By C. Dupriez
- Remains true and honest to time-honoured 5 Series heritage and traditions of blending impressive comfort with sheer driving pleasure; and
- Wide range of innovative features and technology that will impress most buyers.
- Pricing has gone up; and
- Getting the most out of the features and technology requires a high degree of user application.
The BMW 5 Series is a car steeped with heritage. With 45 years of experience under its name, and as BMW’s longest running nameplate, the 5 Series formula of blending executive luxury with driving pleasure has been tried and tested. This tradition, which was inspired at its 1972 birth and cemented over six previous and largely accomplished generations, has earned the 5 Series the right to exceed shake-ups and change in this subtly remade G30 form.
While this seventh generation looks, feels and smells very familiar, it must still keep up with the times, if merely for the sake of remaining relevant. With that said it is no wonder why the Bavarian Vehicle manufacturer decided to underline the 5 Series with a bold and wide range of features and technology as its pitch to keep itself at the forefront of the premium mid-sized luxury sedan segment.
The tricky part that 5 Series engineers and designers faced, was the prospect of blending the time-honoured class that anchor the range’s character and appeal, with 21st century modern technology expected today from consumers all over. Has BMW succeeded in this effort? That is the question this article aims to answer.
If you’re the type who loves a wide array of features, who’ll invest your time in fiddling through them, and who likes a high degree of configurable personalisation, then the 5 Series’ gadget suite will reward your endeavours.
Truth be told however, there’s far too much button pressing and submenu searching for me to fully get the best out of the technology specifications. I would rather be focussed on flexing the sedans’ more easily accessible muscles, by negotiating corners and highways at great speed.
There are four variants now available in showrooms; two petrol and two diesel versions. The two petrol versions are the 2.0-litre four-cylinder 530i, which lists for US $76,200, and the 3.0-litre six-powered 540i, currently the priciest in range at US $95,800. The diesel versions are the entry-priced US $65,700 entry 520d, featuring a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre diesel four engine, and the 3.0-litre six-powered 530d that asks for US $83,900 and which produces 195kW of power and a whopping 620Nm of torque.
While my inner petrol-head maintains that a real premium German experience demands a proper V6 heartbeat, the 530i can easily convince that such a marriage isn’t actually necessary or mandatory.
The four-cylinder offers quiet, reasonably energetic and quite unflustered forward motion. Its claimed 6.2-second 0-100km/h is certifiably handy, no doubt aided by a reduction of weight of “up to 95 kilograms” over like-for-like old-generation 5 Series. The aluminium doors, for instance, weigh as little as just six kilograms apiece, and in 530i trim the scales tip at an impressively lightweight 1540kg. While it’s no quicker than its F10-gen predecessor, with identical acceleration claims, consumption for this larger 5 Series is said to have dropped from 6.5 litres to 5.8L/100kms.
It does feel fractionally larger on the road than an F10 sedan, though there’s not much of a difference in the driving experience. It’s no powerhouse, but as the less-endowed 5 Series of the current or (perhaps) future G30 line-up, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be. Instead, BMW engineers delivered where it really matters most, which is in refinement and driveability, areas where Munich’s petrol fours have long been segment leaders and where this engine continues the legacy.
The engine is smooth and quiet, even under hard driving. It’s paired impressive well with the so-called ‘Sport’ eight-speed automatic gearbox. The pairing is intuitively responsive in Comfort drive mode and noticeably more assertive in Sport mode without any unwanted bite or edginess. Importantly, the under-bonnet credentials feel significant and polished enough to deliver a satisfying premium-feel often lacking in four-cylinder-powered luxury sedans of all sizes.
Our test car foregoes its standard-fitment M Sport addenda for a no-cost optional Luxury Line Package, which fits the lower-spec petrol version nicely. Its optional 20-inch wheels, in lieu of standard 19s, perhaps don’t do outright ride comfort much favour, but beside some noticeable tyre roar there’s little to grumble about.
The adaptive suspension, with continuously variable damping, is plush and pliant in Comfort mode, yet allows the body to settle quickly over larger bumps.
Dial it up to Sport mode – which affects steering, suspension, transmission and throttle calibration – and there’s a shade more purpose and focus to the Bimmer, if thankfully without any dramatic shift in character. There’s subtlety in changes to even the most conspicuous areas the drive modes govern.
There’s more ‘oomph’ about the 540i, most of that thanks to the extra 100Nm of torque (450Nm outright) rather than the added 65kW of power (250kW total). The six’s peak torque spread is wider, too, and the heightened effortlessness of the powertrain is obvious. At full throttle, despite an added 55kg of weight, the ‘big six’ is said to hit triple figures in just 5.1 seconds and it certainly feels a whole second swifter than the 530i.
Where the four-cylinder manages to rise to the premium occasion, the six-cylinder fully embodies it, especially in the everyday, part-throttle response and drivability stakes. Together with an 11 per cent hike in power over the old F10 535i, this ‘B58’ drops claimed combined consumption by 15 per cent, to a now impressive 6.7L/100km figure.
The 540i gets 20-inch wheels with 245mm and 275mm run-flat rubber standard (as optioned on our 530i) and electrically controlled roll stabilisation, for a flatter cornering stance, though otherwise the adaptive suspension is identical. Again, it’s added tech for a shade of tangible difference, though it’s possibly the six cylinder’s M Sport Package that provides a sort of combined placebo effect for what seems like extra sportiness compared with the 530i.
Both sedans have excellent steering, are easy to place in corners and are confident at a brisk grand touring pace. Neither, however, are fitted with the optional four-wheel-steering system; that’s an added and costly option on any 5 Series bar the flagship 540i, where it can be had for no extra cost. What’s most fitting, though, is that at no time do any of these variants sacrifice passenger comfort for swifter progress or more power.
In keeping up with the forward-thinking mantra, the 5 Series is technically adept enough to drive itself unaided: adaptive cruise control with stop/go functionality, active lane keeping, active side collision avoidance, and there are six cameras, five radar sensors, 12 ultrasonic sensors to survey the 360-degree world around the car and avoid clear and present dangers with its comprehensive warning system network.
Tick the Innovations Package options box (for a small fee obviously) and you can park your 5 Series via remote control using the tricky BMW Display Key (which recharges inductively in the cabin), or control some of the infotainment system functions using gesture control like you just stepped into a scene from a James Bond film.
Further, the speed sign recognition system BMW put on local sale years back and then controversially recalled has been updated and rolled out again, this time as a more broadly encompassing ‘speed limit notification’ system using camera and map data in tandem, and that can be personally ‘tuned’, with a speed threshold adjustment, by the driver.
Designers have done an admirable and reasonably convincing job in cabin walking the line between conspicuous technological enhancements and maintaining BMW’s favoured class. Case in point is the 12.3-inch digital instrumentation: it changes configuration and colour scheme depending on the chosen drive mode, yet retains time-honoured styling, right down to the dual metallic crescents overlaid onto the screen creating physical ‘dials’.
BMW’s thrown the kitchen sink at infotainment and there are now five different ways to interact. The customary circular controller remains, but its top doubles as a touchpad – a seemingly useless function until you attempt to input a sat nav destination without removing your eyes from the road ahead, where it can be very handy. The 10.25-inch is now a touchscreen, and the voice control system uses what’s called ‘natural language recognition’ that, from our brief test at launch, responds more often than not to very lazy and casual spoken inputs. The gesture control is a bit of a gimmick and extremely limited in functionality, but it’ll give the kids something to laugh at while you perform hand puppet movements trying to raise or lower the stereo’s volume…
The so-called ‘app-style’ display format of the new iDrive 6 software, which arranges functions into tiles that you swipe through, seems fiddly and distracting at first. But it’s designed so that the end user, most likely the driver, can configure their favourite functions to their personal whims.
There’s even a Find Car feature in case you forgot where you parked, and other features intent on convincing you that, much like your smartphone, your large executive car from Munich is an indispensable ally going about your day-to-day business.
We did run through the novel wireless Apple CarPlay facility, which also caters for Android Auto and, via Bluetooth, can cleverly connect two smartphones simultaneously. Why? No lightning cable needed. Recharging? Via inductive charging in the centre console (provided you use a Qi-certified iPhone case). And the BMW will make a song and dance if you attempt to leave the vehicle without your phone.
Another excellent feature is the parking assistance camera system that, by some black magic-like technical trickery, can provide a 360-degree exterior image of the car in its current environment. Very amazing stuff!
The cabin design is a more stylised take on 5 Series tradition, with conventional floating-screen infotainment, central stack layout and intuitively button placement. As rivals Mercedes-Benz E-Class, with its slick digital dual-screen panorama, and Volvo S90, with its ‘future minimalist’ arrangement, might target adventurous tastes, the creature of habit BMW approach maintains serious appeal for buyers favouring the familiar and traditional. Well, to a point: the 5 Series blends conventional and unconventional user interface, and what’s not immediately intuitive – the tiling feature, gesture control – isn’t difficult to acclimatise to, though they do demand user application.
Subtle differences create distinction between the (530i) optional Luxury Line and (540i) standard issue M Sport cabin designs, including the respective comfort and sport front seating, each distinctive in shape yet equally plush, supportive and dipped in particularly lush Nappa leather. Either cabin space trades flash for richness and an innate depth of quality, from the variety of finishes on show to sheer tactility.
The most noticeable improvement in interior space for this larger seventh generation is in rear legroom, though generally speaking it’s not a particularly cavernous cabin space, but nor is it claustrophobic. In the rear, there’s ample room for two adults – three across is a squeeze – and that near coupe-like sloping roofline inhibits headroom a little.
The 40:20:40 splitfold second row folds to allow access to the extremely deep boot space, which otherwise measures 530 litres with the rear seating in play.
On paper, even the lower-spec 530i lays on the standard equipment thick, though neither test car was realistically close to base spec. For instance, Apple CarPlay, wireless or not, commands a hefty premium price, even on the expensive flagship variant.
BMW is hardly the loner of the Euro premium set to charge handsomely for options, but some of this stuff listed above – alarm, washers, tyre monitoring, even seat heating – ought to be standard fitment for what’s already proper money without extra boxes ticked. While there’s quite a lot of extra standard equipment across the 5 Series range, prices have hiked considerably over F10 forebears: with the 530i wanting about US $6K more than the old 528i; and the 540i being a whopping US $15K pricier than the 535i it replaces.
In summary I can say that the new 5 Series takes all that was good about its predecessor one step further. But there’s definitely more to be desired for that price point.
Performance & Economy – 8.0
Cabin Space & Comfort – 8.0
Technology & Connectivity – 9.0
Price & Features – 7.5
Ride & Handling – 8.5
- Simba Corp; through Bavaria Motors, is the official and sole distributor of all new BMW vehicles in Kenya. They are located along Mombasa Road, as well as along Chiromo Road adjacent to Delta Corner.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official website or visit their showroom(s) for more information.