Shortly after the launch of the new generation 5 Series, the German engineers have made the first alterations to a near perfect saloon. The evolutionary step underlines the care that BMW takes with its customers by updating their line-up with the newest technologies. On the first glance, even a petrolhead would find a hard time identifying the changes. That’s because most of them happened inside and under the hood. Save a slightly more aggressive front bumper, a few taillight LED’s and the new 2-liter diesel variation named 518d, the changes could pass under the title “The rise of the digital over the analog”.
The instrument cluster went from a hybrid version to a full-digital one, being replaced with high-resolution displays, showing a different user interface depending on the selected driving mode. Namely, the Sport/Sport+ makes the gauges turn reddish, the speed is now shown digital (in a numeral format) and the rev counter grows larger, clearer and easier to read. In a contrasting manner, the EcoPro mode will turn the gauges blueish, the rev counter being replaced with an analog display which indicates a percentage describing roughly how many horses you are unleashing at a given time or when you are “regenerating”
The notorious iDrive system gets an update which we’ve seen in other BMW models. The surface of the multifunctional click-wheel learned new tricks through the addition of a “touch” ability. Now the driver has the option to input destination addresses by sketching letters on the touch surface. The letters are then read by the computer’s synthetized voice, so that the driver never needs to take its eyes of the road to make corrections. Despite the fact that I thought that it was a gimmicky feature good only to impress your friends in the first week after you have bought the care (kind of how you’ve done with the heart rate monitor on your Galaxy S5), during our test it’s proven quite a welcome improvement, especially through the painstaking optimization of the text recognition engine. My handwriting has never been the pride of the family, as my father always said “if I put the pencil between the toes of my feet I still can write more legible than you”. The touch pad can also be used for your map navigation, as he learned to “slide” and “pinch to zoom”.
The rest of the cabin is stuffed with technology: the head-up display projects vital driving information such as the speed, navigation guidance, the speed limit (which surprisingly isn’t quoted from memory or from Wikipedia, but rather actually read from the traffic signs on the edge of the road), the forbidding of overpassing, radio stations selections, collision warning, pedestrian warning and others; the steering wheel vibrates if you cross the separation line between lanes without tapping the turning signal; the seat can be adjusted on all axes of the seven dimensions of space; the steering wheel can be adjusted until the person sitting in the back seat can drive safely; the adaptive cruise control can track the speed of the car in front, keep a preset distance to this car and brake on its own until reaching a standstill.
How does it drive?
I could end the present section of the review by saying “like a BMW”, but I wouldn’t do justice to the fantastic accomplishments of the BMW brains behind the 5 Series. The long nights spent learning, all the coffee and presumably some unholy rituals granted the BMW engineers the possibility of making a 1.8 tons car behave like a fly dodging a fly swatter. The razor-sharp steering, despite being electrically assisted, throws the car into bends with a surgeon like precision. The only time you are reminded of the car’s weight is upon breaking, when all the things you thought you left behind by chasing the 258 horses of the 3 liter diesel, are catching up with you. Efforts have been made to make the as stable and as comfortable as it gets. This is the reason why there could be a learning curve in adjusting with a steering wheel that is reluctant in returning to a straight position as fast as the road width is being used by the car. After you get used to it you will start to wonder why not all car makers choose this kind of steering.
The engine on the test car, which is a 530xd, is a three liter diesel that produces 258 horsepower and…get ready…560Nm of torque. Meaning just about enough to pull a ship of pirates away from a treasure chest. These numbers don’t add up to a violent acceleration, the sort that gives you nightmares, but the car gives you the sensation that it can deliver anything you ask of it…while drinking a coffee…and writing mean tweets about his friend the Jaguar XF. It is an often occurrence to enter a relaxing overtake at 90 km/h and to exit it at 160 km/h. The 8-speed telepathic gearbox switches gears without you noticing (if you leave it in auto) or before you realize it (if you leave it in manual).
Why do we like it?
Above all the things that make the 5 Series a successful sedan, I really appreciate the BMW consideration for details. The area on the speedometer where the needle sits at a certain moment is highlighted, the font used is bigger and brighter. When you do a lateral parking maneuver, and you select Reverse on the gearbox, the side mirror tilts down slightly so you don’t scratch your 19” alloys that all your coworkers have been ranting about. If the door doesn’t close completely it will automatically suck itself in. The radio station preset buttons have a tactile surface so you don’t fumble around to find your favorite one. The headlights have a mind of their own, knowing when it’s ok to hit the high beams, when to turn on high beams on only one headlight, when to steer the headlights away from oncoming traffic and when to split the beams so that the car in front can sit in a cone of shadow while the rest of the road is illuminated.
What are we dissapointed in ?
Sometimes, in ample bends, the adaptive cruise control forgets what lane we are on and breaks adjusting its speed to traffic participants from other lanes. That’s probably on purpose, as a wakeup call, reminding us we are not in Neverland. The rear legroom is not quite 85000 euro worth. It’s about 70000 euro worth. For a pretty expensive model, electrically folding mirrors is an optional extra, meaning I had to use my sensitive hands to make sure no one hit the mirrors in tight parking spots. The door doesn’t unlock itself when I get close or when I touch the handle, meaning I have to make the effort to press a button on the remote. This is so 2005! There is no dwarf to polish your shoes underneath the dash. I still had mud on mine after a 2 hour trip. The center arm rest on the backseats didn’t come with a bottle of champagne. The redesigned aggressive front bumper meant even if I wished for the cruise control to follow a car that knew where the speed cameras were, everyone kept moving out of my way.
We are dealing with a luxury, dynamic, futuristic limousine that makes you forget you spent your last 40 minutes stuck in traffic instead of working to afford paying the taxes on this car. But it is a lot more than this. It is a car that made me think about the future of the automobile. A future that sneaked into our lives. Modern cars are like women in a relationship. They put your hands on the steering wheel and tell you you are the one driving. But they set the speed. Read the hazard signs. Know on which lane you should drive and when not to leave it. They recognize pedestrians and break for you even if you want to run over the son of a b&^^@#. At the end of the day I don’t even know if I should be paying the speed ticket or should the BMW.