First Drive: BMW 5 Series


Some cars are easy to review – there is often a stand out feature that is easily identifiable as the best or worst aspect and it can be praised or damned as a result. But the new BMW 5 Series is not so helpful – even over an extended run along French mountain roads no highlight emerged.

This might sound like it was simply an average car, but in fact the reverse was true. Everything was just so efficient and impressive that it was impossible to pick holes in it.

The interior is the first aspect that has significantly upped its game from the old car. Where the previous generation could be described as slightly dull, the new version has gone for a more sophisticated and elegant layout. The double humps over the dashboard have gone, and one sweeping dash now sits above a very driver-focussed cockpit.

This driver-centric feel continues beyond simply angling the instrument panel towards the driver. The 5 Series is a joy to drive, rarely feeling as big as it actually is. This is aided no end on the top-end models by the inclusion of an active steering system which controls the rear wheels as well as the front.

The system is similar to that used on the Renault Laguna GT and means the back wheels point in the opposite direction to the front at low speeds and in the same direction at higher speed. The effect is a tighter turning circle and smoother lane-changing on the motorway. This feature is accompanied by a much improved ride, despite the inclusion of run flat tyres across the range.

Seven engines will be available from launch, with the diesels expected to make up 90 percent of sales. So far we have only been able to test the top spec diesel, the 530d, and the 535i petrol engine. Both are six-cylinder affairs that offer similar levels of performance. In fact the diesel is marginally more responsive, as the power delivery from the petrol is not quite as instantaneous as you'd expect from such a large unit. The 4-cylinder 520d is expected to be the big seller though.

If there are any faults with the 5 Series they are minor ones. It is irritating that folding rear seats are still not included as standard on a car that will be driven by so many parents who would appreciate the increased carrying capacity gained by dropping the back seats.

The other quibble is the 5 Series efficiency, which may seem harsh since the saloon still outperforms all its competitors, but this is a major new model for BMW and given the brand's recent history of major advancements in CO2 reductions, it is disappointing that the latest model doesn't make a bigger stride forward in terms of emissions. However, the automatic versions of all three diesels are expected to dip under the vital company car tax barrier of 160g/km, proving the 5 Series' worth to company and retail buyers alike.

Granted some of you may not be taken by the looks and the image of the 5 Series, but short of ordering BMW's designers to discard history and start afresh, there is seemingly little to be done there. Such is the depth of the car's talent the looks feel entirely inconsequential from behind the steering wheel.