The 7th-generation 5 Series has a straightforward, yet unenviable task: it must defeat a number of highly regarded rivals to restore BMW to the top of the executive sedan segment. The 540i M Sport test unit featured in this review was advantaged by virtue of being specified with a raft of extra features, but is it an impressive car underneath it all?
We like: engaging on-board technologies, superb dynamics, overall poise
We don’t like: general ride quality still on sporty side, steering feel somewhat inert
- The refined option: The Mercedes-Benz E400 AMG Line 4Matic (R1 037 526) may not be as sporty to drive as it looks, but the sedan lacks nothing in terms of refinement and comfort. As is the case with the 5 Series, the E-Class looks very derivative, but it’s effortlessly luxurious.
- Brother of a champion: The Jaguar XF 35t R-Sport (R1 126 992) is the British marque’s flagship executive sedan, which won its category in the 2016/17 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by Wesbank (25t Portfolio). A true driver’s car, but lacks the polish/poise of its German rivals.
- Understated style: Volvo S90 T6 AWD R-Design (R879 730) is a comparative bargain compared with its German and English rivals. Although it doesn’t have all the high-end features available in its technological arsenal, the Volvo has a soft touch/coolness factor that’s hard to quantify.
The adaptive LED headlights and M Sport bumper add considerable character to the 5 Series' front end.
What is it?
From a global perspective, the BMW 5 Series is a pivotal car for the Bavarian-based brand, not only in terms of volumes, but also profitability. The G30-generation sedan arrived on the local market early in 2017, barely a year after its bigger brother (the 7 Series, the 2016/17 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards First Class Car of the Year winner, with which the latest Five shares a platform) was launched in South Africa.
Although it is slightly longer and wider than before, the extensive use of aluminium in the panels, underpinnings and suspension has resulted in a car that’s 100 kg lighter than its predecessor, which bodes well for improved performance, handling and efficiency. And, lest we forget, there are many of the technological highlights of the previously mentioned first-class car that are now available in the 5 Series… but more about that later.
The fitment of 19-inch alloys, in conjunction with the M Sport suspension, raise the 540i's kerb appeal... but is detrimental to the ride quality.
How does it fare in terms of…
Kerb appeal/on-road presence?
Even though we’ve had a few months to become accustomed to the exterior appearance of the latest 5 Series, which borrows styling cues from its 7 Series sibling with impunity, the test team could not reach consensus on whether the styling execution is hit or miss. An aesthetic critique is subjective, of course: the sedan’s understated handsome looks are either quietly confident or frustratingly demure; it depends on your perspective.
Upon closer inspection, you’re likely to notice how the ornate LED adaptive headlamp clusters merge gracefully with the large double kidney grille. There are characteristic swage lines that run just under the door handles for the length of the sedan’s flanks, a bevelled edge that traces the glasshouse (and Hoffmeister kink), as well as L-shaped LED taillights. Despite being slightly longer and wider than before, the G30-generation looks tauter and more compact, which is helped by the Bluestone Metallic exterior finish.
Note the bevelled edge that traces the outline of the sedan's characteristic Hoffmeister kink (the elbow of the rear 3-quarter light).
It needs to be noted, however, that the optional M Sport body kit beefs up the sedan’s kerb appeal appreciably; we wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of buyers opted for the sculpted bumpers, side skirts and 19-inch titanium-coloured alloy wheels, which, in the case of the test unit, was augmented by the M Sport braking system’s blue calipers.
When you slide into the (optional) sports driver’s seat and ensconce yourself behind the thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel, the dashboard’s wrap-around architecture, the TFT instrumentation panel, piano-black-clad fascia (with the 10.25-inch infotainment screen perched on top of it) instantly envelop you. It is fair to note that the fitment of extra-cost sports seats plays a part, but if BMW has stolen the march on its rivals – even the award-winning Jaguar XF – it’s in availing a near-perfect engaging driving position.
Virtually every interior panel/decorative detail is pleasing to the eye or touch; be it the Aluminium Rhombicle inserts, the contrast stitching on swathes of black leather, the delicate, sumptuous interior LED lighting, or the pleasingly-weighted switchgear with metallic finishes, the 5 Series’ cabin feels more “luxury saloon” than executive sedan.
The 5 Series' cockpit is driver-centric and ergonomically engaging. LED mood lighting is set to emit a purple hue.
The on-board technology, meanwhile, is astonishingly intuitive. The infotainment system has a customisable multiple-window menu that can be operated by the iDrive controller, touchscreen and gesture control (the latter requires some familiarisation, but adjusting the volume and skipping a music track movements were relatively easy to master). Furthermore, the 5 Series will happily park itself, even if you, the driver, is standing outside of the car, but in case you are curious to see for yourself, the surround-view camera system offers a detailed view of what is going on around the car and the major camera lenses swivel dynamically in the directions that the car’s wheels are turned.
All occupants benefit from the Ambient Air Package, which allows you to choose between a pair of fragrances to diffuse in the cabin, as well as the (standard in the 540i) 4-zone climate control system and electric rear screen roller blind with manual side blinds. The test unit was even equipped with a rear entertainment system, but even though such lavish accoutrements seem seamlessly carried over from the 7 Series, aft passengers occupants don’t get the best deal in the 5 Series’ cabin: the rear legroom is fair, but the backrest is somewhat upright and the cushioning is less than cossetting.
The amount of rear legroom afforded is fair, as opposed to impressive, but passengers have a separate climate control console.
Handling and refinement balance?
Even though the 5 Series is renowned for being one of the sportier executive sedans in the market, its athleticism is now more of an inherent, rather than an overt, trait. The Bimmer’s most apparent on-road characteristic is poise. Thanks to special acoustic glass and a particularly aerodynamic body structure, the 540i Sport cuts through the air with precious little engine, wind and road noise intrusion into the sedan’s plush cabin.
Plus, it’s a car that will happily “drive itself” for extended periods, especially in mind-numbing congested freeway conditions. If specified with Driving Assist Plus, which comprises camera and radar-based driver assistance systems including active cruise control with Stop&Go function, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assist, evasion aid and crossroads warning, the 540i will keep to its lane without requiring minor steering inputs and dynamically adapt its pace depending on prevailing traffic conditions.
Testers were very complimentary about the 540i's involving driving position, as well as the balance of comfort and support offered by the front seats.
According to press material supplied with our test unit, this particular 5 Series was not specified with Integral Active Steering, which swivels the vehicle’s rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts to make the German sedan easier to manoeuvre around town, yet wieldier on a demanding series of serpentine bends. To its credit, however, the 540i at our disposal exhibited good body control and was as deft-footed as virtually any non-halo model in the executive sedan segment. The steering is sharp and precise; it instils confidence in the driver when cornering, but, alas, it’s largely bereft of feel.
Similarly, ride comfort is not the 540i’s strongest suit. Yes, the redesigned double-wishbone front axle and new multi-link rear suspension deliver a commendable mix of sportiness and pliancy, but when riding on a performance-tuned M Sport suspension and low(ish)-profile 19-inch wheels (245/40 R19 front, 275/35 R19 rear), less than ideal road conditions are never far from the driver and fellow occupants’ attention. We expect that on more moderately shod and -suspended 5 Series, the on-road demeanour would be far more even-tempered; perhaps the dynamic damper control (EDC) option is worth considering… when selected, the suspension automatically adapts to road conditions and adds Comfort+ as an additional driving experience control (driving mode) setting.
The rear luggage space can be increased by using the through-loading function. The test unit's bootlid was electrically operated.
Performance and economy?
The 5 Series, like so many of its peers, has been subjected to engine downsizing and, because there is no longer a petrol V8 in the range, the proven single-turbo 250 kW/450 Nm 3.0-litre straight 6 is the most powerful motor available (at least until the flagship M5 performance sedan arrives in 2018). The silky 6 is mated with an 8-speed transmission and the powertrain adapts well to the various driving modes at the driver’s disposal.
Zero to 100 kph is claimed to take 5.1 secs and in-gear acceleration is responsive, linear and feels unburstable, even if the soundtrack is somewhat muted. Meanwhile, in terms of fuel consumption, BMW claims an admirable average of 7.2 L/100 km thanks to measures such as the Active Air Stream kidney grille, which helps to reduce the drag coefficient to 0.22 cd, and the lightening effect of EfficientLightweight construction.
Value for money?
The 540i costs R1 005 115, which includes a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan, the aforementioned electric blinds and 4-zone climate control, a professional navigation system, multifunctional instrument- and head-up displays and wireless ‘phone charging.
The Professional entertainment system includes a pair of rear monitors that avail infotainment features to back-seat occupants.
The list of optional equipment fitted to the test unit is staggering, however. It includes (but is not limited to) the M Sport aerodynamic kit, -suspension, -steering wheel and -brakes, adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist, glass sunroof, BMW display key with remote control parking, comfort access, heated sports front seats, Harman/kardon surround sound, gesture control, driving assist plus, parking assist plus, ambient air package, rear-seat entertainment, electrically activated tailgate and trailer tow hitch.
With more than R300k’s worth of extra equipment fitted to this 540i, the top-of-the-range 5 Series does not make a lot of sense, especially because the entry-level 7 Series, the similarly-engined 740i with an asking price of R1 445 576, costs “only” R150 000 more.
As we've alluded to in the review, the 540i's standard features list is not stellar; the digital instrument panel IS standard, however.
In an automotive market that increasingly favours SUVs over traditional executive sedans, the relevance of the 7th-generation BMW 5 Series is moot. However, it would be patently unfair to judge the product on the consumption patterns of local consumers alone; suffice to say the newcomer can justifiably stake a claim to being the best car in its (albeit shrinking) segment. In terms of offering a premium driving experience, the G30-generation delivers comfort, refinement, sophistication… and driver engagement.
As for affording a driver and their fellow occupants a “first-class motoring experience at the fraction of the price”, the picture looks less rosy. With an asking price of over a R1-million, that fraction is too large in the 540i’s case, because the smartest, most desirable features are frustratingly optional. Plus, while the on-road refinement, handling and performance are all impressive, opting for the handsome aerodynamic kit and bigger wheels comes at the cost of comfort, unless you add on the adaptive suspension.
Therefore, the best value arguably lies in a prudently specified 520d, which offers peak torque of 400 Nm (just 50 Nm less than the 540i) and should, in theory, leave you more budget to spec nice-to-haves in the car; like its fellow 5 Series derivatives it certainly would not need to stand back to any of its executive sedan rivals; if the Volvo S90 has taught us anything, it’s that 4 cylinder powerplants are sufficient in these applications!
Watch Ciro de Siena's video review of the 540i Sport below: