The for­ti­fied Five

To at­tack Benz’s prime tar­get, BMW packs its mid-sizer with looks, luxe, tech and sheer driv­ing charm

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - PRESTIGE - JOHN CAREY

IN the Ger­man equiv­a­lent of Aus­tralia’s Fal­con ver­sus Com­modore con­test, the sim­i­lar-size BMW 5 Se­ries takes on Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class. As the clo­sure of Ford’s fac­tory here and the loom­ing shut­down of Holden’s lo­cal assem­bly line bring our bat­tle to an end, hos­til­i­ties be­tween BMW and Mercedes-Benz con­tinue.

An all-new 5 Se­ries ar­rives here in March, just a month after go­ing on sale in its home­land. Its mission is to at­tack the all-new E-Class — which for now is Benz’s most tech­ni­cally ad­vanced car.

The Bavar­i­ans be­lieve they’ve got a 5 Se­ries to beat it. They have added the same kind of semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing tech­nol­ogy to the 5 Se­ries as the E-Class. It can steer it­self along a mo­tor­way for brief pe­ri­ods, has ac­tive cruise con­trol that’s smarter than av­er­age and will slam on the brakes if its ar­ray of sen­sors de­tect an im­mi­nent frontal im­pact.

More or less match­ing the op­po­si­tion’s arse­nal of driver aid and sen­sor-based safety kit is im­por­tant but BMW be­lieves the new 5 Se­ries out­guns the E-Class on a cou­ple of fronts.

One is driv­ing plea­sure. The 5 Se­ries is only slightly larger but much lighter than be­fore, thanks to the wide­spread use of alu­minium for body pan­els, sus­pen­sion parts and en­gines. This means pep­pier per­for­mance from its four- and six-cylin­der petrol and diesel en­gines, all tur­bocharged.

BMW’s en­gi­neers sought to im­prove steer­ing, han­dling and ride com­fort with a nose-to-tail chas­sis re­design.

In­side there’s a lit­tle more space up front, in the rear and also the boot.

Ev­ery­thing in the cabin is new, and bet­ter. The in­stru­ment panel is beau­ti­fully made, lovely to look at and sim­pler to use. BMW has made in­tel­li­gent changes to the way the driver in­ter­acts with the 5 Se­ries’ com­plex in­fo­tain­ment.

One of the best is en­abling the driver to choose from three func­tions dis­played on the hi-res 10.25-inch touch­screen in the centre of the dash.

Not just icons, the “pads” dis­play in real-time what’s hap­pen­ing with, say, sat­nav, phone con­tact list and en­ter­tain­ment.

Tap­ping the “pads” in­stantly switches to the full-screen view or rel­e­vant menu.

The ex­te­rior of the 5 Se­ries is smarter than ever, too. BMW’s de­sign­ers in­creased the an­gle of the rear win­dow for a sleeker and more slip­pery tail shape. A twisted crease along the side of the car, run­ning from front wheel arch to tail-lights, adds a touch of vis­ual class.

Up front, day­time run­ning lights flank the car’s big dou­ble kid­ney grille.

If it’s good to look at, the new 5 Se­ries is even bet­ter to drive. Re­fine­ment is out­stand­ing and this BMW is very quiet at high speed. Ride com­fort is ex­cel­lent, too, with fine con­trol of the body’s mo­tions over lumps and bumps.

But the 5 Se­ries is no softie when it comes to han­dling. Push hard through bends and this big sedan dis­plays sur­pris­ing agility, the pre­cise steer­ing mak­ing it easy to join cor­ners to­gether in a grace­ful flow.

BMW brought only six­cylin­der mod­els to sam­ple at the in­ter­na­tional me­dia launch of the 5 Se­ries in Por­tu­gal. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel of the 530d de­liv­ers ef­fort­less per­for­mance with­out fuss — it is very quiet and smooth for a diesel.

Bet­ter still is the 3.0-litre turbo of the 540i, with more power and a thrilling note from the ex­haust. In­ter­nal com­bus­tion doesn’t get much classier than this.

As with all new 5 Se­ries mod­els, an ex­cel­lent eight­speed au­to­matic is the only trans­mis­sion.

The 2.0-litre four-cylin­der of the 530i and the en­gine of the 540i are all-new, bring­ing in­creases in both power and ef­fi­ciency com­pared to the cur­rent 528i and 535i, which they will re­place.

The 2.0-litre turbo diesel of the new 520d and the six of the 530d are al­ready used in other BMW mod­els.

Prices of the new 5 Se­ries will in­crease. The 520d will cost $93,900 (up $9000), 530i $108,900 (up $10,000), the 530d $119,900 (up $4000) and the 540i $136,900 (up $19,000).

But there are also plenty of ad­di­tions to the stan­dard equip­ment lists. All mod­els ex­cept the 520d get adap­tive dampers as stan­dard, for in­stance. BMW Aus­tralia ar­gues that this and the other ex­tras more than bal­ance the hefty hikes.

Still, the prices won’t come as a shock to any­one who’s com­par­i­son shop­ping a new 5 Se­ries against an equiv­a­lent E-Class.

And this BMW cer­tainly has the looks, luxury, tech­nol­ogy and sheer driv­ing charm to make Mercedes-Benz fear the out­come of the in­evitable com­par­i­son test match-ups of the com­ing year.

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