BMW's new 5 Series is starting to shake off its sports sedan heritage in favour of a luxury limousine experience. Does the mid-spec 530d diesel make a compelling enough case for this realignment of sorts of the 5er formula?
If there’s a point in history where the BMW 5 Series lifted its anchor from sports sedan territory and dropped it, resoundingly if ever so gently, into luxury limousine land, it’s with this new seventh ‘G30’ generation. And our initial impressions from the recent local launch of the current four-strong range – 520d and 530d diesels, 530i and 540i petrols – is that in the ‘for better or worse’ trade of sportiness for comfort leanings, the 5 Series is somewhat better.
Some will lament change: fans of the late-’90s E39 generation, which includes yours truly, will no doubt discover that classic 5 Series size and approach to driving engagement in more contemporary 3 Series. But that’s progress for you. As the 3 Series gets larger, techier and more comprehensively equipped with each successive generation, so too does the bigger brother 5 Series on a larger scale to a loftier plateau. A more luxurious, limousine-like by-product is perhaps nature taking its course.
The 2017 BMW 530d certainly favours High Street over the twisty by-way, and confidently so in our test car’s particular configuration. The high-spec diesel lobs at a $119,900 list price, and its no-cost Luxury Line theme – in contrast to the standard fitment M Sport accoutrements popular with Aussie buyers – really suits today’s 5 Series format to a tee.
What Luxury Line brings to the party is high-grade Nappa leather (over the basic Dakota trim) with contrast stitching, ‘comfort’ style seating with ventilation, four-zone climate control, a sports multifunctional steering wheel, Ambient Air Package fragrance dispenser, and classy, restrained exterior body styling with lashings of Chrome Line trim bright work.
Our test car, though, clocks in at a hefty $141,123 before on-roads, which overshoots the flagship 540i version’s $136,900 by a figure that’d bank a nice European holiday. A couple of the options, namely the 20-inch Bi-Colour V-Spoke wheels ($900, up from 19s) and Altas Cedar metallic paint ($2000), make a small dent in the lease payments, but when combined with our car’s Ivory White interior choice the net effect got a number of “wows” of approval from many of the CarAdvice crew.
The rest of the options fitted grab the luxury ball and make a runner, many of them hardly essential buying. But they serve to demonstrate some of the goodies available in the 5 Series showbag if buyers like to splurge.
These include soft-closing doors ($1150), a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system ($6400) with fancy ‘lit’ speakers, ceramic control rings ($1000), an electric sunroof ($2900), rear window roller blinds ($1600), steering wheel heating ($500), massage functionality for the front seats ($1800) and seating heating in both rows ($700).
For pure party tricks, the Innovations Package ($1600) includes remote control parking and in-cabin gesture control. There’s a nasty little charge for Apple CarPlay ($623) though, to be fair, it’s a tricky wireless design of the likes that you won’t find in a cut-priced Asian hatchback.
Turns out that it’s all garnish. After a week living with the new 530i, the two CA scribes who spent most the seat time – Anthony Crawford and yours truly – agree you could lose every single option bar CarPlay and it wouldn’t adversely impact the goodness on offer, such is the lavish extent of the standard equipment levels.
In fact, it’d likely ride better on its ‘original’ 19-inch wheels. Even the base 520d, at $93,900, is a comprehensively loaded package that flies in the face of one prevailing opinion that entry-level Euros are premium in badge cache and fairly poverty stricken in most other areas.
What the 520d doesn’t get, however, is the 530d’s impressive 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6. If you’re believer that spark plug-dodging engines are rattly, noisy, unresponsive and can’t rev, you should sample a German oiler six, and BMW’s is a particularly nice one. It produces a decent 195kW at just 4000rpm, though it does power on above that towards an indicated 5500rpm redline on the digital driver’s instrumentation without the power tapering off too noticeably.
Generally, throttle response is immediate and the eight-speed automatic does a fine job of keeping the 620Nm torque peak’s narrow 2000-2500rpm sweet spot on hand when you need. There’s ample energy on tap to get 1715kg of metal, glass and rubber moving briskly, without strain or fuss.
Sport drive mode, too, heightens the 530d’s reflexes without spoiling powertrain refinement with spikey edges, though the response and punch of the engine in this mode is a little excessive for around town driving.
BMW claims that, on the march, the 530d's 0-100km/h best is an impressive 5.7 seconds. There’s some thrum from the exhaust but it’s a pleasant, chubby note, and the engine revs with glassy smooth refinement.
If there are any warranted gripes, it’s that the engine-transmission marriage can get caught off guard with some discernable lapse in response, though it’s a rare occurrence. And in order to get anywhere near its 4.7L/100kms combined consumption claim, you need a long stretch of flat black top, minimal throttle input and a helluva lot of patience. Around town, it returns eights, substantially more than its quoted 5.1L.
Given the optional 20s fit liquorice strip Pirelli P Zero run-flats – 245/35 fronts, 275/30 rears – the quality of the ride of the adaptive Dynamic Damper Control suspension is remarkably good. It manages to virtually eliminate the impact of small imperfections even at low speed, and it’s only sharp edges and potholes that make the tyres thud.
In short, there’s a level of compliance some pricier luxury Euros might struggle to match. While there’s a touch of float in the body control in its softest setting, it’s not annoying enough to have you diving for the Sport mode to tighten the chassis up.
Powertrain and suspension combined, the 530d’s default driving character is one of cosseting effortlessness. The cabin is also impervious to environmental noise, while the buzz of the tyres over rough surfaces is noticeable only because the rest of the package is so quiet.
If 5 Series is nailing its stripes to the luxury mast as seems the case, the result is a class act. Add the V6’s lusty torque and reasonably low thirst and you have a comfort-laden long-hauler par excellence that measures up to most limousines costing far more than its $120k entry price.
Where has the 5 Series trade its sports sedan traditions? The chassis is well sorted enough but the sheer girth of the near five-metre long four-door has dull some of the spark of its 5er forebears. But as we found at the range’s local launch, it can certainly dispatch the challenging Adelaide Hills with a decent head of steam, if in a surefooted and inanimate manner.
If there’s a chink in the dynamic armour, it’s the steering. Anthony’s biggest bugbear about the 5 Series is that there’s a patent lack of feel through the wheel. While I didn’t mind the feel, which is inert at low speed but loads up fine in corners, my personal markdown is that, around town, the slow steering rack requires a lot of input – roundabouts demand a full turn of lock to negotiate, and I struggle to see why such a calibration is necessary.
There is an Integral Active Steering – aka four-wheel steering – system optionally available for $2250, which might offer an antidote for the slow rack, which is at least half a fix…
Where the 5 Series lifts its game highest, the area that copped most “wows”, is the interior treatment. Not because it’s flashy, but because it’s opulent, richly integrated and features a huge array of techy delights that have been deftly melded with BMW's renowned penchant for keeping the vibe ‘classic’. It’s incredibly well done and central to how upmarket the 530d feels.
The fundamental stuff is extremely well executed: the stylised, perforated and diamond-patterned seats; the steering wheel with its stitched centre horn cover; the way the wood, metal, faux leather, back-lid speaker grills and ambient light strips flow into each other in the door trims. There’s care and effort invested almost everywhere you look and touch, right down to adjustable ‘art deco’ overhead interior lights and the full colour digital screen for the climate and seat heating/cooling control.
As we found at the car’s launch, the digital driver’s instrumentation is real highlight. No, it’s not as futurist as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but it’s classic format, clarity and legibility, the distinctive design variation between drive modes and neat retro silver rings are oh-so BMW and will find favour with those who love the cut of the brand’s jib.
The user-configurable tiles in the Navigation System Professional’s large 10.25-inch screen seem like gimmicky window dressing at first, but invest time into using it and this is patently the best application of iDrive, itself the gold standard infotainment bearer.
The system, which unusually for BMW is touchscreen active, is incredibly fast acting, intuitive to use and thoroughly comprehensive in features. The finger pad on the slick ceramic console controller works a breeze too.
Wireless CarPlay is equally well sorted, though the novel gesture control won’t work the format or your iPhone features. Instead, its usability is tied to proprietary audio and phone functionality, where its hand-waving party tricks are quite limited but seem to keep the kids amused.
That said, the smartphone inductive charging, ability to pair two phones via Bluetooth, the mobile internet portal via Connected Drive smarts (you get a three-year subscription) and all of the clever Remote Services features – you can send addresses, ‘pre-condition’ your car and even lock-unlock your 530d via a smartphone app – offer ample opportunity to geek out on techy details. And that’s without digging into customisable Personal Profiles or the secondary Display Key as part of the optional Innovation Package that unlocks the 5 Series great parky trick: remote controlled parking.
Essentially, remote controlled parking does exactly how described. Engine off, transmission in park, you can start and move the 5 Series forward or backwards to jam it into a perpendicular carspace too tight to allow entry or egress via the doors. Using its 360-degree cameras and sensors, it basically steers itself into position, and can’t be forced to collide with any objects. It kept Anthony, I and a gaggle of onlookers entertained for about an hour.
Fool proof? Not entirely. The 530d got slightly flustered when aimed at a wall at CarAdvice Central, required a number of backwards and forwards ‘moves’ to steer itself onto a trajectory it was eventually happy to explore. Cleverly, you can’t accidentally send your 5er into self-driving misadventure by leaving, say, your thumb on the key, because it requires two hands on two activation points on the key to work.
Useful? For that once in a blue moon moment when you’re parked in doorhandle to doorhandle, or you want that carspace too narrow for anyone to want, it’d be quite useful. For more conventional parking manoeuvres, the 360-degree camera system is a boon, though the lack of reversing guidelines on screen seems a strange oversight.
The second row reinforces the limousine vibe well. The outboard seating positions are nicely shaped and very comfortable, and there’s ample knee-, shoulder- and headroom once seated. That swopping, coupe-like roofline makes for a short aperture that makes it a little awkward for taller rear passengers to climb in or out. Neat, though, is not merely separate climate controls for rear outboard passengers with central ventilation, but there are also face vents located in the B-pillars, too. Again, small touches and details that make for a sizeable positive impact.
The more you dig, the more you find – full colour head-up, road sign speed limit recognition, power and torque meters in an infotainment submenu – and the 530d leaves you wondering ‘what more could you want?’
Yes, it’s huge $38,391 step up from the entry 520d to the 530d, but in outright terms the latter’s bourgeoning, want-for-nothing specification suggests that $119,900 is actually pretty smart money indeed.
The new 5 Series certainly moves the game along. Some of the sportiness lost in translation may well become unearthed in a different variant – petrol, likely – leaning more the M Sport suite of goodies offered both as standard and optionally. We’ll see.
But if the fully loaded lap of luxury is where your head is at, the 530d is a class act, even before you tick any options boxes.