- Published: Friday, 03 March 2017 00:32
Here’s the first Singapore review of the new BMW 5 Series you’ll read anywhere. You might want to put on sunglasses, because it’s glowing.
SINGAPORE — This may be a review the all-new BMW 5 Series, but the relevant number here is “7”. It’s the seventh generation model (codenamed G30) of a car that helped to define the idea of a sporty executive car, for one thing.
For another, it’s something of a baby 7 Series. That’s something we’re convinced of after driving the BMW 540i. Here’s why.
You're looking at a key, not a computer. Actually, both
What is the actual big deal about a new 5 Series?
Are you serious? It’s BMW’s second best-selling car worldwide (behind the 3 Series), and traditionally the best-seller here in Singapore. It’s a massive deal. Plus, the G30 makes significant progress over the last model.
It’s as if the development team really sat down and thought about what a 5 Series should be from the ground up. The result is stunning: it’s better to drive than the previous car, and so incredibly refined that it feels like a 7 Series with less room in the back.
But it looks so similar to the old one…
Does it? Perhaps in some pics, but when you see it in the flesh it’s a surprisingly coherent mix between the grandness of a 7 Series and the lissome form of a 3 Series. Its side profile is the best way to see how nicely its proportions work.
There’s a cigar-shaped silhouette that makes it look energetic, and the classic long bonnet/short tail shape that marks it out as a BMW with its rear wheels driven. But it’s the body’s construction, not its shape, that really matters.
What do you mean?
You can’t see it but all the body panels are made of aluminium, to save weight. Some ideas borrowed from the new 7 Series help, too. The engine is shrouded in insulation, for example, which kills noise at the source, and helped BMW save on installing heavy noise padding elsewhere. Keeps the engine warm for longer, which reduces fuel consumption, too.
Anyway, some versions of the new 5 are as much as 100kg lighter than before.
Let me guess: Carbon Core chassis?
Actually, no. Too expensive. People think the new 5 is built on the same platform as the 7 Series, but the two aren’t that closely related in terms of skeleton. Elsewhere, though, there are notable similarities.
The cabin architecture is the most obvious. Both cars have a big, freestanding touchscreen atop the dash — the dashboard itself slopes down low (like in the 7) to create a sense of airiness up front — and the button layout is similar, right down to the virtual touchscreen aircon controls.
The iDrive system is the very latest version, based on app tiles, and you can change the order of them like you can with an iPhone. To BMW’s credit, though, if you’ve played with the older systems, you’ll be able to operate this one seamlessly. It’s new without being unfamiliar.
But is there the same sense of gadget overkill?
Totally. The test car (a 540i, remember) came specced to the gills, so it included the gesture control system that lets you change radio stations, mute the sound system or alter the volume by moving your hand in the air. Utterly pointless, when you can do it without taking your hands off the wheel (by using either steering wheel buttons or your voice), but… maybe pointlessness is the point of true luxury?
Er, no. Luxury is about utter indulgence.
In that case the new 5 has you covered. The seats are super plush, of course, with wide, supportive cushions and supple upholstery, and there’s plenty of room in the back. You can’t stretch out like you can in a 7 Series, but you won’t feel cramped.
There’s also the same “wellness” approach taken by the 7, so the air-con pumps out negative ions (which kill bacteria and mould spores and breaks down harmful chemical compounds), and there’s a fragrance delivery system (which Mercedes came out with first). It sounds gimmicky but it actually seems to work. Driving the 540i always felt both restful and revitalising, somehow.
Nice of you to mention driving! This is a BMW, right? Does it go like one?
Boy, does it ever. If you have one of these you’ll look forward to climbing behind the wheel, every time. More so if you set the driving mode to “Sport” and the instruments switch to a devilish red.
In terms of force, the 540i’s engine is like a grenade, propelling the big BMW along with a kick that feels explosive. But in terms of manners, it’s like a ghost. This is easily the quietest 5 Series ever, but it has to be hushed as a Bentley inside, too.
As before, there’s an “Eco Pro” driving mode that helps to save fuel by taming the engine somewhat, but the 540i’s eager personality is such that I never wanted to engage it.
That would be like dating Kate Upton and having her wear a trench coat everywhere.
I see. I’m compelled to ask now: is it, er, bouncy on the move?
Not a bit. The 540i glides over tarmac in a supremely unruffled way that only a flying saucer could better. Mind you, the test car came with lower, stiffer M Sport suspension and 20-inch wheels, and still it feels like the BMW has fluffy pillows where tyres should be.
And the handling?
It’s better at high speed stuff than the old 5 Series, in that body movements are much better controlled, and it feels altogether more planted. And of course you can switch everything off and do the tail-slidey stuff if that’s your thing.
Stringing a section of fast corners together should be all but effortless for the keen driver, ultimately. But you’ll want more steering feedback, because the proceedings are a bit detached, going by how the 540i feels.
Still, it’s a mighty impressive car that combines refinement with athleticism like nothing else. The Adaptive driving mode (another feature from, you guessed it, the 7 Series) pretty much sums it up: it measures your throttle, brake and steering inputs to work out your current driving style, and can cleverly use satnav data to prime itself accordingly.
This thing is already thinking about your next move...
Approach a hairpin at high speed, for instance, and it can stiffen up the suspension before you actually turn in… Like the new 5 itself, it’s brilliant at anticipating your wants. But that brings us to an important caveat.
Which is, our test car was a 540i — the fastest, most powerful, best-equipped and priciest 5 Series on sale at the moment, at $355,800 with COE. Far more people will buy the $280,800 530i, which is slower (although not slow, since it gets to 100km/h in just 6.2 seconds) and presumably less feature packed, and save themselves a good 75 grand.
Still more people will choose the entry-level 520d, which is bound to be more basic, with a likely price tag of just over a quarter of a million dollars.
Those are just the ones in town at the moment, too. The plug-in petrol-electric 530e is due in a couple of months, and by the end of the year a 520i should appear, with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol under the bonnet.
So, how to choose?
Knowing BMW’s diesels (and having pitted a 320d against a more powerful 328i in the past), the 520d is quite likely to be a peach of a car, but the 530i could be a happy medium between it and this 540i.
If your name were Harry Kok you'd be feeling all warm and fuzzy now
Of course if money’s no object, there seems little chance that anyone would regret splurging on the 540i.
We’ll decide after driving the other models, but if you ask us the conundrum for anyone shopping in this category is likely to be a similar one to what’s being discussed here. The question is not whether to buy a 5 Series, in other words, but which 5 Series to buy.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 540i
Engine 2,998cc, 24V, in-line 6 turbo
Power 340hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1,380 to 5,200rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.2L/100km
Price $355,800 with COE (estimated)