BMW’s exec hero returns disguised as a shrink-wrapped 7-series. Merc and Jag are hoping it can’t be that good. In final pre-production guise, we drive it.
If there ever was a mule which did not need the full camouflage treatment, then this is it. The new BMW 5-series, code-named G30, is anything but a breakthrough design. Instead, its shape is evolutionary, kind of a downsized 7-series, nicely proportioned but about as unexpected as snowfall in December. The interior owes even more to the 7-series than the exterior. It can be specced up with so many electronic trickeries one almost needs a spare brain to make full use of this depth of talent.
We guess this might be the last BMW to sport a conventional overkill cockpit offering the latest in terms of infotainment, connectivity and semi-autonomous driving. The new 3-series, due in 2018, will likely feature more advanced and yet easier-to-use ergonomics inspired by the CES concept. But this early drive is not about buttons, switches, monitors, iDrive or gesture control. It’s about ride and handling, road holding and performance, the next iteration of Freude am Fahren.
Dressed up in identical whirly shower-curtain foil, the three pre-production cars lined up for us are a 54oi sDrive (two-wheel drive) with Dynamic Damper Control (DDC) and rear-wheel steering (IAS), a 53od xDrive with sports suspension and IAS, and a 53oi sDrive with base steering and suspension. Derived from the modular CLAR matrix pioneered by the new 7-series, all 5-series variants will shed around 100kg. Key improvements include the variable-rate-and-effort hydro-electric steering, redesigned double-wishbone front axle and new multi-link rear suspension. The optional adjustable anti-roll bar system known as Adpative Drive has switched from hydraulic to electrical operation. Not available for G30 is the air suspension offered on the A6 and the E-class. ‘Too heavy,’ states senior chassis guru Peter Langen,’and in this car you don’t really need it. But go ahead and find out for yourself.’
I grab the key to the no-frills entry-level 53oi. This is 2016, so 53oi no longer denotes a straight-six but the humble 2.0-litre four which puts out a respectable 249bhp. Transmission? The familiar eight-speed automatic. The only 5-series models still fitted with a manual gearbox are the 184bhp 52oi and the 190bhp 52od. Over the first few miles, the new steering doesn’t feel much different. Even after two hours of giant slaloming through sheep and cattle, the car emerges as a remarkably unremarkable automobile. Homogenous, competent, failsafe are the terms which describe it best. It’s provocatively easy to drive, quite comfortable and totally effortless, but not really torquey enough to notice the absence of xDrive, which has become a friend and is no longer merely an acquaintance. Although the engine won’t win prizes for grunt and refinement, this is a quick five-seater by upmarket repmobile standards, and even when pushed it oozes nothing but confidence.
And yet in this context confidence may not be enough; not against the new E-class, the imminent A6 and the recent XF. A premium driving experience should make the going more rewarding than the getting there, and for that purpose you better switch to a more potent 5-series specimen like the 54oi xDrive. Back in the day, the 54oi was powered by a sweet V8; nowadays the moniker denotes the classy 340bhp straight-six we know from the 3-series. This engine captures the essence of the Bavarian Motor Works. It doesn’t need a trick exhaust to make all the right noises, it almost matches an electric motor for smoothness, and it delivers in a seamless, relentless manner. With 332lb ft of torque, the 3.0-litre unit is potent enough to prove that the new 5-series feels more agile as well as more authoritative, with the new front axle being more sensitive than the previous spring-strut layout, and the steering providing more prompt and accurate feedback. This car needs fewer small adjustments and minor corrections at the wheel to stick to the plotted line.