BMW is preparing itself for the launch of its crucial new, seventh-generation 5 Series saloon ahead of the car going on sale in February next year. Codenamed G30, the latest incarnation of what remains the German manufacturer’s most profitable model sticks closely to the design language established by the latest 7 Series luxury saloon, despite featuring sharper creases down its sides and a more traditional take on BMW’s L-shaped tail-lights. Overall, the new car is not as distinct from other BMW saloons as the 5 Series has been in the recent past but, according to 5 Series project director Johann Kistler, this was a deliberate move that was based on feedback from customers.
Even so, the new 5 Series appears wider and more imposing than the outgoing car, and it’s still easier to tell apart from its sister saloons than the current Mercedes-Benz E-Class is from the smaller C-Class. Beneath the surface of the 5 Series, the key change is that it’s now based on BMW’s new Cluster Architecture (CLAR) body structure, which was introduced last year with the 7 Series and will also be adopted by the next 3 Series. CLAR incorporates more lightweight aluminium within its floorpan and bulkheads than the platform used by the outgoing 5 Series. The new 5 Series does without the expensive carbonfibre components of the 7 Series, but BMW says the new structure, along with other weight-saving measures such as a lighter wiring loom, have resulted in a reduction in kerb weight of up to 100kg, depending on model.
The reduction in weight has contributed towards improved efficiency for the new 5 Series, with combined fuel economy for the 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel-powered 520d rising by 2.8mpg to 65.6mpg. The other engines available at launch will be a six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesel in the 530d and turbocharged 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre petrols, badged 530i and 540i respectively. In addition to the drop in weight, the CLAR structure significantly increases torsional rigidity and is accompanied by completely reworked double wishbone front suspension that uses a greater number of aluminium components in order to reduce unsprung weight. At the rear, BMW has redesigned its traditional five-link set-up, providing the 5 Series with new geometry, lighter and stiffer aluminium components and newly developed mounting points.
Together, these changes are said to provide more controlled wheel movement, improved toe-in properties and greater isolation from lumps and bumps in the road surface. Additionally, there are four versions of the new suspension for buyers to choose from: a standard set-up, a firmer sports suspension, variable dampers and a combination of variable dampers with active anti-roll bars to all but eliminate body roll. Previously, BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system has been reserved for left-hand drive markets. However, this time it will made be available to UK buyers. It will also be possible to combine xDrive with BMW’s active four-wheel steering system, which is designed to further improve the 5 Series’ reputation for dynamic excellence. Autocar’s pre-production test drive of the new 5 Series has already revealed the car to offer great poise and a secure feeling when being driven quickly, while the steering provided impressive feedback, even around the straight-ahead.
BMW has also followed Tesla’s and Mercedes-Benz’s lead by offering the option of an autonomous driving function. With the system activated, the 5 Series will follow the car in front in traffic, stay within its lane on the motorway and even change lanes to overtake a slower-moving car if prompted to do so by the driver with the use of the indicator. The new 5 Series will also be able to communicate with nearby BMWs, letting them know which of its electrical systems are activated. For example, if it becomes necessary to switch the foglights on, the car will be able to warn the other cars and their occupants that there is bad weather in the area. In terms of dimensions the new 5 Series has grown slightly compared with the outgoing car, with increases in length, width and height mostly aimed at improving rear seat space. Inside, there’s plenty of room for four 6ft-tall adults.
And despite the presence of a wide central transmission tunnel, the new 5 Series offers more room for a central rear-seat passenger than there is in today’s car, with the base of the rear bench seat being flat and well cushioned all the way across, rather than shaped for two and hard in the middle. The dashboard looks similar to that of the 7 Series and is built from equally high-grade materials. However, the centre console is angled more sharply towards the driver than it is in the 7 Series in order to emphasise that this is meant to be a driver-focused sports saloon rather than a limo. The reshaped dash means it is easier to reach the central touchscreen than it is in the 7 Series. And while the new 5 Series mimics the 7 Series by also offering BMW’s iDrive rotary controller and gesture control, it’s actually superior, adding a voice control system that recognises natural speech rather than relying on you saying specific command words.
The 7 Series will get this upgrade later next year. The on-screen menus are now customisable, so you can create your own home page displaying the functions used most often, while digital instruments replace the current car’s analogue dials. Prices for the new 5 Series are still to be confirmed, but it’s expected to cost about £1500 more than the current car on a model-for-model basis, although it will come with more equipment as standard. In the past, the 5 Series Touring has been revealed as much as a year after the saloon. But with few Touring buyers prepared to consider a saloon as an alternative, and with sales of the outgoing model naturally dipping once the new car is unveiled, BMW has decided to launch the new Touring in March, just a month after the saloon. At around the same time, the engine range will expand to include an even more efficient 2.0-litre diesel that emits just 102g/km of CO2 in the 520d Efficient Dynamics, a petrol V8(theM550i) and a plug-in hybrid (badged 540e) that uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor and can travel up to 28 miles on electric power alone.
These will be followed by a new M5, offered with a choice of rear and four-wheel drive for the first time. It will have a development of BMW’s twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, with peak power rising to almost 600bhp. A new version of the 5 Series Gran Turismo is also in the product plan, although this won’t arrive until the summer. Johann Kistler, project director of the new 5 Series, admits that BMW missed the mark with the first-generation 5GT, so expect the new car to have a more SUV-like appearance. One of the big questions thrown up by autonomous driving technology is how blame should be assigned in the event of an accident, with car makers having very different views on this.
Volvo, for example, has said it will accept responsibility if one of its cars is proven to be at fault and was being used correctly at the time, whereas BMW says the driver remains responsible when the autonomous driving function is operating, having taken the decision to activate what is no more than a driver aid. This is interesting, given that the new 5 Series allows the driver to take his hands off the wheel for up to 30 seconds, whereas the likes of Volvo, Tesla and Mercedes insist that your hands remain on the wheel at all times. While BMW’s position leaves less room for ambiguity, it’s surely only a matter of time before someone mounts a legal challenge following an accident. It will be interesting to see what conclusion the courts come to, because this, more than anything else, will shape the future of autonomous driving.