The seventh-generation BMW 5 Series may not look all that different to the old one, but don’t let this deliberately evolutionary design trick you into thinking the Bavarians have rolled the proverbial arm over.
Like its new Mercedes-Benz E-Class arch-nemesis, this latest iteration of BMW’s iconic large sedan offers some of the very latest in infotainment software, construction techniques and partial autonomous technology to justify its premium positioning.
Unlike the aforementioned E-Class, the new G30 5 Series forgoes glitz and glamour for a subdued design approach outside and in, one that underwhelms on first impact but which grows on you over time. Kind of like BMW has always done things.
Despite this approach, there are some changes. The side bead line and rear Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar are linked for the first time, the drag co-efficient drops to 0.24 thanks in part to auto-closing grille shutters, and there are some very slight dimensional increases.
Here we drive one the entry point to the new 5er range, the 2017 BMW 520d diesel. Sales of diesel-powered passenger cars are plummeting like President Trump’s approval ratings, though it’s still a popular fuel type in this segment.
The asking price is $93,900 plus on-road costs, which is $1000 more than the E220d Benz, but more importantly a whopping $9000 more than last year’s 520d. However, given it’s $15,000 cheaper than the next car up the line, the 530i, it’s clearly going to sell…
Under the bonnet is a familiar engine – a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with 140kW of power and a respectable 400Nm of torque, with unchanged outputs over the previous model.
However, a 70kg weight loss achieved thanks to the use of much more aluminium in key components such as body panels and suspension – rather than more expensive carbon-fibre like the 7-Series and i3 – reduces the 0-100km/h time by two-tenths to 7.5sec.
This is matched to a super-intuitive ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with paddles, sending torque to the rear wheels. Claimed fuel use drops to only 4.3L/100km on the combined cycle, though we struggled to get below 6.0L/100km.
Performance-diesel fiends may look to the $119,000 530d with its 3.0-litre diesel six making 195kW/620Nm (0-100km/h in 5.7sec), while petrol fans can pay $108,900 for the 185kW/350Nm 530i. But in reality the base 520d engine is all you’re likely to need.
Torque delivery is near-instantaneous and delivered across a ridiculously wide rev range, giving you a super-relaxed driving nature and effortless overtaking. An Autobahn cruiser like this laughs at 110km/h limits, ticking over barely above idle (okay, about 1500rpm).
Dynamically the 520d Luxury Line is configured to offer comfort and quietude as key priorities. The base car gets 18-inch alloy wheels and steel springs unless you option the M Sport package, which adds sportier suspension and 19s.
Just to confuse you more, the test car that BMW gave us had the $3500 Comfort Package fitted to it, which adds a number of features (electric boot, high-beam assist, heated seats) but also Dynamic Damper Control adaptive dampers that add or take-away resistance depending on the selected driving mode. It also had $2150 19-inch BMW W-spoke alloys.
Comfort over urban cobbles, smooth freeways and pockmarked regional B-roads alike was hard to fault, with comfortable and quiet bump absorption paired to good body control and well-weighted steering. It’s no corner-carver, but the new 520d fills its brief beautifully.
Incidentally, you can option four-wheel steering (which BMW calls Integral Active Steering) for $2250 – which seems a lot for a more advanced version of a system used in cars from the 1980s Honda Prelude to today’s Renault Megane GT.
More interesting than the BMW’s ride and handling in our tester are the semi-autonomous driving technologies. The adaptive cruise control stops to zero, and responds to gaps in traffic more quickly than most, while the lane-keeping assist nudges you back between the lines.
This steering assist system works for up to 30 seconds before prompting you to grab the wheel, and at speeds of up to 210km/h. We found it a hard system to fool, just like the also excellent suite in the E-Class.
The cabin layout will be familiar to BMW owners, and it lacks the immediate showroom ‘wow’ factor of the E-Class. However, familiarity only improved my feelings towards the 5 Series’ cabin, with its cushy Dakota leather seats and flawless ergonomic.
First, the negatives. The fine-wood cabin trims aren’t to my taste, and the lower part of the fascia is aged in design, with dispiriting orange back-lighting at night that dulls the ambience, despite the presence of ambient lighting elsewhere with 11 colour options.
But otherwise it’s sublime. The 5 Series’ large 10-3-inch floating screen runs iDrive 6, the first car to do so. The rotary dial controller with sensitive touchpad is matched to an even more intuitive layout, and centre around a series of horizontally scrolling tiles.
Standard fare include Professional Navigation, DAB+, a wireless inductive phone charging pad, Wi-Fi hotspot, two USB inputs and dour 12V sockets and access to ConnectedDrive including BMW’s online portal, where you can download updates.
Our test car added to this the world’s only wireless Apple CarPlay system ($623, which can be bought for less through BMW’s online store and downloaded, but which ought to be free), plus the $3400 Precision Package that adds a 600W harman/kardon audio system, huge digital multifunction digital driver’s instrument display and adaptive LED headlights.
This latter package is worth the spend. The Innovations Package ($1600) is more of a novelty, with its fiddly gesture control system that lets you change the audio volume or skip tracks with precisely positioned hand signs – twirl your index finger to make the music louder, for example – a gesture key and remote-control parking.
Other features on the base car include ‘Sensatec' fake leather dash trims, a large head-up display (HUD) with speed, navigation and colour, which is probably the best this writer has sampled, plus keyless access, LED headlights and a super high-resolution 360-degree surround-view camera.
BMW claims the improved standard equipment equates to around $15,500 of added value when compared to the outgoing BMW 520d, which somewhat offsets those aforementioned price increases. This equation only improves with the 530i, 530d and 540i.
Other options fitted to our tester include the $600 Ambient Air system that pumps nice androgynous perfume into the cabin, plus a $2900 electric glass sunroof.
Rear seat space is decent in terms of legroom, though the sunroof hurts headroom and toe-room is crammed. The seats can be folded down 40:20:40 from the boot, which itself sufficient for a few golf bags.
Being a high-end BMW, there are a million-and-one other options you can add if you like, including Night Vision with Person Recognition, a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround-sound system and a pair of rear 10-inch flat screens. Just buy a 7 Series…
From an ownership perspective, you can buy five-years worth of transferrable condition-based servicing at the time of purchase for a very reasonable $1640. You can upgrade to the Service Inclusive Plus option for $4600, which unlike the base package covers extra such as pads and discs, wiper blades, and clutch disc and plate.
All told, the 2017 BMW 520d does exactly what a premium German sedan should. It offers the latest in (updatable) in-car tech, plenty of cool options with which you can brag to your friends, semi-autonomous driving tech and sublime driving comfort.
Between this and the still-new E-Class, buyers segment have rarely had it better. If you want glitz and glam, go for the Mercedes. But for this reviewer, there’s something timeless, understated and effortlessly capable about the BMW. Choices, choices…