It’s dreary as we’re about to land in Lisbon, Portugal—quite worrisome since the forecast for the next few days is supposed to be sunny. While the roads are still drenched from a downpour, however, the weather appears to be clearing up, and as we get out of the terminal and into our 7-Series limo, the sun breaks cover—a sign of things to come, I hope.
The moment I settle inside the big Bimmer, I absorb the cabin details and wonder what has trickled down to the all-new 5-Series, which is what I’m here for. It’s a model I first got to know when an uncle of mine in the US sent me a brochure of the second-generation E28 sometime in 1983. I’ve kept a keen interest in the car ever since, but little did I know then that it would turn out to be the most important and brand-defining model of its German manufacturer.
And now we have the seventh generation, codenamed G30. The test cars lined up for us here are the 540i sDrive fitted with M Performance Parts, and the 530d xDrive. Both variants are fitted with the optional rear-wheel steering function or the Integral Active System.
Initially, a lot of things go through your head when you view the new model. Which is good, because BMW design elements that are isolated from each other come together here nicely. These are small enhancements that, when put together, result in something big. The body is more streamlined with a roofline that makes it a little more Gran Coupe-ish, but it’s slightly bigger in every dimension. Width is an underlining factor: Not only is the kidney grille larger, the headlamps are also slimmer and now touch the grille.
The taillights appear slimmer, too, and extend outward. The previous F10 suddenly seems bulbous—and that’s saying a lot. Small details have made the new one evolve quite a bit. Adding to its more dynamic approach and further aiding aero are a longer hood, shorter overhangs, actively controlled air vents, and those air breathers—first seen on the 7-Series—behind the front wheels.
Our drive on the first day will take us to Penha Longa Resort, about 160km from Lisbon Portela Airport. I’m first assigned the 530d. Compared to the 540i with M goodies such as contrasting 19-inch wheels, the diesel doesn’t look as inspiring. And with the test unit’s dark color, you can’t seem to appreciate its design as much. But none of that matters, as I’m about to find out.
The modular engines that propel the new 5-Series get the latest developments in performance and efficiency, for improvements of up to 10% and 11%, respectively. The 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo in-line-six oil-burner now has 265hp and 620Nm, the latter kicking in at 2,000rpm. All that torque keeps you sucked in to your seat as it courses through all four wheels of the midsize sedan.
With more than half the trip taking place on the freeway, I’m able to soak up the interior. It satisfies both sportiness and elegance. The height of the dashboard has been lowered, with the touchscreen being a separate unit rather than a built-in one. This gives the car an airier feel.
You also sit lower, so the 5 feels even more glued to the ground, further emphasizing its athletic character. With more space owing to the larger exterior dimensions, headroom isn’t compromised despite the coupe-like roof. Build quality and craftsmanship have been raised, with inserts and strips that are laser-scanned so that adjoining portions on the dash and doors match precisely. I’m enjoying some driving tunes blasting from the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system.
The new 5 is also laden with tech. The touchscreen is a lot crisper and more user-friendly, and can also be operated via gesture control. A feature that stands out is being able to rearrange the layout of the functions like in a smartphone, so you can line them up according to frequency of use. The third-generation heads-up display, meanwhile, is 70% larger and shows useful info like current and approaching speed limit, your running speed, and navigation cues.
With BMW’s goal of developing a safe autonomous-driving system by 2021, the 5-Series debuts a host of semi-autonomous driving aids, such as the BMW Personal Copilot with lane-departure warning, which works up to 210kph. Right now, though, I don’t see why I have to bother. I find it nerve-wracking to leave the electronic nannies in charge, and the car is so indulging that I’d rather be behind the wheel.
This Bimmer is in its element once we hit twisties and coastal roads. Exiting corners, you get the best of the 530d because you’re on the power instantly. This, together with sharp and accurate steering (arguably BMW’s strongest suit), means that the car handles in a confidence-boosting manner when you’re approaching and negotiating turns. In the previous generation, there was a hydraulic portion especially for all-wheel-drive models. Mario Michel, project manager for driving dynamics, tells me it’s 100% electric for the new model and there are better transistors that adjust accordingly.
Four-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering add to the 530d xDrive’s composure. Question is, how much agility is down to Integral Active Steering? “I can’t give you a figure. When you want to force the car to the limit, then the Integral Active Steering will give you more possibilities,” Mario responds. “Nevertheless, the base car without this will still feel very agile, very light-footed, and very dynamic—the center feeling of the steering is definitely the same. The system is simply the next step.”
Despite all the added features, the new car sheds 100kg off its curb weight through extensive use of aluminum, magnesium, and high-tensile steel, for the sake of even more athleticism and dynamism. And I really can feel this as we’re out driving on the road, under clear blue skies and in 18-degree weather.
Our group meets lensman Tom Kirkpatrick at Serra da Arrabida in the Setubal Peninsula for some driving shots. At an altitude of about 500m, our vantage point overlooks the sea. “Beautiful, isn’t it? We’ve been here for a few days and it’s only now the sun comes out,” he says. “We shot the batch before you yesterday in foggy conditions, so you’re lucky.” And based on our route map, driving along this portion should be a hoot.
Only thing is it’s all been smooth roads so far, and I’m hoping for a short stretch of uneven surface to see the improvement on the damping. What do you know—approaching the Penha Longa Resort, we hit cobblestone streets. These guys think of everything. The dampers provide a smooth ride and absorb the bumps impressively. Mario tells me new technologies were put in for the dampers, with different valves to redefine all the settings. That way, they had more freedom adjusting the car.
At the resort, the previous models of the 5-Series are parked up front, including the first-generation E12 and the second-generation E28. Lining them up all together is proof that the new model is a big deal for BMW. It’s not often you see all the generations side by side. There’s no better way to appreciate the evolution of the range.
The second day, I’m behind the wheel of the 540i. Its 3.0-liter turbopetrol mill delivers 340hp and 450Nm as early as 1,380rpm to 5,200rpm. It does the job well as you’d expect from a BMW, going at a fast clip and handling corners so well. But it somehow feels clinical. Or is the 530d simply more involving?
The 530d leaves a strong impression on me, partly because the TwinPower Turbo diesel engines in the past few years have been so impressive with what they offer in terms of performance, and they simply make more sense than their gasoline counterparts. There’s also the difficulty of seeing the 540i’s relevance in our market. Speaking of which, variants for local sale have yet to be confirmed, but the initial offering would be the diesels. They will most likely be unveiled at the Manila International Auto Show.
The 5-Series is so good, it will make the competition rethink their respective entries. BMW has redefined its sporty character, and has likewise made it more luxurious than ever. And with the nameplate’s tagline being ‘Business Athlete,’ you know what BMW’s intention is: to make this premium executive sedan the best of both worlds. It is the brand’s most important car, after all.