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First drive: BMW raises 5 Series bar

Power of Five: Volume-selling 530i is the first 5 Series model to arrive Down Under.

BMW pulls off the impossible by producing an improved new 5 Series

7 Oct 2003

REPLACING one of the finest large sedans the world has ever seen was never going to be easy. But it’s a task BMW appears to have passed with flying colours by producing the 2004 5 Series, which was launched here last week as a worthy successor for the venerable E39.

On sale in Australia now – at least in volume selling 530i form, priced at $103,400 – the all-new E60 5 Series line-up will be book-ended first by the entry level 525i ($87,400) in November and then the V8-powered 545i in March, priced at $149,900.

The new 5 Series sedan range will be completed by flagship M5 in the final quarter of next year, around the same time a new 5 Series Touring is expected to go on sale here.

Produced at a total development cost believed to be around $1.2 billion, the fifth generation Five has big shoes to fill and follows the first (E12) 5 Series of 1972 and the subsequent E28 and E34 models. Some 1.45 million E39s were sold, including 12,000 in Australia since 1996, and demand for the biggest selling Five has never slackened, even this year during runout.

Featuring new technology such as world-first active steering, plus a host of new equipment that’s filtered down from BMW’s flagship 7 Series, the new Five incorporates styling elements from both BMW’s new Z4 at one end of the range and 7 Series at the other.

Sharp new wrap-around headlights with ringed parking lights dominate the front-end, while a coupe-like roofline, rising sill line and distinct shoulder crease straddle short overhangs at both ends. And then there’s the taxi-style bootlid that’s borrowed and toned down from the controversial 7 Series.

Inside, there’s a dashboard with 7 Series styling cues, dominated by a “double wave” woodgrain insert that splits the dark, textured upper section from the lighter coloured lower dash that matches the rest of the interior.

Woodgrain trim also adorns the gearshift gate and doors, while Z4 cues include stylised door trims with oversized handles, and the exterior features proper door handles but no side rub strips.

Overall, E60 is larger in all dimensions than both E39 and its direct rival, the Mercedes-Benz E-class launched here last year. Riding on a wheelbase that’s 58mm longer than before and 34mm longer than E-class, E60 is claimed to be 66mm longer than E39 and 23mm longer than E-class, 47mm wider than E39 and 24mm wider than E-class, and 30mm higher than E39 and 17mm higher than E-class.

Interior space has also increased in most directions, most notably in rear legroom, which is up by 46mm, while boot space is up 60 litres to 520 litres – or big enough for BMW to claim it accommodates four golf bags.

More importantly, thanks to the continued use of aluminium suspension components and the addition of an aluminium chassis structure ahead of the A-pillar, 5 Series’ kerb weight has dropped by 70kg, and BMW says the 530i is 65kg lighter than the equivalent E320 Mercedes.

The new chassis configuration also results in slightly improved weight distribution, with the E60 now claiming a perfect 50/50 front/rear split. The new Five also claims a maximum five-star European crash rating.

Active steering will be standard in all Australian 5 Series model - unlike in other markets, most of which include it within an optional sports pack.

Featuring an additional electric servo motor at the bottom of the otherwise conventional rack and pinion steering system, BMW’s new speed-sensitive Active Steering system varies its ratio from just 1.7 turns lock to lock at parking speeds to a more conventional three turns at high speeds.

A convenience boon in both low-speed traffic environments and an added safety feature in low-grip situations, the variable-ratio component operates in conjunction with ABS sensors, a steering angle sensor and a second yaw sensor separate to the Dynamic Stability Control III system’s.


The claims don’t end there, however, with BMW announcing all 5 Series models will return lower fuel consumption than their corresponding E-class rivals

Joining Z4’s purely electric steering and Mini’s electro-hydraulic system, Active Steering is BMW’s third steering system and has the ability to add or subtract steering angle, with a maximum of 15 degrees’ correction possible in the most dire of circumstances.

Produced by a partnership between ZF and Bosch, the Australian arm of which produced the crucial sensor, Active Steering is seamless in operation and retains a mechanical link to provide both direct feel and failsafe functioning. The Servotronic aspect comprises traditional speed-sensitive variable power assistance.

One of the few stones left unturned by BMW, six-cylinder engines are carried over from the previous 5 Series. Despite this, BMW claims considerable performance and fuel economy gains over rival E-class variants.

The 525i, which is expected to comprise 30 per cent of E60 sales volumes, features a 2.5-litre inline six-cylinder offering 141kW (up 11kw on E240) at 6000rpm and 245Nm of torque (up 5Nm on E240) at 3500rpm. BMW claims a 0.2-second advantage in 0-100km/h acceleration, with 525i completing the dash in 8.7 seconds. The 525i has a top speed of 230km/h.

Meantime, the 530i, which it is hoped will attract 60 per cent of all sales, packs BMW’s convincing bi-VANOS 3.0-litre inline six, meaning 170kW (or 5kW more than E320) at 5900rpm and 300Nm of torque (15Nm less than E320) at 3500rpm. It’s said to be good for 7.1 second 0-100km/h acceleration, while E320 claims 7.7. The 530i has a top speed of 242km/h.

Finally, comprising just 10 per cent of projected E60 sales in the 545i, which features a Valvetronic-equipped 4.4-litre V8 from the 7 Series to produce 245kW (20kW more than E500) at 6100rpm and 450Nm of torque (10Nm less than E500) at 3600rpm. Weighing slightly less at 1710kg, 545i is claimed to dash to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, 0.7 seconds better than E500.

The claims don’t end there, however, with BMW announcing all 5 Series models will return lower fuel consumption than their corresponding E-class rivals, in addition to improved acceleration figures. The 545i, for example, is claimed to consume an average of 15.8 litres per 100km versus 16.9 for E500.

All models will feature the three-mode six-speed sequential automatic transmission as first seen in 7 Series and later by Jaguar S-Type, XK and XJ models. A modified version of the same ZF gearbox, with integrated transfer case, is also used beneath Audi’s new A8.

In terms of specification, all E60 5 Series vehicles come well equipped, with the standard kit including Servotronic Active Steering, a modified version of iDrive, tyre pressure monitor, a total of 10 airbags, full Dakota leather upholstery, woodgrian trim, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, front armrest, multi-function/power-adjustable steering wheel, six-CD sound system, power windows/mirrors, remote central locking, alloy wheels, fog lights, rain sensing wipers, cruise control, trip computer and a 6.5-inch monitor.

In addition, 530i gets Park Distance Control, larger 17-inch alloys, driver’s seat memory and anti-dazzle interior and (heated) exterior mirrors.

The interim flagship 545i adds different 17-inch wheels, active head restraints, alarm system with remote control, electric rear sunblind, telephone, 10-speaker sound, bi-Xenon headlights with washers, electric glass sunroof, Comfort seats (or no-cost Sport seats) with adjustable lumbar and an adaptive headlight system similar to that of Porsche and Mercedes.

Of course, all of these extras are available as options in 525i and 530i, but a host of other options are also available, including the 7 Series-based Dynamic Drive system, which for $4950 reduces bodyroll by active adjustment of anti-roll bars.

Other options include Sports suspension ($1020), Active Cruise Control ($4500), metallic paint ($1700), sunroof ($3300, standard on 545i), through-loading system ($1100) and Comfort seats ($3100 on 530i, $5410 on 525i). BMW says its run-flat tyres cost $640 each, around $100 more than conventional tyres.

There’s also a Head-Up Display system, which will be available from mid-2004 at around $3000 and projects a virtual 6x3-inch colour image showing selectable sat-nav, trip, warning and active cruise control functions.

BMW has reduced by $2500 the pricing it announced back in July following mapping problems with its satellite navigation system, which will now not be available on 5 Series until the first quarter of next year.

Developed by Siemens and incorporating a TV at an optional cost of $6500, the system will be retro-fitted at a reduced cost for customers who desire it, but a planned low-cost system will now not be available.

Either way, BMW claims price advantages over E-class, with the 525i sticker price four per cent below that of the E240 Classic, 530i 17 per cent below E320 Elegance and 545i three per cent under E500 Elegance. According to BMW Group Australia, E60 represents even greater savings when pricing is specification-adjusted.

As usual, BMW says it will have restricted supply of the new 5 Series and predicts 1800 annual sales in 2004. That figure falls well short of the best E39 sales year of 2100, a result BMW says it could match if it had unrestricted supplies. However, it also admits the large luxury car segment is more competitive than ever.

E60 5 SERIES PRICING:
530i $103,400 – October
525i $87,400 – November
545i $149,900 – March

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

REPUTATIONS like that of the E39 5 Series aren’t easily earned. Here is a car that can transport five full-size executives in comfort, with all the creature comforts of a mobile office, yet has an uncanny ability to reward its driver on a twisting country road like few others its size.

The E39’s combination of rock-solid structural engineering, brilliantly responsive and communicative steering and an agility that belies its sheer size and bulk has made it the executive sedan of choice for those with a sporting bent for most of the past decade.

Indeed, few cars can lay claim to winning as many automotive contests as the previous Five, which maintained its winning streak in magazine comparos around the globe right up until it was replaced. Some even suggested the E39 would become a classic, never to be improved upon.

But BMW has managed to produce a 5 Series replacement that is not only a worthy successor to the iconic E39, but one that introduces a couple of new dimensions to what was already a highly accomplished large luxury sedan.

Not quite as polarising as the 7 Series, the E60 nonetheless lobs with front-end styling that most describe as sharp and aggressive, let down somewhat by a 7 Series-style bootlid that lacks cohesion with the rest of the coupe-like silhouette.

Inside are more 7 Series cues, like the “double wave” dashboard that features a few more controls than the spartan looking Seven. Clever use of quality materials give the new Five a cosseting, classy feel that’s sportier than E-class but perhaps not quite so upmarket.

The complex, Z4-style door trims herald a victory for form over function, with their protruding handles and contours contacting firmly with one’s knee and a providing very little real compartment space.

The addition of stability control, parking sensor system and climate control buttons to the 7 Series-based dash adds convenience, while the modified iDrive command system has been further simplified by an adjacent menu button and a reduction in the number of menu choices from eight to four. But adjusting the ventilation or audio systems is still too complex.


The new 5 Series bodyshell feels as stiff as before, if not stiffer, and the lighter front-end is evident in the feeling of even better balance, poise and agility

Although the simple white-on-black instruments and lack of superfluous controls and gauges is in stark contrast with the multi-button interiors offered by, say, Audi, neat touches like the graphic parking sensor display and one-touch indicator (first seen in C-class, then A4 and 7 Series) add real convenience.

A lack of interior storage space in general is evident, with the small but lockable glovebox and under-armrest box filled by satellite navigation and telephone equipment respectively.

But the extra interior space is noticeable, with an abundance of stretching room now on offer in all directions, both front and back. The extra rear legroom is perhaps most apparent, though this comes in large part from the new and deeply sculpted front seatbacks.

Compounding the lack of interior space, BMW charges extra for a ski-port through-loading system, and a split-folding rear seat remains unavailable on 5 Series. Nor is there a full-size spare wheel.

The new, larger boot, however, is even more cavernous than before and continues with its classy touches like a fully flat and carpeted floor, concealed hinges and plenty of lighting and tied-down points. But the bootlid doesn’t extend fully open by itself.

Once on the road, however, these minor shortcomings pale beside the E60’s involving dynamics. As promised by a solid door thunk, the new 5 Series bodyshell feels as stiff as before, if not stiffer, and the lighter front-end is evident in the feeling of even better balance, poise and agility.

Noise suppression within the cabin is commendable but perhaps not quite up to E-class levels and, similarly, ride quality is typical BMW with suspension settings geared more for sport than comfort. In short, while handling response appears to have been the main priority during suspension development, ride quality is far from average.

Indeed, the 5 Series’ formidable combination of active steering and suspension is a hard act to follow. While the clever new steering system rotates seamlessly from a super-light and super-quick ratio at steering speeds, it quickly loads up its weighting and reduces its ratio at speed.

The result is that tight, three-point turns at carpark speeds are a doddle, yet as speeds rise response becomes brilliantly direct, offering supercar levels of turn-in response and on-centre stability. All the while, the E60 tiller remains communicative, transmitting every camber change and every pebble but filtering out any hint of steering kick or rack rattle at the limit.

The best part about active steering is that it’s so linear and intuitive that you never know it’s there. In combination with the optional Dynamic Drive, which makes bodyroll practically redundant in even the wildest cornering manoeuvre by adjusting anti-roll bars on the fly, we can’t think of another car this size that’s anywhere near as involving.

If the E39’s steering was hard to fault, active steering brings the E60 version’s even closer to perfection, and combined with Dynamic Drive in a stiffer, better balanced chassis, 5 Series raises the bar again.

Proving just how much chassis grip the new Five generates, our 530i (with standard Bridegstone Potenza RE050 225/50 R17 tyres) appeared to have plenty in reserve as we maintained pace with an E39 M5 that had quite clearly reached the edge of its adhesion envelope over a number of fast sweepers on the launch.

While its dynamics are hard to fault, the latest Bosch 8.0 stability control system did reveal a reluctance to switch totally off, something many manufacturers are becoming increasingly guilty of but a trait never before seen in a BMW.

Word is that DSCIII will no longer shut down entirely even if the control button is pushed and held down, with the system defaulting to a state that maintains DTC (traction control), which allows wheelspin but only a small degree of oversteer. Combined with the requirement to depress the brake while starting, we worry that BMW has begun engineering its cars more for the lowest common denominator than for sheer driving pleasure.

One could also bemoan the lack of any new six-cylinder engine technology or the fitment of more 7 Series technology like its electronic park brake. But the new six-speed auto extracts even more greatness from BMW’s willing 3.0-litre six and, DSC override aside, the Five remains true to the formula that built its reputation: a versatile package with solid engineering and best-in-class dynamics.

We can’t wait to drive the 545i V8, and then there’s the ballistic V10 M5 to come. A blistering response to those who said BMW had lost its way by producing too many models, the new Five is more focussed than ever.


800000”>BMW PRODUCT ROLLS ON

THE BMW product offensive that began with new Z4 and 5 Series models this year looks set to continue well into 2004.

First up in January is a facelifted X5 featuring more powerful turbo-disesel and Valvetronic V8 engines, a six-speed ZF auto, new xDrive all-wheel drivetrain and X3-style design cues.

An updated 7 Series, featuring upgraded specification but no sheetmetal changes, is also due to appear in the first quarter of 2004.

But the loudest fanfare will be reserved for the all-new 6 Series, which will go on sale here simultaneously in coupe and convertible guise by late March.

BMW already holds a sizeable order bank for the XK and SL rival, and its allocation of between 120 and 180 units is expected to be sold prior to arrival. Only the $200,000-plus 645i will be imported, in both automatic and SMG form.

Next on BMW’s 2004 agenda is X3, which will go on sale here in July at a higher than expected starting price of around $65,000. Top-end models are expected to overlap entry level X5 models, and BMW also holds strong expressions of interest for the compact off-roader.

Finally, BMW Group Australia will begin sales of its smallest sedan ever, the 1 Series, by around October – the same time the 5 Series Touring and V10-powered M5 range-topper are due on sale.

While the current 5 Series Touring will continue on sale until mid-2004, the next M5 will herald the use of SMG for the first time in 5 Series Down Under, replacing the current car’s manual transmission.

BMW Group Australia boss Dr Franz Sauter confirmed 5 Series would be the first BMW sedan to feature diesel technology, following its successful introduction in the X5.

He said Australian sales of a 5 Series diesel were dependent not on technical issues but marketing concerns and that a 530d oil-burner would not be positioned as a price leader.

“You could imagine that at some stage you will see it (diesel) in 5 Series, but it’s not around the corner,” he said.

Mr Sauter denied knowledge of a “V Series” people-mover reported by some media recently, saying such a model would be “highly unlikely” given BMW’s sporting brand image.

WHAT’S COMING FROM BMW IN 2004:
X5 facelift - January
7 Series update - February
6 Series coupe - March
6 Series convertible - March
X3 range - July
5 Series Touring (E60)- October
M5 (E60) - November
1 Series - December3 Series sedan redesign - 2005
4 Series coupe/convertible - 2006

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