It's the Diesel, but still interesting.
By Euan Sey
The time for conjecture and speculation is over - BMW's biggest-ever gamble, the wild-looking new 5-Series, is finally here. Its styling represents a bold move, especially in the conservative executive saloon sector, yet the firm is convinced buyers are ready to make the leap. But are we? We put the 530d through its paces - and were pleasantly surprised.
The trademark double grille has grown, and is flanked by a pair of double headlamp clusters that taper neatly into the bulge of the front arches. From any angle - especially the rear, with its 7-Series-inspired stepped bootlid and striking red and white lights - the newcomer has a huge road presence.
The wraparound dash has always been key to the 5-Series' image but, as in the flagship 7, BMW has turned its back on tradition. The convex centre panel creates a slightly bizarre feel from behind the wheel that isn't in keeping with the car's sporting heritage. Like its Mercedes E-Class rival, the 5 also inherits technology from its big brother - including the controversial iDrive system. The use of a new four-menu display simplifies the controls, but it's still fiddlier than the Audi A8's MMI.
Elsewhere, you'll find the usual blend of high-grade plastics, finely damped switchgear and tight-fitting panels. Our only gripe is a lack of thigh support during cornering - the driving position and seats are otherwise hard to fault. With a 520-litre boot and a wheelbase that's 62mm longer, rear occupants need no longer envy E-Class drivers.
The 218bhp 3.0-litre common-rail unit and six-speed ZF auto are from the 730d, and are tipped to be the most popular engine and transmission combination when the car arrives in July. After a few seconds behind the wheel, you can see why. The powerplant is refined, responsive and has masses of in-gear shove - 500Nm to be exact - making the car an ideal long-distance cruiser.
With smooth, rapid shifts in both fully automatic and manual override modes, the gearbox is a gem, too. CO2 emissions of 184g/km and fuel economy of 40.9mpg also compare favourably with equivalent Mercedes and Audi models.
The outgoing car had class-leading driver appeal, but the new 5 moves the game on with its uprated 7-Series chassis. Its theoretically perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution and front-engined, rear-drive layout generate superb grip and traction out of bends, while the Dynamic suspension (a £1,200 option) eliminates body roll when cornering hard. The ride also has a fluid, supple feel that combines with the heavily insulated cabin to make for near-silent progress at motorway speeds. Only a slight tyre rumble spoils things.
Much of the credit for this dynamic prowess goes to the Active Front Steering system fitted to our SE test model - an £880 option that varies the steering ratio according to the car's speed. It's light and direct when parking (less than two turns lock-to-lock), and weights up nicely as the pace increases. It also works with the sophisticated new DTC traction control, applying corrective lock in the event of a rear-end slide. Yet it's as communicative as a normal set-up.
Adaptive headlights, active cruise control and an iDrive-based head-up display also debut on the new 5-Series, which is expected to carry a premium of around £500 over its predecessor.
A second review from Europe:
Reliability and Quality
A robust body structure promises to keep rattles and squeaks at bay, the doors shut with the right kind of thunk while tasteful, high quality trim materials provide the sumptuous cabin ambience that you'd expect. However, several of the pre-production test cars suffered temporary failures of the electronic element of Active Steering system (this has no effect on the car's steerability or safety, we stress) and BMW is also working on a revised hydraulic steering valve to cure a problem mentioned in the 'comfort' section of this test. Another car had a faulty electric window, too. We'd expect these glitches to go by the time UK cars arrive, although the earliest cars may not get the revised steering valve.
BMW styling entered a controversial phase with the new 7-Series and the Z4 roadster, and this new 5-Series certainly bears a few unusual sculptings. But its styling appears more integrated and satisfying than the Seven's, while simultaneously appearing progressive and modern. BMWs are hardly exclusive any more, but the company's high quality and increasingly high-tech image remains, even if some consider it (and the behaviour of BMW drivers) over-aggressive.
Initially BMW is offering a 3.0-litre turbodiesel, and 2.0 and 3.0 petrol engines - all straight sixes. We haven't sampled the 2.0 yet, but of the two 3.0-litres, the diesel is undoubtedly the engine to go for, its bull-like pulling power providing performance far sportier than the petrol's. Proof lies in fourth gear acceleration from 50 to 75mph, the diesel dismissing this in 5.4 seconds while the petrol requires 7.4 seconds. On the road, you feel it. The diesel's muted baritone rumble is quite pleasant despite the odd clatter, its throttle response is lively and it's a quiet cruiser. In contrast, the petrol feels slightly anaemic, despite its 231 horses. That's the consequence of higher gearing than in the old car, with the result that it doesn't have the same pull, and revving it to find more produces a slightly rough-edged note that's a disappointing surprise from BMW's usually silken straight-sixes. That said, it's hardly slow.
Ease of Driving
The 5-Series is a fairly big car, but the view out is relatively unrestricted, radar makes parking easy and the major controls are all well placed and simple to use. However, some may struggle to find the ideal seating position - at least with the optional multi-adjustable seats we tried - despite the reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel, while the electronic indicators can be confusing. Some may also struggle with the iDrive system, which controls the stereo, navigation programme, parts of the climate control and a variety of lesser items via a centre console-mounted rotary knob. While not as baffling than the controversial set-up in the 7-Series, it remains less than intuitive. Finally, changing gear smoothly in the diesel at low speeds is difficult without particularly deft footwork - unless you're a very keen driver, the automatic is the better bet.
Safety and Security
Its impressive array of passive safety features make it unlikely that the 5-Series will score less than five stars in the Euro NCAP tests, or provide anything less than excellent protection in a real world crash. Superb roadholding, agile handling and powerful brakes make it easier to avoid an accident in the first place, especially with the standard skid-countering fitment of DSC dynamic stability control. However, the optional Active Steering, which alters the extent that the car changes direction for a given swivel of the wheel, can surprise. Get used to the speed of its response at low speeds, and you can find yourself failing to turn the wheel sufficiently when you move to faster, curvy roads - a potentially alarming experience.
Space front and rear is fairly generous, and if there isn't quite as much as in a Mercedes E-Class, there's usefully more rear legroom than found in the previous 5-Series. The boot is significantly larger too, its wider lid making it easier to load, though the opening between the rear lamps could be wider. Front seat passengers may find the dashboard a little intrusive where it bulks towards the centre, however, and oddments space is limited, the door bins and the centre console box being small. There are two small cubbies in the dash and the glovebox is generous, but the (inelegant) twin front cupholders, annoyingly, are optional.
Low service bills, reduced crash repair costs and the likelihood of strong residual values should make the new 5-Series relatively inexpensive to run for a car of this type, especially if it's the 530d, which is good for 40.9mpg on the combined cycle. The 530i, on the other hand, returns 29.7mpg, and the 520i 31.4mpg. Its lower CO2 levels will make the diesel very attractive to company car drivers.
So far, we've only sampled cars equipped with the optional Dynamic Drive anti-roll system and Active Steering. For the most part, the ride is impressively pillowy, the lack of body roll imparting comfortable progress over twisty roads. However, sharp bumps and potholes seem to catch the suspension out. The jarring worsens if you opt for the sports suspension, which - given the active anti-roll system - appears to offer little benefit. Active Steering undoubtedly eases urban manoeuvres because you need to twirl the wheel less in tight spots, and it lends the car a feel of great agility. But on straight roads the steering wheel sometimes squirms very slightly in your hands, calling for constant corrections, a trait that could get tiresome on motorways. BMW is readying a fix, but it may not make it into early UK cars fitted with Active Steer. Noise levels are low, save for the odd bit of diesel clatter and the slightly stressed sounds of the 3.0 petrol at high revs. Surprisingly, there's more wind roar than there should be at a cruise. Yet despite these flaws, the 5-Series is a pretty calming and pleasant place to be.
Fun to Drive
When equipped with Active Steering and Dynamic Drive, the 5-Series provides a lot more entertainment than you'd expect from an executive car, especially when powered by the diesel. More willing than most of this breed, the 530d accelerates with almost startling urgency, its exceptional thrust usually enough to overcome gearing that leaves a big gap between second and third gears, a quirk affecting both manual and auto. The 530i is similarly engaging, but doesn't offer quite the thrust and the high-rev refinement. The automatic transmission, whose ratios can be manually selected via the gearlever, works well. The manual gearchange isn't the quickest and the engine's narrow rev range means you'll use it a lot on tightly curving roads, but the results are highly satisfying. They're put to good use by suspension that provides exceptional roadholding and stability. If the car has Active Steering - which quickens its responses on a very twisty road - the combination of all that grip, the near roll-free cornering provided by Dynamic Drive's active anti-roll bars and the protection of stability control allow breathtaking cornering speeds. Criticisms of the car (admittedly of the highly optioned test cars) are few. The steering is well weighted but can feel strange as it moves off-centre. The brakes, though powerful, don't feel as convincing as they actually are, and drivers that like to perform heel and toe gearchanges may struggle to position themselves so that their knees don't foul the steering column. Bear in mind that we have yet to test the car in the condition that most examples will be sold in - that is, without Dynamic Drive and Active Steering - although we'd expect it to be above average.
Both stereo and navigation are operated via the iDrive system, which requires familiarisation to master, although it's a better system than found in the 7-Series. The stereo delivers excellent sound quality while the navigation system issues clear instructions. However, you have to pay extra for visible mapping, the standard system providing no more than arrowed and aural guidance. The optional head-up display, which projects navigation instructions onto the windscreen, jet-fighter style, along with your speed and any warnings, is a useful but inessential feature.
Value for Money
The new 5-Series is projected to be 2 percent more expensive than the old in the SE trim levels that it will be launched with, a modest increase given the advances it offers. However, guide prices for the more basic models have not been announced, and nor have standard equipment levels. We'd expect these to be competitive, but not over-generous. Quite a few of the car's headline technologies, such as Active Steering, Dynamic Drive and the head-up instrument display, are likely to be extras.
If you can afford it, the 5-Series should make a wise used buy because we expect it to hold its value well. However, the quality glitches experienced on this car, and those suffered by the first examples of the 7-Series, suggest that it might be wise to avoid buying early examples, used or new.
Engines: 520i - 2171cc; 530i - 2979cc; 530d - 2993cc; 24 valves, six cylinders
Max power: 520i - 170bhp at 6100rpm; 530i - 231bhp at 5900rpm; 530d - 218bhp at 4000rpm
Max torque: 520i 155lb ft at 3500rpm; 530i 221lb ft at 3500rpm; 530d: 369lb ft at 2000rpm
0-62mph acceleration: 520i - 9.0 seconds; 530i - 6.9 seconds; 530d - 7.1 seconds
Fuel consumption (combined): 520i - 31.4mpg; 530i - 29.7mpg; 530d - 40.9mpg
CO2 emissions g/km: 520i - 219; 530i - 231; 530d - 184
VED rating: £165
Transmission: six-speed manual; six-speed automatic optional; rear-wheel drive
Suspension, front: spring strut, coil springs, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Suspension, rear: Integral multi-arm axle, coil springs, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Stability systems: ASC anti-skid control, DSC dynamic stability control, DTC dynamic traction control;optional Dynamic Drive active anti-roll control
Steering: rack and pinion, power assisted; optional active steering with Servotronic assistance
Brakes: ventilated discs all-round, ABS anti-lock, CBC corner brake control, DBC emergency brake assist
Weight: 520i - 1560kg; 530i - 1570kg; 530d - 1670kg
Length x width x height: 4841mm x 2036mm x 1468mm
Tyres: 225/55 R16 standard all models
Insurance group: TBA
3 years/60,000 miles
2001 CL Type S
2001 Lexus RX300 Silversport