► All-new G30 5-series driven at last
► Six-cylinder 540i and 530d xDrive tested
► Tell the E-Class to get its coat…
The new BMW 5-series. The seventh generation of BMW’s longest-serving, best-selling model – the very heart of the brand. Codenamed G30, it is everything you’d expect of a modern premium exec: lighter, faster, more efficient and loaded with kit, including proto-autonomous tech. But it’s still more than the sum of these parts.
The 2017 5-series launches in February, with prices starting at £36,025. At this point, however, we’ve only been able to test the considerably more expensive 540i and the 530d – and the latter only in combination with xDrive. One of these is very good. The other is borderline brilliant.
Give me data
Okay. This is a new platform – but not the same platform as the 7-series. There’s no carbon core here, just high-tensile steel, aluminium and magnesium. Every exterior panel is aluminium now, part of a package of savings that shave up to 100kg off the kerbweight compared to the preceding 5-series, despite a lot of extra on-board kit.
The exterior appearance is a clear evolution: similar proportions, but more tightly honed in every respect. Neat details include the black ‘ribbon’ across the front that’s supposed to be reminiscent of the full-width grilles of very early 5ers, and the way the lines of the Hofmeister kink are continued towards the front via the bodywork. It looks much better in the metal than the pictures, but is best in lighter metallic shades that show off the surfacing.
The only proportional change is to the roofline, which has a pronounced hoop for more of a coupe look without compromising interior headroom; you sit low in the new 5-series, and it feels spacious front and rear. Enlarged kidney grilles contain more effective active aero shutters, and all models get LED headlights as standard.
The engines are from BMW’s modular family, which means they’re not new for the G30, but do get the inevitable boost in both bhp and fuel economy. The average is 10% more performance and 11% greater efficiency.
What about standard equipment and tech?
The basic specification comes with more equipment than any rival’s entry-point, while the tech on the options list heads rapidly towards 7-series territory and sets up camp there; just about the only significant thing you can’t get on the 5er that you can on the 7er is air suspension (frankly: so what), and it’s the 5-series that debuts BMW’s new Driving Assistant Plus package – a whole suite of semi-autonomous aids.
Flashy extras include the Display Key with built-in screen, gesture control, Bowers & Wilkins hifi (jazzily illuminated speakers included; the sound stage seemed a bit narrow to our cloth ears, though) and a head-up display with a 70% larger viewing area. Plus the inevitable active chassis upgrades – including variable adaptive damping, anti-roll stabilisation and four wheel steering.
What’s the new 5-series like to drive?
Alanis Morissette’s got nothing on BMW. At the launch for the primary product of a brand so heavily associated with rear-wheel drive, the only rear-wheel drive model available to drive – the 540i – isn’t actually going to be available with rear-wheel drive in the UK.
Yep, the right-hand drive 540i is xDrive only. It’s also going to account for just a tiny fraction of UK sales, so is largely irrelevant. Still, you’d expect a 335bhp 3.0-litre straight-six turbo with 332lb ft targeting its rear tyres to be more entertaining than a four-wheel drive, 261bhp diesel, right? So we had a go anyway.
It’s very good. Every launch car was equipped with adaptive variable-rate dampers and Integral Active Steering (the four-wheel steer system), and so specced the 540i will cover ground with startling alacrity – 0-62mph takes just 4.8sec, and the combo of a standard-fit eight-speed auto and a torque graph that flatlines its maximum 1380-5200rpm means you’re never left waiting for additional urgency for long.
But it’s also strangely undramatic. All that turbo means the engine doesn’t sound – or feel – very exciting, and the chassis is so fantastically well-sorted that corners disappear in a blur that your heartrate hardly registers. We actually found it more entertaining with the suspension set to Comfort (due to the additional body movement…) yet more cossetting in Sport (for the opposite reason); either way, the optional 19-inch rims challenge the damping just enough to ruffle the 540i’s otherwise enduring air of calm.
What about the 530d, then?
The 530d, on the other hand, appears to be an utter tour de force. Three litres of six-cylinder diesel may not match the petrol’s headline power, but it produces 457lb ft – and sounds better inside. Stamp your foot, and it’s like being smacked up the backside by a velvety baseball bat, impact underpinned by the sensationally effective xDrive system.
Even with four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and enough rain to make Noah nervous, at no point did we detect torque being shuffled or suddenly alterations of the steering angle. The software calibration is just magnificent in this respect, delivering massive traction, scythe-sharp cornering and somehow a bigger grin than the 540i can muster. And although the steering isn’t especially feelsome, there’s no dead spot or nervousness around the centre at all, and the way it loads up as you dig into a turn builds huge confidence.
Then there’s the ride quality. On 18-inch wheels, the adaptive dampers (Dynamic Damper Control in BMW parlance) soak up bumps in a manner that almost beggars belief. We found ourselves aiming at potholes and sunken drain covers and giggling every single time, as the car absorbed the impact with barely a shudder or ripple – Comfort or Sport, it hardly matters.
Apparently, while the overall structure of the new 5 isn’t much stiffer than the old 5, the critical load paths that help isolate the suspension have been significantly strengthened. You can tell. The 530d’s chassis makes the equivalent Mercedes E-Class feel like it’s made out of tin.
How’s the interior?
It’s very ‘BMW evolved’ inside – so perhaps doesn’t quite have the wow factor of the Merc’s dramatic curves. But the shift to a free-standing display screen has done wonders to increase the sense of spaciousness and, with the exception of some slightly cheap feeling twisty knobs, the quality and detailing are outstanding. Parts of the trim are laser-scanned so that abutting areas can be specifically cut to match their exact profile. On every individual car. For instance.
All of the tech works, too. Gesture control reacts faster and more consistently than it does in the 7-series, iDrive has been tweaked for (optional) touchscreen-friendliness, and the bigger HUD supplies an extended amount of useful information, including the up-coming speed limit in addition to the current one. The massaging seats really mean it.
Driving Assistant Plus adds the ability to change lanes using only the indicator, amongst other moderate self-driving tricks. Honestly, though, the 5-series is so satisfying and fuss-free to batter along motorways that we can’t imagine many owners will bother. You could smash continents in this thing and get out at the other end ready to negotiate the end of days with Putin. It is super stable, super comfy.
Verdict: buy the 530d xDrive
We don’t get to try the real big seller of the 5-series range – the 520d – until February.
But if you’ve got the cash, go straight for the 530d xDrive. It feels lithe and insistently eager, with thumping heavyweight punch. Yet it’s so smooth and so supple from a ride quality perspective it out-luxes the 7-series, while the traction and power-deployment gives you that escape-the-apocalypse confidence of a really good SUV – without the bodyroll. A superiority complex with a key and a starter button.