WITHIN FIVE MINUTES OF getting behind its wheel, the new BMW 5-series Is driving itself. This has the simultaneous effect of being impressive to the point of slack-jawed bewilderment and also crushingly depressing. Soon cars will no longer need us; people, like you and me, will be superfluous. The new seventh-generation 5-series, coded G30, has enough driver-assistance technology to be just a few steps away from fully autonomous driving. It’ll brake when required, steer through curves on the motorway, and execute a perfect lane-change manoeuvre If so commanded. It’s hardly the most promising prospect from anew perspective, for while the 540i’s turbocharged 3-litre straight-six fires up with its familiar cold-start theatrics, the drama is fleeting, and this new 5-series, bigger in all directions than the previous model, is more distant to the driver than ever before.
That’s another way of saying it’s superbly refined, because it sets new standards in this regard, but when the project manager of driving dynamics, Albert ‘Mike’ Maier, claims ‘We’ve returned to the driving pleasure of the old 5-series cars,’ expectations are Inevitably high. The G30 may be bigger outside and more spacious inside, but it’s usefully lighter than the outgoing F10 model by as much as 100kg, and this without using a 7-series-style ‘carbon core’. Instead, it’s a case of intelligent materials useage, with an aluminium bootlid, a magnesium dashboard frame and weight-saving measures almost everywhere.
This new ‘L7’ platform once again uses double wishbones on the front axle and a multi-link rear, with various suspension options: regular SE models have a passive setup, M Sport models the same but firmer and with a 10mm ride-height drop, and all 5s can be ordered with DDC variable dampers. The Adaptive Drive option combines DDC and Active Roll Stabilisation, with the adjustable anti-roll bars now operated via electric motors, not hydraulically. Finally, there is Integral Active Steering, also optional, which adjusts the toe angle of the rear wheels by up to three degrees depending on almost limitless parameters.
Old habits die hard, so it’s the keys to the aforementioned 340hp petrol version we grab first, even though it’s a rear-wheel-drive car and initially in the UK this engine – the most powerful petrol unit in the launch line-up – will only be available with xDrive all-wheel drive. xDrive is now available as an option on every model; a manual gearbox doesn’t appear on the list at all – all cars have the eight-speed Steptronic automatic. It’s soon abundantly clear that the 540i is a very potent car. In UK xDrive form it’ll hit I00km/h in just 4.8sec, and with the Drive Performance Control set to Sport the throttle response is sharp and the gearshifts near-enough instantaneous.
And yet this isn’t the most enjoyable new 5-series on sale: it has a bland, monotonous voice and linear delivery that gets strained at high revs, a cruel comparison to make wit h the great naturally aspirated BMW straight-sixes of the past. In the real world It’s not really any quieker than the 530d, and is obviously thirstier. It’s the 530d that feels like the car the engineers really obsessed over. With the aid of BMW’s SYNTAK (Synergy Thermoacoustic Capsule) noise insulation, the 3-litre turbodiesel unit is brilliantly refined at low revs, but has that deep, straight-six rumble when called into action that’s familiar and so cosy on the ear.
And with 265hp and 620Nm of torque it never, ever, feels short on acceleration. (For the record, it’s 5.4sec to 100km/h.). The rear-wheel steering has the effect of shortening the wheelbase, so the G30 disguises Its size incredibly well. The electrically assisted steering is one of BMW’s best so far: easygoing yet precise in Comfort so that you tend to just forget about it, but with reassuring weight added in Sport. Both the petrol and diesel models that we sample feature variable dampers, but the optional 19-inch wheels on the former occasion ally make it feel like it has lead boots over bad road contusions. The 530d xDrive, meanwhile, on standard 18s, has a spectacularly good ride quality.
In the teeming rain on twisting, hilly roads, not once does the traction light blink, the system shuffling around all 620Nm of torque so effectively and without any perceptible sign of doing so. There’s more stiction to the steering with xDrlve, making it feel that bit more genuine; turn-in is crisp (with integral steering), grip levels mid-corner notably strong, but best of all the car will take near enough full throttle early in the corner, surging out without pushing wide. Point-to-point it’s hugely effective.
Not dance-on-the-table exciting, but then this is ‘just’ a regular 5-series. Yet for a car so refined, so imbued with a depth of competence and sense of long-term quality and solidity, it will still raise a quiet smile, if your commute has a few interesting corners. Throw in the latest generation of iDrive – a triumph – and all the other tech and as an overall, everyday package the new 5-series is top of its class in evo’s eyes. Maybe Herr Maier has a point, then, after all; it certainly bodes well for the forthcoming M5.