What is it?
The new, seventh-generation 5 Series is a car with an inevitable reputation and a heavy weight of expectation to uphold. In production since 1972, BMW’s traditional mid-range model has now racked up more than eight million sales worldwide – including 2.2 million sales for its direct predecessor, the familiar F10 introduced in 2009.
But with such classy competition as the latest Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the latest 5 Series, codenamed G30, will not only have to be at the very top of its game but also push the boundaries further than any of its illustrious predecessors if it is to manage to claw its way back to the top of its class and continue the success story of the past 44 years.
Developed from the ground up in a program spanning almost five years, the new 5 Series is both significantly lighter and more aerodynamic than ever before. With a range of heavy upgraded engines, it is also faster and more economical than its already strong-selling predecessor.
The main focus with the new BMW, however, has been reserved for a number of contemporary new chassis developments in a move not only aimed at re-establishing its status as the best-handling car in its class but also introducing greater levels of comfort into its already impressive dynamic repertoire as a means of broadening its range of abilities and appeal.
The new saloon clearly takes its influence from the latest 7 Series, adopting a much more formal – some might say more conservative – look than the previous 5 Series. The changes to the appearance help to disguise an increase in dimensions compared with the outgoing car. Length has increased by 36mm to 4935mm, width grows by 6mm to 1868mm and height increases by 2mm to 1466mm. The wheelbase is also 7mm longer than before, at 2975mm.
The increase in external dimensions has netted the new 5 Series greater interior space, notably in the rear. There is now sufficient space for up to five adults on newly developed seats front and back. Crucially, the rear bench has been reshaped to provide a more defined centre seat, rather than being shaped primarily for the two outer seats. With a longer rear overhang, boot capacity has also increased by 10 litres to 530 litres.
The new 5 Series will offer the choice of three engines from the start of UK deliveries next February, with others, including a petrol-electric hybrid option, set to follow in quick succession.
Included from the start of sales is an updated version of BMW’s traditional turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine. It develops 248bhp and 258lb ft of torque in the £40,120 530i and a gutsier 355bhp and 332lb ft in the 540i, which will be sold exclusively with BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system in the UK at a price of £46,645.
Among the diesels is BMW’s latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, delivering 187bhp and 295lb ft in the expected volume seller of the new 5 Series line-up, the £36,025 520d. Also planned from the outset is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel that provides the £43,835 330d with 261bhp and a generous 457lb ft.
Gearbox choices continue to include either a six-speed manual (standard on the 520d) or eight-speed automatic (standard on 530i, 540i and 530d). Both units have been heavily upgraded, bringing what BMW describes as greater levels or refinement and, in combination with the new engines, overall efficiency gains compared with the old model. With a combined average of 40.9mpg, the rear-wheel-drive 540i betters the old 535i by an impressive 5.6mpg.
Although the conservative styling fails to convey it, the new 5 Series has been comprehensively re-engineered in a concerted bid by BMW to catapult its new mid-range saloon well ahead of its main executive class rivals. Central to the changes is a brand new platform and heavily updated 12-volt electrical architecture, both of which are shared with the latest 7-series.
Although eschewing the expensive carbonfibre structural elements of its larger sibling, it also gains a greater percentage of aluminium and hot formed high strength steel within its body in a move that has resulted in a reduction of 95kg in the 540i compared to the older 535i. At the same time, torsional rigidity has been improved, providing the basis for what is described as a new direction in chassis tuning. The 5 Series also benefits from a new electric steering system and heavily reworked double wishbone front suspension.
What’s it like?
First up, a disclaimer. The 540i tested here wasn’t exactly representative of the model we’ll see in the UK. Running traditional rear-wheel drive, it lacked the xDrive that will be standard on the 540i in the UK.
What is beyond doubt, however, is the new BMW’s outstanding refinement. From the first press of the starter button you’re aware of just how little engine noise enters the cabin. At low revs the operation of the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six is barely noticeable, endowing the new 5 Series with a genuinely hushed character around town.
The positive impressions continue as you tick off the miles and discover the new suspension also manages to isolate road noise with far greater authority and with a more fluid feel than with the old 5 Series. Wind noise is also extremely low even at typical motorway speeds, adding to the overall impression of calmness.
The upmarket ambience brought on by the outstanding refinement and relaxed gait of the engine is reflected in a redesigned interior, which not only endows the new BMW with a more luxurious feel than its predecessor but also offers greater levels of accommodation, most notably in the rear.
The multi-layered dashboard shares its design and high-quality materials with that used by the 7 Series, while the centre console is angled ever so slightly towards the driver in a move recalling a key driver-centric interior element of earlier 5 Series models. The redesigned TFT instruments offer great clarity and alter in theme depending on the driving mode, giving the new car a satisfyingly contemporary air.
New engineered front seats with firmer cushioning also provide greater levels of support and comfort, making the new model a more pleasant place in which to travel long distances.
Among the more significant interior appointments is the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system. It uses a new 10.3in touchscreen mounted on top of the dashboard and angled slightly towards the driver. As before, its redesigned menus can be operated via a rotary controller with a touch function. Alternatively, the new 5 Series offers standard touch as well as updated gesture and speech control systems from the 7 Series as an option.
Another noteworthy inclusion is BMW latest autonomous driving function, which allows you to perform lane changes between speeds of 44mph and 112mph at the simple application of the blinker without the need for steering input. It works well, accelerating, steering and, when necessary, braking the car on its own. However, it only allows brief periods of hands-off motoring before an alarm prompts you to take the wheel again.
Our test car came with adaptive dampers, which will be offered as a £985 option in the UK. So configured, the new 5 Series offers a noticeably more cosseting ride in Comfort mode than its predecessor, both around town and out on the open road.
Switch the 540i into Sport mode and it really comes alive. The Drive Experience function primes the throttle, engine, gearbox, steering and suspension to their most athletic settings, providing the 540i with pleasantly precise, engagingly willing and, in rear-wheel drive guise at least, entertaining traits. It’s rather quick, too. Official performance claims point to a 0-62mph time of just 5.1.sec, which makes the rear-drive 540i some 0.7sec quicker than the old 535i.
The key to this impressive turn of speed is a wonderfully harmonious combination between the engine and gearbox. The delivery is creamy smooth and, without any discernible turbocharger lag to talk of, extremely linear. There’s abundant torque throughout almost all of the rev range, and with it strong flexibility well into the business end of the dial. The shifts are satisfyingly rapid and terrifically smooth, both up and down the ZF-produced gearbox.
Predictably, the steering is quite weighty in the more sporting of the driving modes, but it is also satisfyingly direct. The added sharpness brought on by the integral rear steering system, as fitted to our test car, heightens the handling, adding a further touch of agility that helps to make the 540i truly engaging when pushed hard along a challenging back road.
The stiffening of dampers in Sport enhances body control, allowing you to carry considerably higher speeds with greater neutrality through open corners than in Comfort mode. This is further augmented by the adoption of faster-acting electronically controlled anti-roll bars in place of the older hydraulically operated units as part of an optional Dynamic Drive system.
The drawback of running in Sport, though, is a considerably harsher and less compliant ride that can sometimes limit the 540i’s progress on coarse road surfaces due to the suspension’s inability to properly swallow mid-corner bumps with the same authority and suppleness as it does in Comfort mode. The inherent control remains, although the overall compliance is sometimes challenged by broken sections of bitumen, which occasionally send a nasty shudder through the body.
Should I buy one?
The crowning achievement here for BMW has been to broaden the ability of the 5 Series to a point where is it now every bit as capable, if not more so, than the talented Mercedes-Benz E-Class. As well as offering a much higher level of perceived quality and greater accommodation, it is also vastly more mature in terms comfort and refinement – areas that are absolutely crucial to success in the executive saloon ranks.
At the same time, BMW has succeeded in providing the new 5 Series with all the latest in connectivity and driver assist systems, yet it remains wonderfully engaging and highly responsive when you dial in Sport mode and seek out its full performance potential. It is clear that the 5 Series has taken a big step forward.
Location Portugal; On sale February 2017; Price £46,645; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2998cc, turbo, petrol; Power 355bhp at 5200rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1380rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1595kg; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 40.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 149g/km, 26%; Rivals Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class
What is it?