The BMW 5 Series premium sedan delivers driving fun, refinement and is packed with techno goodies
You'd think Portugal would guarantee settled weather, but we had everything from blazing sun to torrential rain for the launch of BMW's latest 5 Series.
But that combined with varied road conditions made for an unusually real-world and NZ-relevant launch drive.
This is certainly an impressive car, carrying many of the features and cues of the larger and pricier 7 Series, as well as some of its gravitas, without compromising driving enjoyment.
Or looks, for that matter. This sculpted body is muscular and purposeful in part thanks to longer, lower lines, yet isn't as OTT as the old Bangle designs.
But forget the looks - we were here to sample this car on road.
Ironically the best place to test the active rear steering that can point the rear wheels against the front by 2.5 degrees was not at the Estoril race track. That venue was skating rink-slick after heavy rain. No, it was in the hills of the Serra da Arrabida, where we pointed the car along the crests, powering her over the lumpy surfaces and carving round bends as if in a smaller vehicle.
This 5 is impressively agile for the breed. As for the track, that let us feel not only how well the stability and traction control systems work, but how finely balanced the car is. On several tricky bends you could hold the wheels on the point of traction, slipping then gripping just by modulating the throttle. Or let it go, feeling the back swing round then catch as the electronic nannies did their stuff. Not that they're foolproof, as test cars in the kitty-litter proved, but the level of inbuilt balance and control is impressive.
This engine's a beaut. The twin scroll set-up has gone in place of what BMW calls 'twin power'. NZ will get all but two of the available engines, from the 300kW/600Nm 4.4-litre V8 to the 135kW/380Nm 2.0-litre 528i. Only the 523i and 530d will not land here, with a 535d likely in future.
However only the 353i was available in Portugal - a 225kW/400Nm 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder petorl mated to an eight-speed auto designed alongside ZF. This transmission delivers rapid changes that lets you make the most of the impressive spread of torque, the 400Nm available anywhere from 1200 to 5000rpm. The powerplant is smooth, brisk, and sounds wonderful with the accelerator planted, yet refined at cruising speeds.
The new 5 is a tad heavier than its predecessor despite greater use of aluminium. That's because the more driver-focussed cabin is packed with additional techno goodies - a head up display, surround cameras, self parking, active cruise, lane change and departure warning - the list could fill a phone book. BMW says prices will rise, but not commensurate with the increased specification.
BMW has sold over 5.55 million 5 Series since the car first appeared in 1962. But the premium executive sedan segment is waning in NZ. BMW hopes this car will rejuvinate it. Certainly it's good enough, able to deliver both driving fun and some of the limo refinement of the 7 Series within the same handsome skin.
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