The new 5 Se­ries packs lots of clever kit and semi-au­ton­o­mous sys­tems, but give those the af­ter­noon off and the pu­rity of the drive is what im­presses most, says wheels’ Im­ran Ma­lik

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

The new BMW 5 se­ries has a lot go­ing for it, in­clud­ing a clutch of semi-au­ton­o­mous sys­tems.

Even though all the talk at BMW, and in­deed most car­mak­ers, is about au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy, the fact re­mains that Mu­nich is still build­ing some of the best cars to drive, you know – your­self. And this re­designed sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion 5 Se­ries, which hap­pens to be the fastest, most ef­fi­cient, and er, most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced 5 Se­ries in his­tory, proves that point by of­fer­ing a more re­ward­ing and en­joy­able ride than the F10 pre­de­ces­sor. But what’ll hap­pen once con­trol is taken away from us? Will BMW still be the king of the driv­ing hill? With so much semi-au­ton­o­mous tech avail­able on the new­bie – such as Ac­tive Cruise Con­trol with Stop & Go, Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing, Ac­tive Lane Keep­ing As­sis­tant, and Traf­fic Jam As­sis­tant – that ques­tion may need an­swer­ing sooner than later. Any­way, the good news is our tester, the 540i, scores very heav­ily when you take mat­ters into your own hands, lit­er­ally, and drive it.

It took BMW five years to de­velop this one and it’s been worth wait­ing for. The re­sult is a 100kg lighter, more aero­dy­namic model with a num­ber of new chas­sis de­vel­op­ments that have im­proved han­dling no end, not to men­tion in­tro­duced even bet­ter lev­els of com­fort. In­flu­enced by the lat­est 7 Se­ries, it adopts a more for­mal ap­pear­ance than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. It is dis­tinc­tive and in­stantly fa­mil­iar and looks the more se­ri­ous choice in a seg­ment that is lit­tered with very good con­tenders. It’s a hand­some looker and fea­tures LED head­lights that flow into the dou­ble kid­ney grille (with ac­tive slats for the ra­di­a­tor).

The pro­file has a more pro­nounced belt­line and the hockey stick-shaped char­ac­ter line adds a touch of sporti­ness. Around the back, it gets new tail­lights, and new trape­zoidal ex­haust tips. Over­all, the sheet metal has more curves and creases but it’s more evo­lu­tion than rev­o­lu­tion styling-wise. Al­though it looks no big­ger than the out­go­ing model, it has grown in stature; length has in­creased by 36mm (4,935mm) width has grown by 6.0mm (1,868mm) and the height goes up by 2.0mm (1,466mm). And as you’d have guessed, the in­crease in di­men­sions gives the new­bie greater in­te­rior room, and that’s most no­table in the sec­ond row where three adults can sit com­fort­ably. The longer wheel­base helps, as does the re­shaped back seat and thanks to a longer rear over­hang, the boot space is up by 10 litres for a to­tal 530.

The cabin is very rem­i­nis­cent of the flag­ship and packs what looks like an iden­ti­cal cen­tre stack with a 10.25in in­fo­tain­ment screen atop the dash. The 16-way ad­justable Sport seats do a fab­u­lous

job keep­ing you locked in place when you’ve en­gaged Sport and be­gin tack­ling the cor­ners with anger. From the high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als to the am­bi­ent light­ing, the in­te­rior of­fers top-notch re­fine­ment. Then there’s all the wiz­bangery in­clud­ing the iDrive 6.0, which boasts new menus and greater con­fig­ura­bil­ity, a touch­sens­ing screen, ges­ture-con­trol, wire­less de­vice charg­ing, a Wi-Fi in­ter­net con­nec­tion for up to 10 de­vices, Apple CarPlay smart­phone pro­jec­tion ca­pa­bil­ity and a sur­round view cam­era sys­tem that gives you a greater sense of the car and its sur­round­ings. With a tur­bocharged 3.0-litre straight six mak­ing 340 horse­power and 450Nm of torque, its dy­namic edge is brought to the fore by a slick eight­speed au­to­matic that sends the grunt to the rear wheels — and with trac­tion con­trol given the day off, it even al­lows you to smoke them. The 540i has plenty of go, but it’s the en­gine’s mus­cu­lar mid-range that im­presses the most. When you en­gage Sport — which primes the throt­tle, en­gine, gear­box, steer­ing and sus­pen­sion to their most ath­letic set­tings – it be­comes far more re­spon­sive and ag­gres­sive and there are times you for­get it’s a big saloon; it seems to shrink around you. The lighter and stiffer struc­ture has im­proved ride qual­ity and han­dling no end and the new sus­pen­sion soaks up the road im­per­fec­tions with ease.

Over­all this one has a more fluid feel about it than the pre­de­ces­sor and a ma­jor rea­son for that is the har­mony be­tween the en­gine and ZF-built trans­mis­sion and the smooth de­liv­ery of power. The steer­ing is sat­is­fy­ingly di­rect (if a lit­tle weighty in the sportier mode), which helps to heighten the car’s agility and han­dling. This – and the lack of any turbo lag – makes for a very en­gag­ing ride. The drop in weight clearly has ben­e­fit­ted per­for­mance but it’s also im­proved an­other as­pect of the car, its fuel ef­fi­ciency. BMW says the 540i will sip 6.5 litres per 100km. When you’re just pootling around town, the fru­gal six-cylin­der is barely au­di­ble but ham­mer the throt­tle and the horses awaken with a raspy roar. It’s great to see that even though this new-gen­er­a­tion car has a wealth of semi-au­ton­o­mous fea­tures, it still of­fers a real thrill when you’re the one tasked with the driv­ing. Bet­ter make the most of it as BMW plans to launch its first fully au­ton­o­mous car by 2021.

It’s been around since 1972 and dwells in a seg­ment with some ex­cep­tional cars like the A6, XF and E-Class. In spite of the com­pe­ti­tion, the new 5 Se­ries should still be the go-to model for the vast ma­jor­ity.

BMW says the 540i will SIP 6.5 litres per 100km. When you’re just POOTLING around town, the fru­gal six-cylin­der is barely au­di­ble but ham­mer the throt­tle and the horses AWAKEN with a raspy roar

With more than 40 years of de­vel­op­ment un­der its belt, the 5 se­ries just gets bet­ter and bet­ter

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