BMW goes the extra mile with its new 5 Series luxury sedan
It's harder for luxury brands to go the extra mile, now the mass-market gets so many high-tech goodies. But BMW manages it with the latest 5 Series. Not so much with its long list of clever tech - given many much of the flashest features (cameras on the front wings, anyone?) cost extra. But because it can be a luxury cruiser while boasting chassis dynamics that reward an enthusiastic driver.
This is a bigger car than before; it's 44mm longer, and 14mm wider. But the footprint is larger again, with shorter overhangs allowing the wheelbase to increase 80mm, while width between the wheels rises 46mm. The cabin certainly benefits, with plenty of space to stretch out and admire the quality of the trimmings.
The fascia angles toward the driver, but much of its functions are duplicated more effectively on the steering wheel, or via the i-Drive controller, now kindergarten-simple to use.
Though there will be three petrol engines and two diesels available here, only the 535i 3.0-litre twin-power turbo six was available at launch. Like all the cars it's mated to an eight-speed auto co-developed with ZF, with steering wheel-mounted paddles if self-shifting's your thing.
This engine delivers 225kW and 400Nm for a zero to 100 time of 6.1 seconds, yet is a frugal cruiser for its size and performance, with an 8.4l/100km claim in part thanks to the engine's innate efficiency, and in part to power-miser tech like brake energy regeneration.
Not that it's fuel frugal when driven briskly; our test car's overall average was 9.4 - but our 350km test drive used 41.3 litres.
That's because we were making the most of the well-sorted chassis, backed up by an extensive suite of safety aids. We needed them too, given the slippery conditions of our largely rural route that twisted into the hills, the narrow tarmac ribbon squeezed between trees at times stippled with snow.
The run-flat tyres again supplied a jiggly ride over small hits, but the car otherwise ably absorbed lumps and bumps. We soon abandoned 'normal' mode for sport, which didn't over compromise ride while still sharpening response.
Handling was sufficiently sharp that we didn't feel the lack of the $3000 'active steer' option which brings the rear wheels into play.
Meanwhile the wonderfully flexible engine delivered its torque over such a broad spread we barely had to change gears, using the throttle to pull out of corners - or brake into them. I'd like a little more aural drama, but that'd dilute the limo-like feel. And anyway, the growl you hear when you plant boot may not be loud, but it's certainly purposeful.
We didn't try the active cruise, the self parking etc - though the $1750 optional wing cameras did prove their worth when pulling into Melbourne's rush hour traffic between the double-parked cars fringing the hotel. It's not just a gimmick, after all.
New Zealand will see the 190kW/310Nm 3.0-litre 528i, this 535i plus the $173,000 range-topping 300kW/600Nm 550i 4.4-litre eight-cylinder in June, with the $107,000 135kW/380Nm 520d 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel that will open the range from September. A 535d six-cylinder diesel should arrive by year-end, with price yet to be confirmed.
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