► CAR drives new 2017 BMW 5-series
► New G30 exec prototypes on test
► 530i sDrive, 530d xDrive and 540i sDrive
If there ever was a mule which did not need the full camouflage treatment, then this is it. The new 2017 BMW 5-series, codenamed G30, is anything but a breakthrough design.
Instead, its shape is evolutionary, kind of a downsized 7-series, nicely proportioned but about as unexpected as snowfall in December. The interior owes even more to the 7-series than the exterior. It can be specced up with so many electronic trickeries one almost needs a spare brain to make full use of this depth of talent.
We guess this might be the last BMW to sport a conventional overkill cockpit offering the latest in terms of infotainment, connectivity and semi-autonomous driving. The new 3-series, due in 2018, will likely feature more advanced and yet easier-to-use ergonomics inspired by the CES concept.
But this early drive is not about buttons, switches, monitors, iDrive or gesture control. It’s about ride and handling, roadholding and performance, the next iteration of Freude am Fahren.
Prototype drive: BMW 530d xDrive
Dressed up in identical whirly shower-curtain foil, the three pre-production cars lined up for us are a 540i sDrive (two-wheel drive) with Dynamic Damper Control (DDC) and rear-wheel steering (IAS), a 530d xDrive with sports suspension and IAS, and a 530i sDrive with base steering and suspension. Derived from the modular CLAR matrix pioneered by the new 7-series, all new 5-series variants will shed around 100kg.
Key improvements include the variable-rate-and-effort hydro-electric steering, redesigned double-wishbone front axle and new multi-link rear suspension. The optional adjustable anti-roll bar system known as Adpative Drive has switched from hydraulic to electrical operation. Not available for G30 is the air suspension offered on the Audi A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-class. ‘Too heavy,’ states senior chassis guru Peter Langen, ‘and in this car you don’t really need it. But go ahead and find out for yourself.’
Enough preamble... time to drive the new 5-series!
I grab the key to the no-frills entry-level 530i. This is 2016, so 530i no longer denotes a straight-six but the humble 2.0-litre four which puts out a respectable 249bhp. Transmission? The familiar eight-speed automatic. The only 5-series models still fitted with a manual gearbox are the 184bhp 520i and the 190bhp 520d. Over the first few miles, the new steering doesn’t feel much different. Even after two hours of giant slaloming through Welsh sheep and cattle, the car emerges as a remarkably unremarkable automobile.
Homogenous, competent, failsafe are the terms which describe it best. It’s provocatively easy to drive, quite comfortable and totally effortless, but not really torquey enough to notice the absence of xDrive, which has become a friend and is no longer merely an acquaintance. Although the engine won’t win prizes for grunt and refinement, this is a quick five-seater by upmarket repmobile standards, and even when pushed it oozes nothing but confidence.
And yet in this context confidence may not be enough; not against the new E-class, the imminent A6 and the recent Jaguar XF. A premium driving experience should make the going more rewarding than the getting there, and for that purpose you better switch to a more potent 5-series specimen like the 540i xDrive.
The 540i trades V8 for straight six
Back in the day, the 540i was powered by a sweet V8; nowadays the moniker denotes the classy 340bhp straight-six we know from the 3-series. This engine captures the essence of the Bavarian Motor Works. It doesn’t need a trick exhaust to make all the right noises, it almost matches an electric motor for smoothness, and it delivers in a seamless, relentless manner.
With 332lb ft of torque, the 3.0-litre unit is potent enough to prove that the new 5-series feels more agile as well as more authoritative, with the new front axle being more sensitive than the previous spring-strut layout, and the steering providing more prompt and accurate feedback. This car needs fewer small adjustments and minor corrections at the wheel to stick to the plotted line.
Although the rear-wheel steering is a contributing factor to this improved handling prowess, its true talent lies in the ability to make the 540i feel as nimble and chuckable as a 340i. With IAS fitted, the front and rear ends are connected in a more intuitive manner which subtly supports changes of direction. In combination with the stiffer body and the lightweight aluminium suspension, G30 feels better tied down and commendably neutral even in rear-wheel-drive guise.
DDC widens the comfort zone which ranges from almost cushy to quite firm. Although BMW invites buyers to combine DDC, xDrive, IAS and Adaptive Drive (which includes DDC), such an agglomerate high-tech infusion may well be too much of a good thing, and it certainly hurts the budget.
All 5-series models are equipped with the latest Bilstein dampers. ‘They do everything better than the previous hardware,’ claims Jos van As, who is in charge of fusing all dynamic elements into one nicely balanced whole. ‘It is my job to match mechanical and electronic integration, not to mention plenty of fine-tuning. We need to cater for a wide spectrum of customer profiles, but driving pleasure always is the top priority.’
Detail means to this end include reduced unsprung weight, adaptive elastokinematics and enhanced body-chassis bonding. What’s the benefit of all this on the road? Simply put, less interference, intrusion, imprecision.
The new G30-generation BMW 5-series and xDrive 4wd
The final variant we test is the 530d xDrive complete with sports suspension lowered by 10mm and IAS. In the case of the diesel, 530 still stands for six cylinders and, in this case, for a maximum power output of 261bhp. That’s plenty to entertain keen drivers, especially in combination with awd which elevates lateral grip, take-off bite and out-of-corner traction to a higher level. The fine art of carving through bends is further enhanced by the more aggressive torque split which unashamedly favours the rear wheels.
The FES driving programme selector features two new settings, Sport Individual and Adaptive Mode. While the former lets you compile your favourite cocktail of attitudes, the latter automatically adjusts most systems to route and driving style. Depending on whether you’re in Drive or Sport, or on the autobahn, in town or on a B-road, the new black box with integrated sat-nav chip will choose whatever mix of steering, drivetrain and chassis calibration it deems fit.
In Adaptive Mode, the car can coast or cut off overrun, its shift strategy is controlled by various parameters, and the overriding algorithm will instantly process every steering and throttle input. Sounds complex, is complex. We didn’t have the opportunity to fully assess this innovation, but we know for a fact that the three basic settings, Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport, are now more clearly defined than before. Like in the 7-series, Adaptive Mode is an economy- rather than performance-minded compromise designed for relaxed cruising.
When you feel the itch, it’s best to combine Sport with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) for flat cornering, quick turn-ins, a smidgeon of power-on oversteer and brisk engine-transmission interaction. The 3.0-litre diesel actively supports spirited driving with a fast rising torque curve which climaxes at a punchy 457lb ft. On the backroads the 530d never loses touch with the more powerful 540i lead car, which depends on higher revs and more frequent gear changes to keep its position.
When can I buy the new 2017 BMW 5-series?
Production of the G30 saloon starts in November 2016 with sales commencing next February 2017. The new BMW 5-series Touring follows in early spring, the 5-series GT which will likely be marketed as 6-series, and the M5 are both due to appear in late 2017.
When funds are tight and a six-cylinder engine is definitely out of reach, we would look in the mirror long and hard before choosing between the comfy standard suspension and the sporty set-up. While DDC should broaden the compliance spectrum irrespective of the engine size, the true value of xDrive depends almost entirely on your home address.
IAS and Adaptive Drive may well be deemed as must-haves by rich tecchies, but determining their dynamic assets sure takes more time than a single sunny day in Wales.
Our verdict? The new 5-series is still driver focused, but it's a shame the new car nestles under a same-again wardrobe - inside and out. For the first time in ages, we can say that the Five is more conservative than the Mercedes-Benz E-class.