The BMW 5 Series, probably more so than its closest peers, is as much an institution as it is a mid-size luxury car. Over the years, people have come to expect both a very capable executive saloon as well as something of a sports car (because having one of each is often impractical on many levels) - an object of play and prestige.
Those ‘closest peers’, of course, meaning the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6, are locked with the Bimmer in a near constant tussle to outdo each other on their various perceived strengths. The 5 Series has grown to be more luxurious and effortless to drive while the E-Class and Audi have tried to inject some sporting flair, each endeavour amounting to mixed results depending who you ask.
With all three of those big names in the game inching closer and closer to their respective manufacturer’s interpretation of an ideal all-rounder, does BMW’s latest effort - their second-best selling car - move the game forward in terms of pure opulence and technology while maintaining verve it’s so known for behind the wheel?
That is, in addition to all the other attributes expected of an all-new model, such as whether it’s now more spacious, more efficient, more refined, better looking, and/or a little less expensive? A tall order by measure, and one BMW is expected to hear again with the subsequent arrival of an all-new 3 Series compact executive saloon, a car predicated by the decisions made here.
“Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.” - CarsGuide
This is perhaps where the 5 Series takes the most amounts of flak from both critics and the general population. The decision to take an evolutionary step in the car’s outside aesthetic was most definitely deliberate and does play into the idea that BMW thinks they have carved out enough of a brand identity with the previous F10-generation 5er that deviating too much would be mean starting from scratch, more or less.
Still, once one takes the time to examine the new car on its own merits, there’s plenty to like about how it looks. It’s still handsome, owning to its predecessor, but now wears a more refined skin that may or may not resonate with everyone.
That outer layer hides the car’s much more advanced ‘Cluster Architecture’ that first debuted in the 7 Series, minus the costly carbon fibre blend core structure. Still, it does result in reduced weight and a more rigid skeleton overall, but also much better infrastructural support autonomous driving systems and a closely integrated electrification component for hybrid powertrains.
Once this connection is kept in mind, there are suddenly many visual parallels observable between the 5 Series and BMW’s most recent luxury limousine.
Engine and Drivetrain
“Combine the muffled serenity with the transmission’s supremely well-oiled and adroit gearshifts and it’ll be a miserly critic indeed who doesn’t accept that the 520d has now moved an additional step closer to the 530d’s exalted standard.” - Autocar
BMW’s familiar line-up of engines return to power the 5 Series, with the usual spread of petrol and diesel motors - all turbocharged - that range from 2.0-litres to 3.0-litres and use either four or six cylinders.
Over the past several years, the automaker has subtly updated these engines to be quieter, more efficient, and more refined, with particular praise deserved for the diesels. These range from the base 520i’s 2.0-litre motor with 135kW which, depending on boost levels and tune, can run up to 195kW in the 530i.
While these smaller engines offer a good balance of power and frugality, the larger straight-sixes are worth looking into for a more authentic BMW experience. Purists will insist on the petrol found only in the 540i (which is the quickest to 100km/h at 5.1 seconds), but honestly the 530d’s overall ability and mammoth 620Nm is enough to acquit it, especially when considering the surprising smoothness and lack of thirst.
There’s also the 530e iPerformance which blends a 2.0-litre turbo-four petrol supplemented by an electric motor sandwiched in between the transmission and driveline to deliver a combined output 185kW while consuming as little as 2.3-litres/100km. For urban driving, it’s clearly the one to choose.
Gone are the stark, hard-surfaced cabins that seemed to define BMW just a few years ago. The new 5 is plush, particularly in the upper-spec models that feature Nappa leather and Comfort seats straight from the 7 Series. - Motoring
With an all-new platform to work with, BMW has put substantial effort to maximise interior space for the new 5 Series and this is also where the relationship between it and the flagship 7 Series becomes most apparent.
The cabin feels noticeably more spacious when first stepping in. And after admiring the level of build quality and finely selected materials that make up the various bits of trim and how they integrate to both cocoon the driver and provide passengers with an airy feel, you notice how much headroom and legroom there is, particularly to those sitting in the rear. There’s ample space for even the tallest of occupants to the point of us wondering why one would need the larger 7 Series when 5er provides nearly limousine-level rear real estate.
Up front, the general layout should be very familiar to anyone who’s sat in a BMW from the past half decade, but here again we see a deliberately iterative approach to design and ergonomics. Whether it looks as impressive or visually pleasing as the E-Class’ or A6’s dashboard is subjective, but functionally it serves its purpose as being more logically organised with a more minimal take on the physical buttons and switchgear.
Behind The Wheel
Turn into a corner and the BMW responds quickly to the light and accurate steering, while strong front-end grip allows you confidently lock onto your chosen line. This nimble nature means that before long you’ve forgotten about the 5 Series’ imposing dimensions and are throwing the car through bends with the sort of enthusiasm normally reserved for much smaller machines.” - AutoExpress
Thanks to lightness and a more efficient spread of weight injected into the new 5 Series as a core engineering objective, the new G30 does indeed feel commendably sharp upon turn-in, uncannily similar to the smaller 3 Series. However, once settled into that corner, the car’s real and unavoidable heft and scale becomes more apparent.
Despite this, we’d argue that the characteristic feel of the 5 Series remains intact and still is class-leading, though mostly because the new platform affords the car a lot more headroom for suspension travel, rebound, and disturbance that surface imperfections that would have effected the older car is mostly diminished here.
Of course, the lowered suspension that comes with the M Sport package and/or the larger wheel options do make a difference to the otherwise very refined ride (with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort), but the tradeoff is one that shouldn’t be outside unreasonable bounds.
Safety and Technology
“Being a high-end BMW, there are a million-and-one other options you can add if you like, including Night Vision with Person Recognition, a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround-sound system and a pair of rear 10-inch flat screens. Just buy a 7 Series…” - CarAdvice
Upon launch, the 5 Series very quickly got graded by Euro NCAP and emerged with a 5-star score. Similarly, ANCAP also scored the Australian-spec car with the full-star treatment after it took a 91% percent overall score for Adult Occupant protection and for its full complement of driver and passenger airbags as well as standard Autonomous Emergency Braking, lane support system, and adaptive cruise control.
BMW has built in a slew of semi-autonomous driving assist systems in the new 5 Series, even at the entry level, and while these mostly centre around active safety to make use of the various sensors and cameras that surround the car, some features such as surround view and head-up display do lend a palpable whiff of the future about them.
Naturally, every evaluation of a BMW’s technology features has to include the newest implementation of the iDrive vehicle information and entertainment suite. It’s now presented through a high resolution 10.25-inch wide touchscreen perched above the central climate control vents that is primarily interfaced through the rotary dial along the centre tunnel. It’s paired to the now-common Digital Driver’s display that, while not as technically impressive as the Audi Virtual Cockpit, serves its purpose well.
Navigation comes built-in, as it should, and sound is piped through a 12-speaker audio system that can be upgraded to a more premium Harman/Kardon or Bower & Wilkins setup depending on variant. There’s even pad to charge your phone wirelessly should the device support such a feature. Features like Apple Carplay, though, remain frustratingly as an optional extra.
In market that’s showed very clear, almost ominous signs, of a shift away from traditional saloons in favour of SUVs, the new 5 Series is something like a beacon for the argument that these kinds of cars are still very relevant and offer a highly convincing of dynamism, practicality, efficiency, and yes, luxury.
Other cars like the Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and along with the newer but venerable showings from the Volvo S90 and Jaguar XF show that the landscape may have altered, but the mainstays won’t give up their empire. On that throne, at least for now, is the new 5 Series.
The rigorous process in which BMW has hewn the G30 to become a more technologically impressive machine as well as one that’s lighter, more efficient, and dynamically sound is an engineering achievement. And in spite of its drive being minutely diluted in the pursuit of a creamier on-road demeanour, the 5 Series blend of strengths and compromises should leave the competition playing catch up for the duration of its reign.
Motoring.com.au - 75/100 - “…perfected is an appropriate term, for the new 5 Series is very much a standout in the Bavarian company’s line-up. Faster, more spacious, more luxurious and yet lighter and more economical, the new 5 Series model range delivers cutting-edge semi-autonomous driving, unprecedented levels of integration and connectivity and, above all, a proper BMW focus on driving dynamics and feel-good feedback.”
Autocar - 4/5- “…an aptly business-class rendition of the showier 7 Series, and BMW’s model of midway compromise starts to look very much like its maker’s current summit.”
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “Between this and the still-new E-Class, buyers segment have rarely had it better. If you want glitz and glam, go for the Mercedes. But for this reviewer, there’s something timeless, understated and effortlessly capable about the BMW. Choices, choices…”
CarsGuide - 7.9/10 - “Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.”
AutoExpress - 5/5 - “With more than forty years of development under its belt, the 5 Series just gets better and better. This latest model is a technical tour de force, plus it delivers class leading refinement and comfort. Yet like all BMW models, it’s surprisingly efficient and great to drive. We’ll have to wait until we get the car in the UK for our definitive verdict, but on this showing the executive car class has a new king.”
Edmunds - “A new exterior design, reduced weight and a nearly endless array of new technology features make this 5 Series a formidable competitor in the midsize luxury sedan class.”
Top Gear - 8/10 - “The new BMW 5 Series, which is like saying the new VW Golf or the new Mini. Even though it has almost all new parts, we all know exactly what it’s going to be: a fine-driving, well-built, refined luxury car, with an options list that crosses the whole dealer forecourt.”