As benchmarks for the new BMW 5-series saloon go, the last-generation E60 530d takes some beating – fast, refined, dynamically capable, comfortable and incredibly durable. And, despite early controversy, its ‘flame surfaced’ body still looks fresh these days. It must be quite an intimidating act to follow, then, not only for its competitors, but also for its successor: the F10-generation BMW 530d saloon.
And the headlines for the new BMW 5-series saloon are…
The diesel six-pot gets 4.3% more bhp and 8% more torque, yet fuel consumption falls by 6.1% and emissions tumble by 9.1% - that’s a best-in-class 45.6mpg and 162g/km – two whole tax bands lower than rivals.
Be warned, though – that’s in part down to the optional eight-speed auto (previously seen on the 7-series and baby Rolls Ghost) we’re testing, and it’s £1605 extra with paddleshifters, £1495 without.
We previously criticised the old Five’s ride and stingy rear legroom, but a quick jump in the back confirms it’s now amply spacious, while adaptive dampers (£965 or a steep £2220 when combined with the adaptive anti-roll bars fitted to our test car) promise to smother imperfections.
Elsewhere there’s fully electric steering for the first time (saves 4g/km) and the option of active steering (speed-sensitive ratio tweaking and rear-wheel steering for £1300).
What are the key options?
As well as the auto (from £1495), the dampers (£965), and the active steering (£1300), there’s a head-up display (£940), rear seat entertainment (£2060), electric memory seats (£900) and the top-spec sat-nav costs £2045. Still, at least leather, Bluetooth, parking sensors and the Professional-spec radio are now standard and price rises average a little over £1k across the range.
How does the new Five drive?
Incredibly well. In the Comfort setting the optional dampers do indeed bring new levels of ride refinement to the Five, although the latest E-class is better again. We tested our car on the optional 18s (£665) and, wouldn’t you believe it, it just so happens that these are the actual size that BMW tailored the dampers for – because they’re a middleground between the standard 17s and big-boy 19s.
The electric steering might lack ultimate tactility, but its direct, precise and builds its weight with a progression often absent from similar systems.
The 3.0-litre TD powerplant is incredibly smooth and thumps you forward with instant dollops of torque – though it could be quieter at idle – while the eight-speed slusher (a conventional torque converter, not a dual-clutch ’box) makes for rapid, smooth shifts and silky low-speed manoeuvring. Despite the plethora of ratios, it never seems to hunt for a gear, so you never feel the urge to select manual mode, even on really challenging roads.
It’s more mature than before and certainly favours a smudge of understeer to a wag of oversteer, but it’s still a fun and rewarding car to drive hard over a twisty road.
What about the optional active steering?
Last time it was simply a variably geared steering rack and we advised against it. This time it adds rear-wheel steering to the mix too and, while it’s much better, we’d still leave that box unchecked. The rear-wheel steering does work brilliantly on demanding roads, yet the rack feels too slow when charging hard over the same surfaces, no doubt because it equated the speed with motorway driving and so morphed to a longer ratio that would suit high-speed straight line stability. Great for hairpins, great for autobahn blasting, but still not so great for the important bit in between.
All in it’s a triumph for the new 5-series – great drivetrain, excellent build quality, much-needed extra rear legroom and a much more polished ride. We would, however, be intrigued to sample a car riding on fixed dampers with 19s – many last-gen cars opted for this set-up and rode terribly as a result.
But an eight-speed auto 530d on 18s with adaptive dampers? Yes please.
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