600 and $19,400 has been added to the 535 petrol and diesel models and a hefty $25,800 has been added to the range-topping 550i (interior below).
At the same time, BMW has introduced Line trim packages, which allow customers to choose from Modern, Luxury and Sport trims, which affect interior and (to a small degree) the exterior design, as was introduced with the 3 Series.
The 520i 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder is the cheapest model and now costs $79,990, or just $1400 more than before.
Okay, the engine gets just 135kW and 270Nm, so it isn’t exactly fast in the 1610kg entry-level model. In fact, it is fairly lethargic when called on for rapid acceleration but still does enough to easily handle city traffic. However, it is extremely quiet and also smooth. The same can be said for the eight-speed automatic transmission, which works away in the background without fuss.
The 520d, which costs $82,400, has the same power and accelerates at the same claimed rate (7.9sec 0-100km/h) as the petrol, but with a stronger 380Nm. It is also adequate, if not exciting, and relatively smooth and quiet for a diesel. It is also the most efficient of the range, with an average consumption of 4.7L/100km.
It’s hard to tell that these are the base models at a glance.
They now have 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights and new-look LED foglights. Inside, Dakota leather is standard, as is woodgrain, ambient lighting, internet connectivity, gearshift paddles, rear-view camera, selectable driving modes, premium sound system and electric seat adjustment. One of the most noticeable improvements is the addition of the rofessional Navigation system, which not only adds the premium navigation program, but also a giant 10.2-inch information display with super crisp graphics.
Both cars are probably the best-riding 5 Series models, at least around town, although the harder run-flat still make some bumps larger they should be. We didn’t, however, get enough wheel time on really rough roads to see whether BMW has addressed the base 5 Series suspension’s woeful lack of control when big undulations arise at speed. More on the way the base suspension handles later…
BMW has, however, done an impressive job of repressing engine noise and, generally, road noise. You can still hear some wind noise, possibly because the other elements are so much quieter, but it is still a serene interior.
The next model in the line-up, the $97,400 528i, is the pick of the bunch. This car also gets the same turbo four, but the dial has been turned so it produces 180kW and 350Nm. It is a responsive engine and the car is fast enough to be a lot of fun, especially as it has a really rorty engine note. It does the 0-100km/h dash in a claimed 6.2 seconds, so it is no slouch.
The engine is enjoyable, but it is the high level of content in this car that is likely to appeal to many buyers.
It gets 19-inch rims, adaptive LED headlights, digital radio, high beam that turns off when vehicles approach, surround view parking camera, automatic entry and start, Harmon Kardon sound system, a digital instrument display and a heads-up display that projects information on the windscreen and Driving Assist, which can sense other vehicles and people and apply the brakes. There is also a lane departure warning system.
Stepping up the tree and all that is added for the 535i at $116,900 and 535d at $121,900 models is a self-parking system, along with more potent engines.
The 535i gets the cracking twin-turbo 3.0-litre in-line six, which makes 225kW and 400Nm. It wasn’t at the launch, but from previous experience we can tell you that it is rather fast (5.7 seconds 0-100km/h).
The 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel in the 535d is 0.4 seconds faster to 100km/h and its 230kW and 630Nm of torque make for some real fun under acceleration. It is a beauty.
This diesel makes the petrol V8 seem superfluous, but some people just want eight cylinders under the bonnet. And the 550i is a fine car.
It costs $159,900 and adds a sunroof, improved seats, leather dash trim, front seat heaters, four-zone climate control and roller blinds but the V8 is the real appeal.
This twin turbo 4.4-litre has been tweaked to produce 10 per cent more power. With 250kW and 450Nm, it dashes from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds. Its official fuel consumption is 8.8L/100km/h, but it has to be nursed to get near that number.
BMW still offers the ActiveHybrid petrol/electric model for $119,900 and it basically gets the same amount of gear as the 535i, but adds four-zone climate control. None were available to drive at the launch.
The new 5 Series cars are enjoyable to drive, but a stint on some wonderful roads outside Canberra also showed up that they are not perfect.
The suspension of the current car is not quite right. The cars, even the 550i, do tend to lean more than expected in faster corners and don’t change direction as quickly or easily as the 5 Series reputation would suggest. Then there is the steering. The electric steering system in 5 Series is not as precise as it should be. It also lacks the feedback some people desire.
Selecting optional hardware largely solves these problems, but BMW continues to relegate its “ultimate” driving machines to the confines of a bewildering options list.
M Sport suspension is available as part of a $4000-6400 (depending on the model) M Sport styling package that firms up the dampers; or there’s adaptive suspension available for $1852-2650 (or just $1550 if M Sport kit has already been optioned); or adaptive suspension with active front and rear anti-roll bars “to reduce rocking motion to barely detectable levels” ($7000); or integral active steering with a variable ratio ($2518-$3600).
Want the burger with the lot? That’ll be the latter two options for $10,600, an extra even on the top 550i.
How buyers know which to choose is impossible, but the base suspension and steering – all of which were on the launch cars – aren’t the sweet spot.
Even with some shortcomings, though, the 5 Series is an extremely good car with lots of standard gear.
The lesser models in the range are the most attractive from a value perspective and the 5 Series really must be up the top of anyone’s luxury sedan shopping list, along with the also impressive E-Class.
Both cars are better value than ever thanks to the rivalry between BMW and Mercedes. Irrespective of who wins the sales battle, it seems the customer is going to benefit from better value cars.