All-new BMW 5-Series sets dynamic benchmark
Large luxury sedan sales have never been under more pressure.
So-called mass-market models are becoming ever smarter and more sophisticated, but cost less. Motorists are also more price and value conscious than ever — and many are opting for more compact, fuel efficient models, even in the premium segment.
Add the relentless rise in popularity of the SUV, and the prognosis for big luxury saloons doesn’t look all that rosy. And so, the new BMW 5-Series needs to be something really special if it’s going to succeed.
This latest, seventh-generation Five, arriving in South Africa this week, debuts with a four-model line-up comprising two turbo petrols – the 530i and the 540i – and a pair of turbodiesels, badged 520d and 530d. An eight-speed auto and rear-wheel drive are standard throughout.
Marginally larger and a lot sleeker than its predecessor, the newcomer looks more like a smaller, sportier Seven than a big Three-Series. But what’s missing is a more inventive interpretation of a design language that’s become too cautious.
That said, the Five boasts a best-in-class drag coefficient, and a kerb mass that’s around 100 kilograms lighter than the previous model.
The 7-Series theme continues inside the plush and comfortable cabin. There’s a big touch-screen display for the iDrive entertainment system, a bright head-up display that’s grown by 70 percent, and plenty of room front and rear.
The boot has grown to 530 litres, while the various vehicle systems can be accessed and controlled in various different ways: via the iDrive controller, by using voice commands, the touchscreen, or even using smartphone-style gestures.
It’s all very impressive, but sometimes ergonomically overcomplicate. Call me old-fashioned, but the simple, analogue action of turning a knob or pressing a button can be more precise – and more satisfying — than painting air pictures …
We chose the 530d fitted with the optional M Sport package as our steed at the Garden Route-based launch. It’s powered by a 3,0-litre straight-six turbodiesel rated at 195 kW of max power, combined with a 620 Nm torque peak.
Selectable driving modes include an efficiency-focused Eco setting, a Comfort mode (treated as default) and a Sport mode, which should be the setting of choice for driving enthusiasts.
It may be bigger than before, but because this seventh-generation Five is lighter, it feels surprisingly agile and athletic. The new, stiffer and lighter platform delivers a more focussed, more precise driving experience.
Pilot it with gusto, and the Beemer seems to shrink around you. It has a real appetite for tackling the twisties – from fast sweeps to tight hairpins — while in Sport mode, the steering feels meaty and direct, with just the right amount of heft.
Ride quality is firm but composed, with an ability to iron out some of the bumpy stuff, but without blunting driver feedback. In fact, it’s very difficult to unsettle the Five, even when pushing hard and deep into a corner: the stance remains resolutely neutral.
Thanks to a power-to-weight ratio of 118,9 kW/ton, straightline performance is enthusiastic. Pin the throttle to the firewall, and the 530d will rush to 100 km/h from rest in just 5,7 seconds. All that torque creates a turbine-like surge that makes a Boeing’s take-off run feel tame.
While it’s a very satisfying car to drive with intent, the 530d is equally adept at fulfilling the role of a luxury cruiser, with the torquey turbodiesel ticking over, and the gearbox serving up seamless shifts. Overtaking is effortless, too.
Peace of mind is provided by an extensive array of safety gear and driver assistance systems, all aimed at reducing the driver’s workload in emergency situations, with avoidance the ultimate goal.
There is no doubt the new 5-Series is a fine car, perhaps the finest Five yet. It ticks all the boxes — quality, efficiency, safety, luxury, connectivity and advanced tech — while also setting a new dynamic benchmark in this class.
However, with SUVs and smaller sedans hogging the luxury vehicle limelight, this new, hugely impressive sedan may still struggle to match the record-breaking 2,2-million sales of its predecessor.