Launched in 1972 as an executive saloon, the BMW 5-series has sold 7.9 million cars worldwide and is arguably the best executive car in terms of comfort, driving dynamics and quality. It is the marque’s second best-selling model after the 3-series and is available in other body styles such as the station wagon and the recently introduced lift-back. This seventh generation car, code named G30 and launched in February 2017, mimics the familial looks of its siblings the 7-series and the 3-series with the evolutionary fettlings of its predecessor, the F10.
Even with the new double crease lines on the shoulder, non-BMW aficionados might find it difficult to distinguish the new model from the old, having been conservatively designed by the duo of Karim Habib and Adrian Van Hooydonk, But the new car has greater improvements to areas the eye cannot see, notably the 100-kg weight saving achieved using aluminium, magnesium and steel in body construction and suspension components. These certainly improve handling and driving dynamics. In addition, the body has been shaped to achieve better aerodynamics through the use of the active air flap control kidney grille and air curtain at the front of the car and in the side vents, or “air breath channels” in BMW-speak, which help to dampen turbulent air around the wheels and smooth out air flow. This gives the car a superior drag coefficient of 0.22, which is considered to be the best in class for a saloon.
(See also: Behind The Wheel: Porsche Macan Turbo 2017)
Outside dimensions have grown slightly with increases in overall length, width and wheelbase providing more rear legroom for occupants. A larger boot area with a useful lower boot sill and expanded opening also makes life easier for owners. Currently the two models are imported fully built. Both boast improvement in power output, better acceleration, reduced CO2 emission and better fuel consumption. The 530i, which replaces the outgoing 528i, is clearly the more sporty machine and not only comes with M (for motorsport) body trimmings but also M suspension, M brakes and 19” wheels, and an extra 62 horsepower that was clearly evident when both cars were subjected to high speed runs with slalom and elk-test set-ups on a small airport runway in Khao Yai.
Not surprisingly, from a standing start the 520d seems to pause at the beginning of the timed slalom as the engine revs build up to 1,750 rpm before the twin-scroll turbo charger kicks in to release 400 newton metres of torque. At nearly five metres long this is a large car to be throwing around and even with the reduced unsprung weight of the brakes, wheels and tyres of the new model (and lacking the M suspension of the 530i), the 520d tends to roll somewhat with accompanying tyre screech. However, the steering, brakes and gears perform commendably. Surprisingly though, with the electronic stability control switched off I was able to achieve a better time.
Away from the airstrip, whether cruising along country roads or driving sedately in convoy, the 520d is a smooth operator— comfortable, quiet and cosseting with a supple suspension and low engine noise. Even on poorly surfaced roads the suspension copes well. The new car comes equipped with an all-electric steering set-up that feels super light and accurate, and such is the attention to detail and passenger comfort that BMW has installed sound absorbers in the headliner of the interior. BMW interior design has always emphasised functionality and quality materials. In the 5-series leather is everywhere, not only on the seats, headrests, armrests and steering wheel but also on the dashboard and in the door trims and central console. Seats are comfortable, beautifully upholstered in Dakota leather with double stitching and the dashboard is gentrified with quality polished wood, aluminium and shiny black inserts.
This luxury executive saloon comes fully equipped with plenty of toys, some of which you might never have needed before but will eventually take for granted. These include wireless telephone charging, soft close doors, six-colour ambient lighting and automatic boot opening. Other features—such as the gesture control, display key and automatic parking—might be considered gimmicky but are the precursors of tomorrow’s world of self driving cars and are sure to be appreciated by tech trendsetters.
Both models come with adaptive headlights that turn with the steering wheel and a high resolution 10.25” display screen for infotainment, navigation and telephone that can be accessed, depending on preference, with the circular iDrive controller on the central console, gesture control and voice command, or simply by touch. The large electronic key for the new car is a smart gadget that not only opens the doors and starts the engine but also displays the remaining fuel level and turns on the ventilation when parked in the hot sun. In addition, the 530i gets an M leather steering wheel with paddle gear shifts, Harman Kardon surround sound system, a sun roof and an automatic tailgate.
For those not adept at parallel or perpendicular parking, the automatic park assist programme previously only available in the 7-series may be useful. However, you will need to practise to get used to the system (unless you want to make a total fool of yourself in a crowded parking lot!) The programme uses ultrasonic sensors to detect distances between nearby objects and will manoeuvre the car with automatic adjustments while the driver simply keeps his or her finger pressed on the park assist button. Just make sure that there is room for doors to open wide enough for you to get out.
Personally I think it’s a shame that BMW hasn’t been more adventurous with the new design when it can create incredibly modern-looking concept cars for motor shows. Instead it has given us corporate clones of the 3- and 7-series when its biggest competitors in Stuttgart are consistently bringing out new looks for both the exteriors and interiors of their latest products. Having said that, I’m sure owners will appreciate the subtleties of this new 5-series as they get to know the car and its technology better. It is very much an under the radar all-rounder and eminently suitable for those executives who hanker after luxury, comfort, new technologies and enhanced driving pleasure.
For the latest updates on luxury cars, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.