► Premium exec revisited for 2020
► Diesel and V8 petrol tested
► Tell the E-Class to get its coat…
The 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.
Mild tweaks in 2020 brought in some cosmetic changes - spot the new lights, bumpers and slightly reshaped kidney grilles - with prices starting at £39,270.
Give me data
Okay. This generation 5 Series started out on 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, 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. Those who've winced at the face of the latest 4 Series will be glad this exec saloon hasn't immediately followed suit as part of its update. It still remains a large car in it's class and while that bodywork can still look a bit bulky, it's much better in the metal than the pictures - best sampled in lighter metallic shades that show off the surfacing.
The roofline 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.
The engines are from BMW’s modular family, which means they’re not new for the G30, but 2020 sees the added fitment of mild hybrid tech to the entry-level 520i petrol and 530d xDrive diesel to make them a smidge more eco-friendly. Prior to this, it was only the fleet-friendly 520d that benefitted from this tech back in late-2019.
A few engines have come and gone since its 2017 launch, but now, we get the 520i and M550i xDrive petrols, along with 520d and 530d xDrive diesels, as well as 530e and 545e plug-in hybrids - the latter arriving at the end of the year with a 3.0-litre petrol i6.
What about standard equipment and tech?
Those kidney grilles contain more effective active aero shutters than the previous model, and LED headlights come as standard. 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 debuted 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 M550i like to drive?
Alanis Morissette’s got nothing on BMW. At the launch for the product of a brand so heavily associated with rear-wheel drive, the only rear-wheel drive model available to drive was the 520d.
The more powerful 530d and M550i is xDrive only. We suspect the latter is also going to account for just a tiny fraction of UK sales, but while it may be largely irrelevant, we still love it. You’d expect the N63 4.4-litre V8 turbo with 523bhp and 553lb ft targeting all four-wheel wheels to be more fun than a rear-wheel drive, 181bhp diesel, right? So we had a go anyway.
It’s very good, but it’s also strangely undramatic. All that turbo means performance is rather blunt and unrewarding to rev-out, but this M550i xDrive will cover ground with startling alacrity – 0-62mph takes just 3.8sec, and the combo of a standard-fit eight-speed auto and a beefy torque graph means you’re never left waiting for additional urgency for long.
The artificial V8 noise piped into the cabin adds a sense of theatre, too, and the chassis is so fantastically well-sorted that corners disappear in a blur that your heartrate hardly registers.
Equipped with adaptive M suspension, the ride is the most luxurious out of any 5er in the range, isolating you from bumps as you glide over them with just the ocassional ripple felt through the seats. We actually found it more entertaining with the suspension set to Comfort (due to the additional body movement…), and yet more cossetting in Sport (for the opposite reason, as it minimises the floating sensation); either way, the 20-inch rims challenge the damping just enough to ruffle the M550i’s otherwise enduring air of calm.
The all-singing, all-dancing M5 Competition still reigns champion, but if that's a bit too frantic, the M550i xDrive offers almost all the performance and encourages you to take the longer route from A-B, except with minimal g-force and maximum comfort. What's not to like?
Actually, we'll whisper it, but by the time we drove it in the afternoon, the trip computer was indicating an average of 11mpg...
What about the 530d xDrive, then?
The 530d xDrive, on the other hand, appears to be sweet spot. Three litres of six-cylinder diesel may not match the V8 petrol’s headline power, but it produces 479lb ft. Stamp your foot, and...you wonder if you're actually in an incorrectly-badged 525d. It's not actually slow, just the incredibly effective xDrive system neutralises the power delivery so well you have little sensation of acceleration at all.
Even with 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 a bigger grin than a near-1900kg saloon should muster. And although the steering isn’t especially feelsome and a little light, 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.
What ruins the experience is the ride quality. On 20-inch wheels and the optional adaptive dampers found on the M Sport Pro Pack, the 530d xDrive bobs over bumps in a manner that soon becomes annoying - regardless of what mode you're in. The passively-damped 520d on the same wheels wasn't perfect, but did a far better job at absorbing impacts with minimal shudder. If you choose this engine, maybe leave the Pro Pack option box unticked...
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 5 Series 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 or generous applications of ambient lighting. The digital cockpit screen and larger, updated infotainment screen with Apple Carplay brings it bang up to date, 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, even if you're still better off physically touching the relevant control itself, while the big 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, dream about the M550i
The 520d is still the sensible model that does everything well, but if you’ve got the cash, go for the 530d xDrive. It feels effortlessly eager, smooth and isn't guaranteed to cripple you financially in fuel costs.
If we're flush with cash, we'd go for the M550i xDrive. With that muscular V8 and supple ride quality 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. It's no poor relation to the M5 Competition, it just serves a different purpose. The kind of considered choice that gets you a knowing nod from those who identify the subtle badging.
The upcoming 545e plug-in hybrid will be an interesting combination too, mixing zero-emission electric town driving with long-distance six-cylinder petrol refinement on longer journeys.