Car reviews - BMW - 5 Series - range
Outstanding infotainment and safety technology, high-quality cabin, gorgeous six-cylinder engines, fabulous smooth-road handling
Room for improvement
Sub-par ride refinement on standard large wheels, some steering issues, 520d and 530i getting expensive, optional Apple CarPlay
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1 Mar 2017
SEDANS are just not fashionable anymore, that much we know.
But a BMW 5 Series has not been daring since the Chris Bangle-penned E60 generation polarised buyers when it launched in 2004. The following F10 generation was handsome, but safe and this new G30 shuffles styling so incrementally forward that only up close does it appear a new car.
Superficially the same it might be, but clever plays and ploys are happening behind the scenes.
Behind the double-kidney grille are active air shutters that open and close depending on how much CO2 the mostly new engines require at certain times. Air flows into the foglight recesses then out through the front guards’ gills and past the light, all-aluminium doors that also debut. All help deliver a superb 0.24 cD aero rating, while enhancing efficiency.
Weight falls by up to 95kg, so the 530i – the lightest model in the range – now tips the scales at 1540kg, or 11kg less than Australia’s most popular car of 20 years ago, the Holden VT Commodore. That is despite length of 4935mm being more like yesterday’s 7 Series, and no less than six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors being jammed up its gills and guts.
To say there is a lot of progressive technology going on behind the conservative façade is an understatement.
Prices rise with this new 5 Series as a result. The large BMW used to start just above $80K and now it kicks off at $93,900 plus on-road costs. That is a seemingly hefty price to pay for a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder 520d with 18-inch wheels and fixed suspension, and this configuration was not available to test at the media launch of the G30 generation in Adelaide, South Australia, this week.
Commendably, however, a large 10.25-inch touchscreen and colour head-up display are standard, and likewise full leather seats and leather-look dashboard inserts, plus every bit of safety kit on tap.
For the buyer not interested in maximum performance, a combined $12,200 in optional packages tagged Exclusive ($7200), Precision ($3400) and Innovations ($1600) can quickly deliver a properly indulgent 5 Series for under $110K.
Added are a colour display on the central locking key that can remote park the vehicle, 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension, Nappa leather, heated seats, electric tailgate, auto adaptive high-beam, the list goes on…The $108,900 530i – tipped to be the most popular model – was available to drive, and its 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine is starting to feel the strain for the price.
It is a terrific, smooth and sweet engine with significant straight-line performance, but there is no escaping that this same engine can be had in a lighter $69,900 BMW 330i. Perhaps the gap between them is now too large.
Or maybe the $11K jump to the 530d six-cylinder diesel is too narrow. Swapping into it after the 530i was illuminating, given the impeccable refinement it offers teamed with a deep and alluring soundtrack when revved, all of which bests the petrol four by some margin. The 195kW/620Nm 3.0-litre unit is virtually flawless, and fits the new 5 Series chassis perfectly.
Both the 530i and 530d boasted standard multi-mode suspension that includes Comfort, Sport and Adaptive modes, the latter of which uses cameras to ‘read’ the road and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, it does not work very well, either around town or on country roads. The 530i was slightly superior riding on taller profile 19s, compared with the 530d on 20s.
However, every 5 Series tested felt restless at low speeds, and would either bounce its nose over consecutive bumps or feel so tied down that the wheel rims could be felt jarring and jolting. BMW said it narrowed the gaps between Comfort and Sport so that the former is not as soft and the latter is not as hard, and that appears to be the case given that they all feel similarly unresolved.
It is especially disappointing given that this brand new BMW chassis otherwise delivers superb smooth-road handling. Not only using its rear-wheel drive configuration to maximise driver involvement, the latest 5 Series also feels light on its feet and delicately pivots its rear end around when braking into a tight corner.
That is especially enhanced by the flagship 540i with its active anti-roll bars unavailable on any other model grade. Although the $17K step up from the 530d appears excessive – particularly compared with 530i to 530d – this is an executive express with breathtaking performance and amazingly agile handling for such a large car.
The 540i’s steering provided the only gripe. Although we tested a pre-production model without the four-wheel steering and variable-ratio that will be standard, the active anti-roll system clearly contributed to a featherweight and horribly remote response throughout the wheel’s arc.
A similarly-priced Mercedes-AMG E43 and even Lexus GS F all deliver demonstrably greater steering response, if not ultimate handling involvement.
The steering in the 530i and 530d was improved, being nicely light and responsive in the first movements with a gradual load-up of weight as the turn continues, but when pressed into corners there is a shared vagueness that disappoints.
It is BMW that touts this model as the driver’s car in the segment, but beyond fabulous smooth-road dynamics it can feel overdone with driver-select modes yet underdone for overall finesse. The large wheels could be an issue, but then a half-the-price Holden Calais V’s 19-inch rims do not affect its markedly superior compliance and control.
Everything else about the 5 Series deserves a high five. No longer does its cabin feel barren at base level, and it is both roomy, tech-packed and plush.
The infotainment system and voice control is excellent, although Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity disappointingly remains optional. Nothing of the brilliant safety package does, though, and that extends from autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to lane-keep assistance (hands-free for up to 30 seconds) and teamed with active cruise control with speed limit recognition.
This is largely a better large sedan than before. Arguably, however, the latest 5 Series does not sharpen its suspension savvy enough compared with the vast amour of technology underneath its new body.
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