The updated and facelifted BMW 5 Series is as relentlessly competent as all its predecessors
A large chunk of new-age car buyers these days are, apparently, smartphone-addicted millennials who prefer to have avocado (rather than a fried egg) on toast and who eschew ice-cold beer in favour of spinach smoothies. These cool, young people are often inclined to dismiss regular sedans as old-fashioned and instead, go for SUVs, crossovers, or even fastback-type outliers like BMW’s own 6 Series GT. Well, car buyers can’t be blamed for wanting new body styles, and the automotive industry, on its part, is learning to embrace change and move ahead with differentiated products.
Now, even as SUVs continue to edge ahead of sedans in global sales figures, there’s still a section of buyers who love a sleek, well-made sedan that’s comfortable, stylish, and handles well. Thankfully, some people still want a plate of good old steak and chips rather than kale, tofu, and roasted cauliflower. And that’s where the BMW 5 Series busts in; it’s the quintessential European sedan, as deeply Germanic as schnitzel and bratwurst, and just as profoundly satisfying. The 5 Series has been around since the early-1970s and this latest version — the facelifted seventh generation, with a sprinkling of updates — continues to represent the best of German automotive engineering.
Launched in India recently, the new 5 Series is available in diesel and petrol flavours; 520d, 530d, and 530i. For petrolheads who might have been hoping for one of BMW’s famous straight-six engines, sorry, you can’t have one in the 5 Series; get the M340i instead. I drove the 530i M Sport, the only petrol-engined 5 Series variant available in India, powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four that produces 252 horsepower and 350Nm of torque. Sure, it doesn’t have six cylinders and makes do with only four, but it does make excellent use of each of those four pots. Power delivery is strong and smooth, and stays consistent across the rev-range. Zero to 100kph takes 6.1 seconds, which is not bad at all, and the top speed is 250kph, although achieving those kinds of speeds is becoming difficult in India, what with the increasing use of spoilsport speed cameras everywhere.
The Bavarians have made some great turbo four-cylinder engines over the last few decades, the most remarkable one being the unit fitted on the 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo. The turbo’d 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in 2002 made 170bhp, pushing the car to above 210kph — not too bad for something that was built 50 years ago. Today, for the same engine capacity, albeit with a twin-scroll turbo and variable valve and cam timing, power output has gone up by almost 50 per cent, which is impressive.
Like the old 2002 from 1973, the new 5 Series is RWD-only, with power going to the rear wheels via BMW’s 8-speed ‘Steptronic’ automatic transmission. The Steptronic works like a charm, matching the four- cylinder engine’s efficiency and linear power delivery with swift, barely perceptible, but equally efficient gear shifts. Working in tandem like a pair of perfectly matched partners, the engine and gearbox provide relentless forward momentum, working equally well in tight city traffic and on open, empty expressways.
The 530i, which is priced on a par with the electrifying, soul-stirring BMW M340i, doesn’t provide the adrenaline rush of the latter, but does provide performance that’s more than adequate for the real world, which is probably what counts for the vast majority of 5 Series customers. The ride quality and comfort also counts, and that’s something the new 5 Series does very well indeed. With its double-wishbone setup at the front and a five-link axle at the back, the suspension setup is perfectly optimised, and the 5 Series can handle all the rough, broken tarmac you can throw at it. The car’s adaptive dampers respond to the driving mode selected (choose between comfort and sport) and fine-tune the handling characteristics further. In the sport mode, the car shines, especially on smooth tarmac — perfect straight-line stability, along with all the high-speed cornering abilities that you may expect from a rear-wheel-drive BMW. A full complement of electronic safety systems, including ABS and dynamic traction control, is there to take care of tricky situations. Multiple airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system, and crash-active front head restraints increase the safety quotient.
The 530i’s cabin boasts solid build quality, and high-end materials have been used everywhere. There’s leather, wood, and metal in abundance, and everything that you touch, feel, and operate feels good — we suppose it’s the point a company gets to after spending more than 100 years building cars. As with all modern BMWs, the instrument cluster in the new 5 Series is fully digital, and features a customisable display that some might find useful. There’s also a centrally-mounted 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, which provides the standard set of functions, including navigation, media playback, and full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition to the touchscreen, other input interfaces include an iDrive touch controller, voice control, and even gesture control for specific functions. It all works well, and younger drivers can probably get to grips with it fairly quickly, though some older drivers who aren’t as tech-savvy, might struggle a bit.
The 5 Series has been around since the early- 1970s and this latest version — the facelifted seventh generation, with a sprinkling of updates — continues to represent the best of German automotive engineering.
We left the looks and the styling for last because there isn’t too much to say about it. It’s more nip-and-tuck and a smattering of cosmetic mods (the usual new headlamps, new tail lamps routine) rather than a full-on overhaul, and that’s actually alright. To look at, the new 5 Series isn’t hugely different from its predecessor and sticks with BMW’s tried-and-tested aesthetics, and we’re thankful for that. The company has experimented with outsized front grilles in recent times (we’re looking at you, M3, X7 and 7 Series), and the results haven’t been universally appreciated, to put it mildly. The 5 Series looks very proportionate and handsome as it is, and BMW has refrained from messing with its classic good looks.
The new BMW 5 Series is, as always, an excellent choice for those who are looking at buying a high-end luxury sedan. Also, as always, it has to contend with the equally capable and dynamically competent Mercedes- Benz E-Class and the Audi A6, which are almost similarly priced. Those feeling a bit more adventurous could also consider the Volvo S90, which offers more generous dimensions and a Scandinavian take on automotive luxury at a similar price point. There are, however, buyers who’ll want the new 5 Series specifically because it’s a BMW, and for them, the car’s Rs 62.90 lakh ex-showroom price tag wouldn’t be a deterrent. We should all be so lucky.