A new benchmark set?
Do you like your cars large-ish, German and full of technology? Perhaps you prefer them to come with a badge that makes your neighbors jealous? BMW has just the car for you, or so it hopes, in the new 2017 5 Series. It's smarter, faster, more efficient and prettier than the last one, but, to paraphrase the great Barney Stinson, is new always better?
The last generation 5er was a phenomenal success, so the stakes are high. This is no incremental upgrade: BMW has made everything "better" than it was before. There's more tech, a smoother drive, a beefier look and plenty more besides.
You have to admire BMW's design department. The new 5er is muscular, visually bigger and smarter than the old car. Admittedly, beige carpet was more exciting to look at than the old one. There's a chunky nature to this one, and some cool details. Take the line that starts at the bottom of the "Hofmeister kink" window detail at the back, then flies all the way to the front of the car before doubling back on itself. The sills protrude from its lower edges neatly and my test car's air dams were suitably meaty.
All told, though, it's as though someone has put a 7 Series in a photocopier and shrunk it a bit. The 7er can carry off the big rear and head lamps, but they can look a little ungainly on the 5 Series.
Inside things are more evolutionary than revolutionary. As cliched as that may be, the game, visually, hasn't really been changed. Now, if you're a set-in-your-ways returning customer you'll find everything where you left it, but if you're after something new and exciting, perhaps a Mercedes E-Class might be up your alley. The interior of that thing brings the pretty in a way BMW can't quite match.
BMW has upgraded the tech though. Gesture control has made its way over from the 7 Series, and just as it is in there, it's a bit clunky, slow and not worth bothering with. BMW's iDrive infotainment setup has been given something of an overhaul -- the UI now falls into tiles for each category, so Nav, Communication, Media and so on all get their own tile, but you can customize your iDrive and set it to your specifications. That's something new.
BMW boasts about how versatile its new system can be. You can have it show your schedule, display traffic information and tell your friends where you are and when you're going to be with them while you're moving. Have to park on the street? There's an app to help you find a space near your place. Want to know the weather and traffic info? The Car-To-X app talks to other 5 Series vehicles to give you the information you need. How delightfully forward thinking. Ahem.
The other update to the iDrive? It now has a touchscreen. The traditional dial/button combo is still there, but if you prefer to lean slightly forward and paw at a screen, you can! It's smooth, easy to use and all kinds of good. BMW reckons most people will ignore the physical controls as they get used to their cars, instead opting for gesture (really... don't) or touch inputs. If you have an Apple device, you can use CarPlay, but those of a more Android disposition will be disappointed by the lack of Android Auto.
The optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo provided loud enough tunes throughout the drive, getting so loud that you'd have to be a masochist or severely hearing impaired to drive with it so high for more than a quick blast. Noisy thing was noisy.
One letdown was the steering wheel design. BMW's recent form with wheels has been fantastic, but the new 5 Series' wheel wasn't all that aesthetically pleasing. It's a subjective thing, but if you're going to use it every day, it's kind of important.
My test car came with most options boxes ticked on top of all the standard gear, which meant everything that could be heated was, and with gusto. On its highest setting, the seat heaters caused me to wonder whether or not I was actually on fire.
The perfume-spewing button (similar to the option in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class) is carried over from the 7 Series as well. My sense of smell is dreadful, but my passenger assured me the car smelled pleasant. I also had seat massagers that went from "gentle back rub" to "I WILL PUNISH YOUR BUTTOCKS" at the flick of a switch. I did feel better after it pummeled me though. Horses for courses I suppose.
The trunk is big enough for what an average human would use it for, and there's plenty of space in the back row for important business colleagues, doddery family members or children. It's a 5 Series, after all; it ain't gonna be small.
Now, the drive. It comes with a number of drive modes: Eco Pro (yawn but good for Mother Nature), Comfort (guess what that does), Sport (firm and fast), Sport Plus (firmer and faster), and Adaptive (basically magic -- the car senses what you're doing with it and adapts to your driving style). Each changes the character of the car as you'd expect, but Sport and Sport Plus don't make it feel as urgent as I'd have liked.
Sure, the ride becomes harder, the gearbox more aggressive, and so on, but I didn't quite believe it would get the 540i from 0-62 in 5.1 seconds. While the numbers rise very quickly on the speedometer, it didn't feel all that fast, which is a strange thing to say about a car with 340 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque. The XDrive all-wheel drive version of the 540i will crack 62 mph in 4.8 seconds, apparently.
Braking is a particular party piece in the new 5er. The stoppers aren't fancy carbon discs or anything like that, but the pedal feel is wonderful, and it gives the driver brilliant control over what they're doing.
As we've come to expect from the people who used to make "The Ultimate Driving Machine," the steering (ugly wheel aside) is also sublime in any of the driving modes. It feels particularly sharp in Sport and Sport Plus, though, as does throttle response.
The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and slick in all modes. In Comfort, you can't really tell what it's doing -- no bad thing. It just aids the car's forward motion. As you get to the sportier side of things, the gearbox's own sport setting makes it more aggressive, but no less impressive. You can control your cog swapping on wheel-mounted paddles if you prefer to do the hard work yourself.
One thing that needs to be mentioned it how quiet it is. Driving on the motorway was eerily silent, as was gently bumbling around country roads. I'm not sure how BMW managed it, but it's hugely impressive.
Frankly, the new 5 Series is a joy to drive. Its handling is as you'd expect from a sedan in its class -- engaging, sharp, but not too overwhelming. In Comfort, you're treated to a soft, squidgy ride, where as in Sport you're given a slightly more "senior" experience. It's no M5, but it's still pretty good.
After selling over 2 million of the previous generation, BMW wants to replicate that success with the new 5er. It's an improvement for sure, and one that'll likely find fans all over the globe.