B&W’S in-car sur­round sound sys­tem comes close to great­ness

FOR In­tu­itive idrive sys­tem; de­tailed, ex­pres­sive midrange AGAINST Tubby bass af­fects tim­ing “You can spot the midrange driv­ers and tweet­ers a mile off – their pres­ence is high­lighted by some sub­tle il­lu­mi­na­tion in the front and rear doors”

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Bow­ers & Wilkins’

Di­a­mond Sur­round Sound Sys­tem made its de­but in BMW’S 7ŽSe­ries. As a pre­mium au­dio op­tion for when you’re driv­ing, it made per­fect sense.

But it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the sys­tem trick­led down to another BMW range with a big­ger pool of po­ten­tial cus­tomers. So, this flag­ship au­dio set-up is now avail­able for the 5ŽSe­ries, one of the most pop­u­lar sa­loons on the planet.

Down­ward spi­ral

Like the orig­i­nal 7ŽSe­ries sys­tem, this set-up fea­tures 16 speak­ers pow­ered by a 10-chan­nel, 1400W Class D am­pli­fier. Both front-left and front-right speaker con­fig­u­ra­tions boast Bow­ers & Wilkins’ trade­mark Di­a­mond tweet­ers – ul­tra thin, ul­tra rigid di­a­mond domes usu­ally re­served for B&W’S flag­ship stereo speak­ers.

Be­hind each one is a dif­fuser de­signed in a spi­ral shape – an idea in­spired by B&W’S high-end Nau­tilus speaker. Its job is to dis­si­pate any sound from the rear of each tweeter.

Un­like B&W’S in-car speaker sys­tems for Volvo and Mclaren, the 7ŽSe­ries sys­tem doesn’t use the com­pany’s tweeter-on-top tech­nol­ogy – a dis­tinc­tive de­sign with a tweeter mounted on top of the cen­tre of the dash­board, fir­ing straight into the cabin.

The 5ŽSe­ries sys­tem makes do with a more tra­di­tional de­sign. Here, the cen­tre chan­nel (an alu­minium tweeter and Kevlar midrange driver com­bi­na­tion) fires straight up from the cen­tre of the dash­board. Kevlar isn’t just good at stop­ping bul­lets; the ma­te­rial has been a trade­mark in­gre­di­ent of B&W loud­speak­ers for decades, and there are seven Kevlar midrange driv­ers dot­ted around the 5ŽSe­ries cabin.

You can spot the midrange driv­ers and tweet­ers a mile off – they’re placed be­hind beau­ti­fully etched stain­less steel grilles, their pres­ence high­lighted by some sub­tle il­lu­mi­na­tion in the front and rear doors. Bass is de­liv­ered by two 22cm sub­woofers un­der­neath the driver and pas­sen­ger seats.

It’s worth not­ing that the speaker lay­outs for the sa­loon and Tour­ing ver­sions of the 5ŽSe­ries dif­fer slightly. In the sa­loon, the rear sur­round speak­ers are po­si­tioned on the par­cel shelf, while the Tour­ing model sees them bumped into the rear roof lin­ing.

At the heart of ev­ery BMW lies idrive, the com­pany’s much-lauded in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The 5ŽSe­ries uses the lat­est idrive 6, which in­cludes a 10.2in touch­screen dis­play on top of the dash­board. You can nav­i­gate with a fin­ger but, when driv­ing, the cir­cu­lar con­troller and short­cut but­tons in the cen­tre con­sole will get the most use.

To­ken ges­tures

Our test car is fit­ted with BMW’S Pre­mium Pack­age (£1820), which in­cludes a spe­cial ce­ramic fin­ish on the main con­trols. It feels more lux­u­ri­ous and more tac­tile than the stan­dard plas­tics. The dis­play is smooth to op­er­ate – not quite up to Ap­ple ipad stan­dards, but it’s much more re­spon­sive and boasts less lag than some ri­val set-ups.

The main dis­play is made up from six tiles (you can see three at any one time) which you can scroll be­tween. You can cus­tomise and re­order them by press­ing, hold­ing and drag­ging, like on an iphone.

But choose BMW’S Tech­nol­ogy Pack­age (£1405) and you’re treated to ges­ture con­trol. Po­si­tion your fin­ger in range of the sen­sor and twirl it clock­wise or an­ti­clock­wise to move the vol­ume up or down ac­cord­ingly. From the out­side it looks odd, but once you’re locked into the sen­sor’s sweet spot, it works sur­pris­ingly well. How­ever, we stick to the more con­ve­nient steer­ing-wheel con­trols when driv­ing.

The cen­tre speaker is lo­cated right in the mid­dle of the dash­board The B&W’S main con­trol dial (top); Midrange driv­ers are lit up (be­low)

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