New BMW 5 Series comes as EV, lets you change lanes with your eyes, watch YouTube and play video games
The famous Five's eighth adventure brings lots of tech - but at a price, says William Scholes
ALTHOUGH everyone is buying SUVs, BMW reckons there is still a lucrative market for its uber-competent and so-good-it's-boring 5 Series executive saloon, which is soon to arrive in its shiny new eighth generation guise, writes William Scholes.
And because this is 2023 and not 1972, when the elegant and class-defining 5 Series debuted, you have a choice of petrol or electric drivetrains. In a further sign of how dramatically tastes have shifted, the once-ubiquitous 520d and 530d, those darlings of the company car lists, are no more; BMW will stop selling diesel versions to UK market customers.
When the new 5 Series does land - it's scheduled to start clogging up Northern Ireland overtaking lanes from October - the entry point will be a petrol 520i. It's standard enough fare - rear-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic gearbox, with the four-cylinder mild hybrid unit making 205bhp and 236lb ft for a reasonable 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds and top speed of 143mph. Fuel consumption is rated at between 44mpg and 49mph, and CO2 emissions between 130g/km and 144g/km.
I did raise my eyebrows at the price BMW charges for this bottom-of-the-ladder offering, which retails at £49,850 before a visit to the options list. We all know cars have got expensive but £50k feels… ambitious. Or maybe it's a sign of how we are having to recalibrate our reference points when it comes to car pricing.
Nonetheless, it's a considerable jump from the prices BMW charged when the outgoing seventh generation car arrived. Checking a report I wrote at the time, in 2017 the entry 520d was £36k, while £50k - incoming 520i money, in other words - would have seen you drive off in a 540i xDrive M Sport, which is an altogether more appealing proposition. Though maybe I'm being too harsh - after all, today the outgoing 520i costs around £46k. There's inflation, and then there's car prices…
But if you think £50k for a four-cylinder 2.0-litre is expensive, wait until you hear what they're asking for the electric i5 versions.
Two variants will initially be offered. The 'eDrive40' is priced from £73,200 while the top-of-the-line 'M60 xDrive' - a name which could almost be shared with an American army machine gun, which may or may not be intentional - is priced from a mere £96,840.
However you slice it, that's a lot of money for what is, at the end of the day, a mid-size saloon.
The eDrive 40 is rear-wheel-drive and has a single rear-mounted motor, good for 335bhp and 317lb ft of torque, with a brisk 0-62mph time of 6.0 seconds and a top speed of 120mph. It would seem to be the more sensible, usable choice compared to the rapid fire M60 version. It adds a front-mounted motor to make a stonking 593bhp and 605lb ft of torque, giving it one of those crazy-quick EV 0-62mph times of just 3.8 seconds. Those are virtually M5 Competition levels of performance.
Both i5 versions have a 81.2kWh lithium ion battery; the eDrive40 goes further, with a claimed range of between 296 and 362 miles, with the bonkers M60 apparently capable of between 283 and 321 miles.
Like its customer base, the 5 Series has grown a little chunkier over the years, with this latest version stretching to more than 5 metres in length for the first time.
I suppose you do get plenty of gadgets for your money, following the axiom that the less interesting the mechanical elements of a car are, the more the manufacturer tries to woo us with tech. So the latest 5 Series gets a virtually button-free 'curved display', with 12.3-inch digital dials in front of the driver and a 14.9-inch touchscreen in the middle.
Tick the right option box and you can watch YouTube on this, should that be the sort of thing you want to do in your car (and even if you did, would it be an appreciably better experience than watching it on a smartphone or iPad?).
There's also something called an ‘AirConsole’ where you and your passengers can use your phones to play games on the screen while the car is stopped (or, more likely, charging). What is generously described by BMW as a 'portfolio' of 20 games is offered, including scintillating titles such as Music Guess, Overcooked and Golazo. Is this really the sort of thing that owners of expensive luxury saloons want to do?
The new 5 Series has a conscience too; like Paul McCartney, it's vegan, with a new type of animal-friendly upholstery. In what may be the first ever example of a car's seats being named in homage to Alan Partridge, it's called 'veganza', which is perhaps a portmanteau of 'vegan' and 'Gazza'. Or 'vegetable' and 'credenza'. If a leather-free interior isn't for you, the real thing can still be specified.
As one might expect, all manner of safety and driver assistance aids are available, including an intriguing 'active lane change assistant'. This allows the car to be controlled by the driver's eyes. "The vehicle suggests a lane change and this can be carried out by looking in the exterior mirror to confirm," explains BMW. Is this really a good idea? The system won't be offered in the UK yet, so time will tell.
As we have lamented on these pages before, it is a long time since BMW could be depended upon to produce designs of elegance and restraint. However, the 5 Series is one of the least visually offensive offerings to be unleashed upon the public in recent years - unlike the iX and XM SUVs, it's not going to frighten small children and pets. It looks kind of normal, which is perhaps as good as it gets these days, and they've resisted the temptation to lumber the 5 Series with the dreadful double-coffin grille treatment seen on the larger i7. That will probably come with the inevitable 'facelift' in a few years.
In tried and tested BMW fashion, the range will expand, with Touring estate and plug-in hybrids expected to arrive in 2024.
All versions will no doubt very nicely but I can't escape the nagging sense that, at least as far as the 5 Series is concerned, BMW left behind the 'Ultimate Driving Machine' credo several generations ago.