Location: Yarra Valley, Victoria. Conditions - wet
It’s the world’s best selling luxury sedan and they’ve been building them for almost 40 years.
BMW’s 5 Series was originally launched back in 1972 and with sales pushing well north of 5.5 million cars across no less than five generations, the model has never looked back.
And after several hours behind the wheel of the new sixth-generation 535i, make no mistake, that number is about to grow, substantially.
It goes without saying that the BMW 5 Series has been the benchmark in the medium size luxury car segment for as many years as I can remember.
And while competition from the brand’s fiercest rivals has stepped up considerably in recent times, BMW’s mid-size offering remains the number one buyer’s choice when it comes to all round luxury motoring.
You don’t get to build six generations of a car without doing something right, but the challenge for BMW is always, how to do it better, when the current iteration of the series isn’t exactly broke.
That said after today’s test drive on a route, which included a myriad of different terrain, road conditions and wet weather, I can assure you that BMW have well and truly succeeded in producing a new 5 Series that is better in every way than the car it replaces.
It’s a more masculine looking car and with a more purposeful poise and is certainly an evolution in the model’s styling.
Buyers in Australia will have the choice of several different powertrains, including three petrol and one diesel although, BMW executives seemed fairly certain that another more powerful diesel car would join the model lineup, later this year.
CarAdvice drove the 3.0-litre TwinPower Turbo straight six cylinder petrol engine from the recently released 535i Gran Turismo, which produces a none too shabby 225kW and 400 Newton-metres of torque from a remarkably low 1200 rpm and all the way through to 5000 rpm.
While a generous dose of throttle will get the car moving quickly from almost any given position on the rev counter, the real gains with this particular car are to be found with its chassis development and overall fuel efficiency. That's despite this car’s ability to accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 6.1 seconds.
While the new 5 Series has the capacity to carry five adults and luggage in relative comfort, it also has the capacity to outperform any other vehicle in its class, regardless of the prevailing road conditions on any given day.
Wet and slippery roads showered in a think fog were exactly the conditions we had to contend with in regional Victoria yesterday as I pushed the new 535i at a dry road pace, through a particularly twisty section for more than forty-kilometres.
The car’s ability to hold its line through a series of tight bends on wet roads was remarkable. Sophisticated electronics kept the car completely in-check despite being hard on the throttle out of each corner.
It’s called Dynamic Driving Control, which masterminds everything from the sensitivity of the accelerator pedal, engine response, degree of steering assistance, level of Dynamic Stability Control (how quick and how much assistance you need in a given situation) and transmission response.
This is not your average electronic stability programme; it’s a lot more than that. On the wetter sections, I opted to leave the selector switch in ‘Normal’ mode for good reason, I wanted all the help I could get in what were potentially dangerous driving conditions.
Not once did the car ever get out of shape while being pushed on the exit from some very tight and slippery corners.
Put that level of stability down to the newly developed multi-link suspension setup on the 5 Series. Up front is what is called a double track control arm front axle, which works in concert with another multi-link unit down the back of the car, known as an integral-V rear axle.
Not only is the car rock solid in the worst of road conditions across some tricky terrain, but never once do you feel that the suspension is anything but compliant.
It’s not so much that BMW has achieved the prefect compromise between performance and comfort, but rather, it’s more a case of the 5 Series being armed with superior talent across both these vital dynamic functions.
There are also certain efficiencies BMW have employed on the new 5 Series, which take into account their ability to marry up with some cutting edge technology. The power steering system is one such example of this aspect of the car.
If you ever wanted to rave about a particular feature on any BMW car, you would do well to start with the steering. It doesn’t matter weather you buy a BMW 1 Series or a BMW M5, you get the world’s best steering system for a mass produced car. The accuracy, weight and steering feedback is as good as some of the worlds most accomplished sports cars.
But the new 5 Series has moved away from hydraulic power steering and instead, employs Electric Power Steering, which in my experience provides a less than natural feel on turn in.
Take it from me you won’t be able to pick the fact that the power assistance is courtesy of an electric unit, no matter how keen you are to prove so. There is plenty of weight in the steering from dead centre, along with excellent feedback and frankly, this is as good as it gets.
That said you could take it to another level by optioning BMW’s tricky Integral Active Steering, which has been developed for additional high-speed agility and low speed maneuverability.
It’s a clever piece of electronic wizardry, which turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front wheel angle at speeds under 60km/h, thereby reducing the turning circle and the steering effort required by the driver.
At high speeds, the system turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the front wheels for a quicker steering response through those twisty fast bends we like so much.
Initially, I found it difficult to gauge any difference between the car with the system and the car without. That’s not surprising given the near perfect 50/50 weight distribution of the 5 Series and the fact that this new generation car is 55 percent stiffer and 23 kilograms lighter than the outgoing model.
Once the roads dried out, and we pushed a little harder through some of the twistier bits, the car felt more stable and more precise.
Dry roads also meant that it was time to play with the Dynamic Driving Control and time to hit the Sport + button, and what a treat that was. Now the car was performing like an accomplished gran-tourer than a four-door sedan, with much sharper response rates on throttle and steering inputs.
Braking is another area where BMW has always shined, and the new 5 Series doesn’t disappoint. Stopping power and brake pedal feedback is without peer in this class and inspires a great deal of confidence from behind the wheel.
The levels of standard equipment and technology aboard this new generation car is simply mind blowing and way too extensive to list in this review, but include such features as Head-Up display (unique to BMW and a key safety feature which should be mandatory on every car sold in Australia), Bi-Xenon headlights, Park Distance control front and rear, 8-speed automatic transmission and an electro mechanical handbrake to name but a fraction of the technology on board this car.
And yet despite this level of equipment, never do you feel overwhelmed by switchgear clutter in the 5 Series. Almost all functions, from Satellite Navigation to your music selection, are controlled within the wonderfully intuitive new iDrive interface.
The seats in the new 5 Series are also worthy of considerable commendation. They’re both supremely comfortable for any size or shape (my colleague on this drive program is a giant who likes the odd meat pie and some would consider myself height challenged) and yet are utterly supportive in all the right places. You can punt this car into bends with considerable enthusiasm and you won’t move a centimeter.
You also sit deep into the car, as you would in a purpose built sports car, but without any of the usual ingress or egress challenges of some of those cars. It’s an unusually good seating position for a sedan.
Fuel economy is another outstanding feature of the new 5 Series. Remember, this is a petrol powered 3.0-litre TwinPower Turbo in-line six, which we have just driven 106 kilometres across undulating terrain with zero regard for fuel consumption and yet achieved a reading of 9.5-L/100km.
However, drive the car under normal everyday conditions to and from the office or shops, and there is no doubt you could easily achieve the published combined consumption figure of 8.4-litres/100kms or better.
The latest iteration of the 5 Series is without question an exceptional car, and I see no reason why the model won’t remain the number one choice in its class.
While CarAdvice will bring you a complete and comprehensive road test of each 5 Series variant in due course, the manufacturer’s list price in Australia is as follows:
BMW 520d - $83,300
BMW 528i - $99,900
BMW 535i - $128,900
BMW 550i - $178,900