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