The 2017 BMW 5 Series is exactly as you’d imagine it would be: comfortable, sporty, practical, full of technology and rather classy. More-or-less the same as it has always been, then. The 5 Series is the world’s best-known executive sedan, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The seventh generation of the BMW 5 Series, the longest-running ‘series’ from the German manufacturer, is heading to Australia around March next year. When it arrives, the new 5er will face the best technology and equipment that its arch rival, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, has ever had to offer.
So, have the engineers and designers in Munich done enough to best its compatriot?
We can't know for sure until we put the cars side-by-side next year. But, even being in the "can't know" position is an excellent starting point, because the new E-Class is simply amazing. To have experienced the 5 Series and to be unable to make a call at this stage... that says a lot.
At first glance, the new BMW 5 Series looks rather similar to its predecessor. There is a great deal of change, but it’s far too subtle - unless you know where to look. From the line that runs across the body and the air vents in the wheel arches, to the updated head- and tail-lights that now portray a much sharper and more modern look. If anything, this car has more resemblance to the Chris Bangle-designed fifth-generation 5 Series than its predecessor and, for us at least, that’s a good thing.
Step inside and it's very much the same story. Lots of subtle improvements but very much the 5 Series that we’ve known before. In some ways, this generational change is something we might have expected from the Japanese and their Kaizen philosophy of minor improvements per cycle. There’s a lot to love in the 5 Series, but there’s also nothing that makes you go, 'wow'.
Well, that’s not entirely true. You can park your 5 Series anywhere within telephone coverage, then use BMW’s smartphone app to get the car to take an oval-shaped picture of its surrounding. Basically, you can use your 5 Series as a well-hidden spy camera with high-res imagery. That's something.
It’s actually rather amazing how good a surround photo it takes. So good, in fact, that BMW says it has limited the use of this feature to three photos per hour - out of concern for the privacy of anybody nearby. Still, if you’re concerned about where your car is or if there is anyone around it that shouldn’t be, you can easily check before you get there. Most importantly, BMW doesn’t keep the images or log the location of the car, so, even if requested by authorities, the information is not available to anyone but you.
That’s definitely a wow factor -something you can show your friends over dinner with a genuine and well-deserved smugness.
Another impressive feature is the smart key, which, like the new 7 Series, can also tell you a whole deal of information about the car (and also allow for remote parking retrieval from tight spaces). We have a brief video on the smart key on our facebook page here.
Less impressive is the gesture control, which you can use to pick up an incoming phone call, turn the volume up or down, and more, simply by waving your hands. We say 'less impressive' not because we don’t love the idea – we do - but because despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get it to work. It was highly inconsistent at the best of times and, frankly, you’d be far better off just pressing a button.
We also couldn’t get the Apple CarPlay system to work wirelessly, which is a shame as the new 5 Series is the first car in the world to have this feature enabled (as opposed to requiring a Lightning cable connection to the iPhone).
Once you get in, the cabin ambience is significantly improved over the old car. Not by anything major, but just by changing the material used on certain surfaces, using a 10.25-inch super high-resolution screen as well as a massive - by far the biggest we’ve seen - head-up display with vivid colours and very impressive utilisation.
Prices for the new BMW 5 Series will start from $93,900 for the 520d and go up to $136,900 for the 540i (plus on-roads). Full pricing and specification can be found here. This is a relative increase from its predecessor, which started the range with the 520d from $84,755.
Nonetheless, the list of additional equipment is rather substantial (significantly more than the cost of the options relative to the price rise) and BMW Australia is to be applauded for raising the price but bringing a horde of equipment that really should be standard with every 5 Series.
This includes dynamic damper control for a much better ride, M spoke package, Driving and Parking Assistant Plus, and more.
Our test drive at the international launch of the new 5 Series in Portugal involved the BMW 540i with its 250kW, 450Nm might from the recently launched 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, and the 530d ($119,900), which manages a very impressive 195kW and 620Nm of torque from its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel engine.
The 540i was rear-wheel drive, while the 530d was utilising xDrive, which is BMW’s all-wheel drive system that we are unlikely to get in Australia - due to lack of weather requirements, as per Europe at the USA.
BMW’s insistence that all 5 Series cars should feel exactly the same anywhere in the world, means that there is no special tune for the Australian market. All the cars that they produce have the same damper, suspension and steering setup across the globe. For us, this immediately raised some alarm bells. After all, the smooth and well-maintained surfaces of German Autobahns are a far cry from the neglected and often pothole-ridden highways of Australia.
Thankfully, then, Portugal shares more with Australia in its road management than Germany: that is, we both suck at it, so we had the opportunity to put the 5 Series through some genuinely terrible roads, and came out relatively surprised. It’s fair to say it doesn’t float over bumps like the super plush E-Class and its adaptive air suspension (which you absolutely must option in Australia), but, considering it has the dynamic suspension as standard, the ride is pretty darn good.
What’s more impressive, considering the comfortable ride, is the driving dynamics. Usually there is only one company that manages to find this strange balance between ride comfort and dynamic performance time and time again, and that’s Porsche. Well, we can add BMW to the list now.
The BMW 5 Series drives impressively well, be it the relentless grip, the super balanced and very communicative steering, or the way it goes hard into a corner yet never dives or rolls or punishes its occupants with harshness. Whatever you want to call it, the driving dynamics are impeccable. It’s a BMW, and the German brand has lived up to its own high bar.
For us, the 530d with its silly amount of torque and a 0-100km/h time of just 5.7 seconds, is a pretty good choice for its intended purpose as a business saloon - but who doesn’t want a turbocharged six-cylinder petrol? The 540i is fast, 5.1 seconds fast. It's nonetheless a far cry from the 550i which can do the sprint in a staggering 4.1 seconds - faster than the soon to be replaced F10 M5 - but we won’t get that one in Australia. For now, at least.
Punting hard around the Portuguese countryside in the 540i is a good demonstration of just how far the 5 Series has come. Here, we have a large saloon that can go faster around twisty bends than most dedicated sports cars from ten years ago. It’s balanced, possessed of a ton of grip, and always inspires a sense of confidence to be pushed further.
Yet, it’s ridiculously quite. There is almost no road noise or wind noise or the like. The level of sound deadening is very noticeable and, on the highway, it can almost put you to sleep.
In most cars, falling asleep at the wheel would be a bad thing, but in the new BMW 5 Series, it’s not too bad - thanks in large part to the vast array of semi-autonomous driving technologies that are now equipped with the car.
With stereo sensors in the windscreen, a giant radar in the front bumper that even has a heating element to fight off rain or ice, hidden radar sensors in the sides both front and rear, plus a dozen ultrasonic sensors, the 5 Series has a lot of eyes. It can see more than even before and, as such, it can also do a lot on its own.
One of the new features BMW introduced with the 5 Series is an autonomous lane-change feature. If you have the active cruise control on, and there is no one in your blind spot, simply press and hold the indicator in your desired direction and the BMW will change lanes by itself. It’s a little unnerving, and more often than not we found our self frantically head-checking, as it's hard to trust a car to make that sort of judgement call, but it never let us down. It changed lanes faultlessly.
Now, of course, the question has to be asked, what’s the point? In what situation would you care enough to ask the car to change lanes for you? That’s a relatively personal question, and one that would apply to individuals differently, however the implications are obvious - this is yet another step in vehicle autonomy. The 5 Series can now basically drive itself on the highway, it can follow the lanes and maintain its speed to either a set point or to the car in front. Really, as far as highway driving goes, the 5 Series is autonomous, if not for the fact that it's programmed to hand back control if hands are off the wheel (legal regulations and all). Give it time, and it won’t need to do that.
Whilst we were playing around with the car’s self-driving abilities, it became a good time to appreciate the cabin. The cabin ambience is superb. The material used has been upgraded to another level. It doesn’t hit you with that twin giant LCD screen feel of the E-Class, but it’s a big step up from its predecessor and we can’t really fault it for what it is.
The latest version of iDrive is also rather good, easy to use, and fast. Easily the best in the business. It comes with a ton of features like Microsoft Exchange connectivity and the ability to synch with your iPhone’s calendar and work out where your next meeting is and tell you when you should leave, based on traffic (iOS already does this on its own, mind you). There are so many individualisation options available, that you can spend a good few hours setting it up as you wish.
The back seats are also rather spacious. Two large adults can spend time back there comfortably, and the glasshouse of the car allows for decent visibility for second row passengers.
Coming to the boot, you can kick the rear bumper and it will open. Handy if your hands are full, though nothing new. It’s big. It’s actually rather massive. Though if you want extra practicality and space, you’ll need to wait for the wagon.
Overall, the new BMW 5 Series takes all that was good about its predecessor one step further. It presents a rather strange balance between dynamic performance and comfort that we’ve not previously seen from the German manufacturer. It’s also a proper luxury car, with an interior that finally takes the fight to its competitors.