BMW 5 Series

Superb driving dynamics see Munich’s new executive aiming for head of the board

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

JOHANN Kistler doesn’t hesitate before answering.

“Driving dynamics,” says the BMW 5 Series says the BMW 5 Series project head after being asked where his new car’s biggest advantage over the Mercedes-Benz E-Class lies.

“The experience of driving, this was very important for us.”

Kistler singles out the big sedan’s steering precision for special praise. And there’s some pride when he points out that BMW could make the 5 Series ride comfortably without the air suspension Mercedes-Benz believes some E-Class models need. “It is not necessary, in our understanding,” he says.

Predictable responses from someone who’s worked for BMW for 38 years, a cynic would say. But Kistler, as it happens, is right. The seventh-generation 5 Series, codenamed G30, is a lovely thing to drive. Its electrically assisted steering is truly outstanding, and the chassis delivers a terrific blend of agility, composure and comfort.

It’s a bigger car than before.

Overall length is up 36mm, but the increases in height, width, wheelbase and tracks are all single-figure small. Despite the growth, the new G30 weighs up to 100kg less than the F10 it replaces. Almost every external panel is aluminium, and the new suspensions – double A-arm front, five-link rear – also include more aluminium than ever.

SPECS Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Fuel economy Price On sale BMW 540i 2998cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo 250kW @ 5500-6500rpm 450Nm @ 1380-5200rpm 8-speed automatic 1670kg 5.1sec (claimed) 6.7L/100km $136,900 March

OR TRY THESE...

Jaguar XF S $129,065

Dynamically polished, with excellent steering the stand-out in a fine chassis. Supercharged 3.0-litre V6 competitive for power and torque, but efficiency trails the Germans. And costly options are needed to lift it to fit-out parity.

Mercedes-Benz E400 $139,900

This is the sweetest model in the new-gen E-Class line-up, at least until the E43 arrives. But we suspect the new 540i beats the E400 for ride, comfort and handling, while pretty much matching its towering level of tech.

On the radar

The forward-facing 77GHz radar of the new BMW 5 Series, one of the most important in its extensive sensor array, is also the most vulnerable.

Mounted low and central in the car’s nose, below the number-plate, it’s in a place where snow and ice can accumulate. Too much can effectively disable the sensor, crucial to the active cruise control and autonomous braking systems. So BMW equips it with a heated shield, or radome as they say in the aircraft business.

01 Standard high-res 10.25-inch centre touchscreen is bright and beautiful. Interface update allows drivers to select content of the three ‘pads’ displayed on first screen. These look like oversized icons, but they’re miniaturised real-time displays that give easy and instant access to full-screen views or menus.

ICONIC IMAGE 02 Storage tray ahead of familiar BMW shift lever features built-in inductive smartphone charging as standard in Australia. It’s optional in some other markets. BMW has accessory cases for phones that lack inbuilt inductive charging capability.

INDUCTION STATION 01 03 New 5 Series features more in-cabin storage than before. Especially for liquids; centre cupholders are deeper, while doortrims can now take one-litre bottles.

STORE AND ORDER

When the 5 Series arrives in Australia in March, it will also introduce a pair of new petrol engines. Turbocharged, directinjection and all-aluminium, the 2.0-litre four and 3.0-litre in-line six share the same new bore and stroke dimensions. They bring slight power and efficiency increases to the 530i and 540i models that replace the old 5 Series range’s 528i and 535i .

Completing the launch line-up will be the 520d and 530d, equipped with 2.0-litre four- and 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesels. These are not new. Though manual transmissions are an option in some models in some European markets, for Australia the new 5 Series will come only with an eight-speed automatic.

Prices increase quite steeply.

In round figures, the $93,900 520d rises $9K, the $108,900 530i is $10K more than the 528i, the $119,900 530d is $4K up over 535d and the $136,900 540i is a whopping $19K more than the 535i. But all models are much more richly equipped than before. Adaptive dampers, for example, will be standard in everything except the 520d.

BMW Australia claims the retail value of the additional kit far outweighs the price hikes.

The interior is even more persuasive than BMW’s value equations. The cabin is spacious, elegant, luxurious and more user-friendly than before.

Front-seat shoulder room is greater, and the lower instrument panel contributes to a feeling of airiness. There’s more storage space and BMW’s rethink of key elements of its human-machine interface make managing this complex car easier than ever.

Rear roominess is also improved, though the seat itself isn’t a match for the comfort of that in the Mercedes E-Class.

Boot capacity has been enlarged a little, to 530 litres.

From the outside, the side view is possibly the new 5 Series’ best angle. It highlights the faster angle of the car’s rear glass, which contributes to a more tapered and toned tail.

In the right light you’ll also notice the ‘twisted ribbon’ character line running from the front wheelarch, through the doorhandle recesses, to fade into the base of the C-pillar. From the front, new daytime running light strips point to the car’s big kidney grille.

BMW staged the international intro of the new 5 Series in Portugal. Neither the 530d nor 540i available to test was an exact match for Australian spec.

The diesel was fitted with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which won’t be coming to Australia. It also had Luxury suspension, which will be a no-cost alternative to the standard M Sport package, and BMW’s Integral Active Steering rear-wheel-steering system, which is likely to be optional.

And the 540i lacked the active anti-roll bars of the Adaptive Drive system that will be standard in Australia. It also had rear-steering, a technology that’s incompatible with Adaptive Drive, and rode on 19-inch wheels instead of the 20-inchers bound for Australia.

Still, the fundamental quality of the new 5 Series chassis was obvious. This big sedan steers with rare precision, is beautifully fluent when changing direction and rides wonderfully well. Some of the roads around Lisbon were as poor as anything you’ll find in Australia, and the 530d’s Luxury suspension did a brilliant job of isolating occupants from the bumps without depriving the driver of a sense of control.

Both six-cylinder drivetrains are superb. The diesel is refined and effortless, while the petrol is refined, effortless and urgent, and the eight-speed automatic teams perfectly with each.

Like the W213 E-Class, the G30 5 Series also brings a new level of semi-autonomy to the driving experience. While the active cruise control and some other driver-aid features are impressive, the self-steering ability of the BMW is as annoyingly inconsistent as that in the Mercedes-Benz.

But with the aids switched off, and the ride stripped bare, it is always obvious that the new 5 Series is the executive car for those who enjoy driving.

PLUS & MINUS Handling and ride; six-cylinder drivetrains; i Rear seat; some semi-autonomous tech more annoying than helpful nterior design and quality