Fleet innovator test: BMW 5 Series
Times are changing. And so is the BMW 5 Series: it is no longer the textbook example of a driver-involving premium E-segment saloon. Instead, it has become a compact 7 Series that pampers its occupants with smoothness, luxuriousness and connectivity. Is it best-in-class again? Probably. But are customers prepared to pay the price?
The previous generation of the BMW 5 Series was launched in 2010. Apart from being an aesthetic relief from its predecessor’s Bangle-instigated intermezzo, it struck a remarkable balance on almost every level. It was the epitome of individual executive transport, combining luxury with sportiness, performance with efficiency, functionality with design, standing with discretion.
The new generation, codenamed G30, looks like a crossbreed between the previous model and the new 7 Series. Not only design-wise, but also in the way it drives, how big it is and what it offers in terms of personalisation, safety, comfort-enhancing equipment and connectivity. Basically, BMW has slid the pointer towards the luxurious and cossetting end of the spectrum, moving further away from sporty dynamics.
Bigger, lighter, sleeker
The G30 is 36 mm longer, 6 mm wider and 2 mm taller than its predecessor, while its wheelbase has been stretched by 7 mm to offer more interior room. However, thanks to more lightweight materials such as aluminium and aluminium alloys, the seventh-generation BMW 5 Series weighs in at up to 100 kilograms less. 1,635 kg for the 520d with automatic transmission is indeed low, but the Jaguar XF remains the champion, with 1,595 kg for the 2.0D 180 hp with the same ZF8 transmission.
The intelligent lightweight construction also ensures a balanced weight distribution between front and rear axle as well as a lower centre of gravity, translating into a neutral driving behaviour. Remarkably, BMW succeeded in lowering the drag coefficient by 10 percent, partially thanks to active shutters behind the grille. A Cd of 0.22 is no less than thoroughly impressive and unprecedented in this market segment.
The power of efficiency
We picked up a 520d with Luxury Line and Business Package. In this configuration, the famous four-cylinder diesel unit delivers 190 hp and, more importantly, 400 Nm of torque at 1,750 Nm. If you mate that to a self-learning eight-speed automatic with different programs, you get a mighty fine driving machine that responds just the way you want it to. And very quietly at that – next to performance, BMW’s engineers seemed to have focused on a smooth operation.
Even though we did not refrain from the occasional pedal to the metal fun, our test vehicle averaged 6.7 l/100 km. If you set the cruise control to 130 km/h, you can easily push the fuel consumption gauge below 5.5 litres – thank you aerodynamics, thank you contained weight. According to the NEDC figures, the standard 520d consumes 4.1 l/100, equalling 108 g CO2/km (still NEDC). The 520d EfficientDynamics Edition dives just under the 4-litre mark, resulting in 102 g CO2/km – indeed, the lowest value in its segment.
More comfort, less involvement
If you would take a seat in this new BMW blindfolded and start driving – something you (almost) actually could if the car is equipped with the full suite of driver assistance systems, I am sure you would not identify it as the new 5 Series. I bet your first guess would be Mercedes-Benz E-Class. First, there is the incredible silence: wind, tyre and engine noise is impressively smothered. Then there is the efficient absorption of irregularities in the road. And finally, there’s the way it corners. It does not feel as sharp as before. The steering wheel communicates less with the driver than it used to – unless you put the Drive Mode switch to Sport.
Indeed, the emphasis of the G30’s chassis lies on smoothness and comfort, with driver feedback losing priority. That is not an issue per se, just an observation. Discerning customers can always opt for the Dynamic Damping Control, offering different suspension, steering and engine response configurations, and which can be combined with active roll stabilisation. Alternatively, there is the optional Integral Active Steering to increase agility by letting the rear wheels rotate over a few degrees while the car is turning, increasing stability at higher speeds and manoeuvrability when you are driving slow.
Safety systems galore
Apart from the usual suspects, the standard safety equipment list of the 5 Series includes LED headlights, attention assist, and active emergency braking at low speeds (AEB City) with detection of pedestrians. If one of the latter kind comes into contact with the car nonetheless, the bonnet pops up to absorb the impact. The recommendable (optional) Driving Assistant Package adds lane departure and lane change warning, rear cross traffic alert and speed limit info.
The Driving Assistant Plus Package expands the former with an active cruise control with stop&go function (traffic jam assist), and with lane keep assist, making the 5 Series semi-autonomous. Also included in the package is a lane change assistant, offering steering assistance when changing lanes on motorways, and even evasion aid, which helps you avoid an obstacle in an emergency.
Connectivity and infotainment
It has taken a while, but finally, every 5 Series comes with a sat nav system, i.e. the basic unit called ‘Business’. However, most customers will probably opt for the Professional system because it opens up the gateway to many extra services and features. Apple CarPlay is available (if you pay for it), and so is a WiFi hotspot for up to 10 devices. An industry first is the integration of Office 365, allowing you to check e-mails, appointments and contact details while on the move.
Equally unique is the fact that the infotainment unit can be operated either by finger (rotary commander, writing pad, touch screen, steering wheel buttons), voice or even hand gesture (optional). And it is online, too, giving you realtime information on weather, traffic, fuel prices, current affairs, et cetera. A cool feature is that you can enter the name of your destination and then ‘Google-search’ it. This multitude of functions comes at a price, though: it takes a few hours before you can navigate blind through the system’s menu structure.
The bottom line
The new 5 Series is a technological innovator and deserves kudos for that. It is packed with intelligent technology that makes it a safer, more connected, more comfortable and efficient vehicle. It outdoes the competition on most every level, including the financial one, unfortunately. That used to be the prerogative of a certain model carrying a star on its nose. If you think the list price of this Bavarian mini-7 Series is steep, wait until you dive into the optional equipment catalogue.
Residual values are strong, though, and from a TCO point of view, the financial gap between Beemer and competition is less pronounced, partially because of the 3-year unlimited mileage warranty. From a user-chooser point of view, chances are you can get a better equipped A6, XF and S90 for the same rate as a 5 Series with the fleet essentials. But even that will not keep flocks of them from preferring the Five over its rivals.
General comfort level (seats, insulation, suspension)
Class-leading connectivity & infotainment
Less driver-involving, flattened-out sensations
More expensive than competition
Somewhat complex infotainment structure
Audi A6, Jaguar XF, Mercedes E-Class, Volvo S90
Most interesting fleet version (EU5)
BMW 520d EfficientDynamics Business Edition with Driving Assistance Pack