Big, bold and beautiful – BMW keeps up the good work with all-new 5-Series
No snow makes hay for new BMW. Frederic Manby tries it in the Pyrenées.
BMW must have been praying to whoever handles weather these chaotic days that there would not be late snow in the Pyrenées, where the UK arm of the Bavarian car masters was launching the all-new 5-Series to the ladies and gents of the Press. Rearwheel-drive performance saloons have been disgraced by this winter’s white weather.
The start was in Pau, a confident capital city of Pyrenées-Atlantiques and Béarn, off the coastal tourist track, on the French side.
I sensed the driver of the blue van behind was frazzled at the dithering, hesitant pace of the silver super saloon in front. My co-driver was being ultra-cautious. Better safe than scratched. Finally, at yet another moment of La Grand Dame Dither, the well-named Urgence Gaz van scampered past on a junction and was gone in a flurry of gravel.
We pulled in to the safety of the Parc Beaumont, a concave-fronted modern hotel with balcony rooms facing curves in the road which become a chicane when they hold the classic street race here.
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The new 5 is a fine car. It looks right and it feels right. It resembles the old one but instant ID includes all-red rear lamps and a triple scallop in the bonnet. The boot and bonnet shut lines are different.
Our route was snow-free, crash-free, pastis-free, and ideal for driving pleasure. The scenery is magnificent. We crossed the river Gave and soon were climbing up the N134 for the Tunnel du Somport, a ninekilometre, all-weather route to Spain.
The N330 took us to Jaca, an ancient capital of Aragon, then to a light, alcohol-free lunch at Roncesvalles and then into Pays Basque, lovely Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port with its quaint houses on the Nive, and back to the exec jet at Pau. It is an easy run in a day, and enchanting.
The car was terrific. Buyers in the category have some tantalising choices. There is the Mercedes-Benz E-class and the Audi A6, each with rafts of engine options, and the Jaguar XF, with far fewer choices but enough to almost outsell the BMW in Britain.
It is roomier than the Jag and rear headroom and boot shape also shames the large Jaguar XF. The aperture to the boot on the 5 is huge and it is deep and long inside. The 535i seen here was fitted with four-mode suspension, an extra £2,220. You can manage very well on the standard suspension (which the 530d demo car had) but the Adaptive Drive means you may select comfort, normal, sport or sport+ to alter handling, throttle and steering responses. If you are a competitive driver, then you will love it. The car was also on 19-inch wheels which were part of a £2,820 Dynamic pack.
BMW has been making 5-series cars for almost 40 years. It has sold nearly five million. It pioneered the contemporary mid-size executive sporting saloon. From 2005 to 2008, it was the best-selling car in its segment for four years in a row, with world sales of the saloon reaching 1,096,810 when production of the Mk V stopped at the end of 2009.
This one is the sixth in line. It sits on a shortened chassis of the 7-series, which means it has double wishbone front suspension and a sound start in life.
It is the biggest 5 so far. The wheelbase is three inches longer, most of it used to give more space for rear passengers. The car nose to tail is two inches longer, with shorter overhangs, a slight gain in width and a near twoinch gain in track. The result is a more stable vehicle.
We tried the 530d and the 535i in SE trim with eightspeed automatic gears. The list price of each is just over £37,000. The auto box adds £1,495. There is hardly anything in the 0-60 mph time (6.3 and 6 seconds) and the much higher torque makes the diesel more responsive.
Here’s a thing. The diesel is quieter and sounds and feels smoother. The 535i had an uncharacteristic roughness when you floored the pedal at low speed. The clincher is fuel economy and business taxation. On our test, the 535i returned 24 miles a gallon. The 530d gave 40mpg and, at 160g/m CO2 (when fitted with automatic gears) hits a vital tax band. I wouldn’t have the petrol model even if someone paid the additional fuel costs. I’d be visiting the fuel depot regularly.
Sales of the 525d, 530d, 523i, 528i, 535i and 5501 start now. Nine out of 10 will be diesel, which makes me wonder why BMW offers us four petrol engines. In June, the biggest seller arrives, the one which will be chosen by 70 per cent of Brits. It is the 184hp 520d, a four-cylinder engine rated at 132g/km, 56.5mpg (real life will be a bit lower) and a 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds with manual gears.
A six-speed automatic is offered. It outperforms the opposition and comes with auto-stop start, brake regeneration, electric power steering, easy rolling runflat tyres. A blue symbol on the tachometer lights when the brakes are scavenging power.
At £28,165 in SE trim, it makes a stunning proposition. The next price point is £31,235 for the 523i, then £32,915 for the 528i and £33,095 for 525d. The 535i is £37,090, the 530d is £37,100 and the 550i is £50,520.