There is not much one needs to say as a preamble to introduce the formidable BMW 5 Series. The car has not only been an outright bestseller for its brand, but also for the segment - and has held on to the benchmark status for being the definition of performance in this executive sedan segment. Throw in the legacy and the fact that it spawns an action-packed M version with every generation - only adds to its enigma. Having said all that the last generation of the 5 Series seemed to falter and fall short of that massively Goliathan reputation.
The F10 (as the 6th generation was referred to internally by BMW) was not a bad car by any stretch of the imagination. But unlike its predecessors it didn't do enough to excite its fans, nor frighten its rivals. It also allowed others like the then massively facelifted 4th generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Jaguar XF to make inroads in to its territory. With the new 7th generation G30, the BMW 5 Series is ready to launch a counter-offensive and really fight back. And having driven the car - I'd say it has got the goods to do it.
BMW 5 Series
It was poetic of BMW to bring me back to the same location (and same roads) as the last generation car's drive - Sintra in Portugal. The stunning Atlantic coastline affords for beautiful vistas and the Sintra mountains give you a nice mix of roads to really test a car well. That is why I have been here so often with other cars too! So as nostalgia gave way, I started to really get into the new 5 Series. And the very first impression it gives you is of a car with a much better tuned chassis that is capable of once again laying claim to the ultimate sports title.
And yes I say this having driven the new 5th gen E-Class - that is also very agile and sporty. The new 5 Series does come across as a bit of a downsized 7 Series. The new flagship of the BMW brand has also been praised last year for bringing the 7 into its own and offering a sportier dynamic than its rivals - creating a unique position for itself. The good news is that the new 5 Series - while it looks like a mini-7 Series, it does much more in performance terms.
I began my drive with the 530d xDrive. And just minutes into the drive, I can give you the good news right up front. Given the criticism that BMW had gone too middle-of-the-road with the F10, I was even more vigilant and alert to the feel of the new car. The 5 Series is back, and back with a bang! If you took the branding away, and didn't tell me what car it was - I'd still tell you straight off it's a BMW! And that means the character of a typical BMW is back. And truth be told, after the initial euphoria of that discovery, I felt a sense of relief. That is because it's a good differentiator for the brand, and indeed the customer. Mercedes-Benz is back with a strong E-Class and you will soon have a new Audi A6 on the market. And there is everybody else from Jaguar to Lexus trying to get into this game that's why it was important to have a true BMW once again. The updated drivetrain is almost instant and you get a sense of how it has been reworked. It is a lot more responsive and very sporty in its overall appeal and it has been married really well to the 8-Speed Techtronic gearbox.
The previous car's steering was also a sore point with me, and now on tight locks you get the actual response you want from the car. The steering is still a bit lighter than the old 5 Series models like the E60, but still gives you more feedback and precision than the last car's. What is extremely impressive is the lack of any nose or vibration from the new diesel engine. There is no lag and the gear changes are nice and quick - and by the way that isn't just in sport mode - all of this happens even if you are driving with car set to comfort.
Max power comes in at 261 bhp, but it's the torque figure that really gets my attention. The peak torque of 620 Nm kicks in only between 2000-2500 rpm but you get 80% of that torque almost constantly through the overall band. That got me smiling because it makes the car very flexible, quick and responsive.
And the good news is that character is carried over in most part to the petrol 5 Series too! Unfortunately for me the only petrol car on offer for us to test was the 540i. Now don't get me wrong - it was a 6 cylinder engine with a lot of power on the tap, but it isn't the petrol engine India will get. BMW is expected to begin the India innings with the diesel line-up, but the petrol will follow. The one we will get is likely to be the 530i. But on the 540i I at least got one advantage over the diesel. You see the diesel 530d had the xDrive and so it was nice to be able to check out the 2 wheel drive too - because that's what we will get. The great news is that you don't need the xDrive to get the agility or the sportive nature that you would like to get from a 5 Series. We don't really need the xDrive in our market anyway - even as optional, and so BMW will not be bringing that in anyway. And let me tell you, that even on the 530d I can imagine that with 2-wheel-drive it would do just great.
The 540i I had hugged tight corners and was very precise - the steering in particular. The new car's chassis is so much more responsive and in 2-wheel mode it's almost more obvious. The 100 kg drop in weight helps that cause, and here it is unlike the 7 Series that uses a carbon core or carbon fibre to reduce weight. Instead the new 5 uses more aluminium over the previous one. The 3 litre 335 bhp petrol was nice and quick, and once again the star of the show for me was the gearbox. The gear changes are fantastically quick and allow you to drive aggressively with ease. What's more, the petrol engine also sounds very nice when you do push it. I reckon just like we saw in the diesel - a lot work has been done by BMW engineers with the 4 cylinder engines and so frankly now I can't wait to drive the 530i as well. BMW's new run flat tyres are also way more compliant and don't add an exaggerated stiffness to the ride. That again is a huge plus in my book, especially in the Indian context.
As is expected these days, BMW has loaded this car with all kinds of fancy new features, including new driver assistance aids. And yes before you ask that means part-autonomous driving as well. But as we have said of so many cars off late, all these features use radar-based technology and for now BMW says that it's not sure whether that will come on the India spec car. The Volvo S90 has brought some of it now, and the use of radar tech on cars is now permissible by the Indian government, so the BMW and Mercedes-Benz might bring this functionality in sooner than later. Having said that, in India something like lane keep assist or active cruise control is not exactly very practical.
The new 5 Series comes with many more gadgets and connectivity features. There's also ambient lighting and one more really cool new feature that we are unlikely to get. The car constantly uses its navigation system - even if you're not actively using it for route guidance at the time. It is always looking to see what are the conditions coming up ahead are - in terms of roads (turns, intersections, signals etc.) and traffic. And it uses this information to dictate the use of the engine's start-stop system when the car comes to standstill. So the engine only cuts off when it makes sense to - thereby making the start-stop system even more efficient. Nice!
The new 5 Series will get you through many kilometres with ease, and keep you relaxed and refreshed. Driver fatigue is not something to worry about as the car's sporty nature is offset with extremely comfortable seats that can be adjusted 20-ways. The cabin I got on the 540i was identical to the one on the diesel, though like previous Bimmers you can get the M Sport trim option on the new 5 too. The cabin is a more obvious take on going baby-7! Materials, colours and fit are very premium and give you a nice inviting feeling.
So the car uses very premium finishes and textures. The colour palette is also very classy and overall the cabin is very well put together. Sound insulation is terrific, giving you a nice quiet cabin - which Indian buyers in particular would enjoy. The gadget list includes another carryover from the 7 Series - gesture control. So you can adjust the music, change tracks and even assign a gesture as a shortcut for a feature of your choosing. The car also monitors your attention levels and warns you if you need a break. And here's the kicker - while seats with an inbuilt massage function are old hat, the 5 Series gives you a massage option in the front seats too. It's not just the lower back; you can programme it for an upper body massage, and of course can adjust the intensity too. But I have to say that the massage option is not for me, as I find it too distracting. But it's a nice feature to have I suppose!
The new car's design is attractive, and at first sight communicates you two things - upmarket and well built, and very obviously a BMW. The new face from the brand (seen on the new 7 Series too) has a wider look, with the headlights and grille accentuating the car's size. The new unwound twin ring LED signature is here to stay, and makes the 5 look pretty. The sharp beltline running through the door handles is perhaps the only signature design element that will distinguish it from the 7 Series, though you will be forgiven for mistaking it for that car at first glance anyway! The solid muscle in the hood and flanks, as well as the tautness of the boot lid - are what I found rather impressive. It's a design that says this car means business and is not to be messed with.
The new 5 Series will certainly stand tall and offer a much more exciting proposition overall when it hits the market. It is not only more obviously luxurious and plush, not only loaded with lots of gadgets and tech, and not only better looking. Its most redeeming quality is that it is more BMW again. A true modern 5 Series - or as close as we can come to one given the many global demands BMW designers and engineers must pander to. It arrives in India close to the end of the year, and expect pricing to be in-line with the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class that arrives in March this year.