More than any other model in its line-up, the 5 Series is the cornerstone on which the foundations of BMW’s success today is built. The original E12 5 Series launched in 1972 was the model that first used BMW’s familiar naming convention that continues to be used today.
Indeed, the 5 Series has come far from the days of the E12. In the model generations that followed, from the second-generation E28 to the outgoing sixth-generation F10, BMW has carefully cultivated successive generations of the 5 Series to embody the spirit of sportiness and dynamism that is unmatched within the premium luxury segment.
From being an also-ran at the beginning, the BMW 5 Series is now a segment front-runner, locked in an eternal battle for supremacy against the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The new G30 5 Series comes hot on the heels of a similarly-renewed W213 E-Class, and the stage is indeed set for perhaps the most epic of tussles between the two segment heavyweights.
Thus far, Mercedes-Benz has opened with a strong hand; the W213 E-Class is a vehicle of immense excellence. Can the G30 rise to the challenge? We flew to Lisbon, Portugal, to find out.
BMW 530d xDrive
Engine: 3.0-litre, Inline-6 Longitudinal, Turbocharged, Diesel
Power: 265hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 620Nm @ 2,000 – 2,500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed torque converter automatic, AWD
Engine: 3.0-litre, Inline-6 Longitudinal, Turbocharged, Petrol
Power: 340hp @ 5,500 – 6,500rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1,380 – 5,200rpm
Transmission: 8-speed torque converter automatic, RWD
BMW made only two variants available for driving at the 5 Series international media drive; both of them, in the best traditions of the 5 Series, being powered by 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines. At the petrol corner sat the 540i, kitted in M Sport trim and driving its rear wheels, whilst the diesel end was represented by the all-paw 530d xDrive – neither variants, however, are likely to form the core offerings for our market.
Whilst it is possible that we may see the 540i in Malaysia at launch, bulk of sales in our market is likely to be made up by the 2.0-litre four-cylinder variants. At present, BMW only offers its new B48 modular aluminium engine in 252hp guise powering the 530i, but we expect lower powered versions to eventually appear at a later time.
The 530e plug-in hybrid is another intriguing variant that may see the light of day in our market, provided BMW gets the same EEV incentives that have already been blessed to the 330e. Lastly, we may also see the 520d coming in to complete the range.
Globally, only the 520d is offered with the option of a 6-speed manual transmission; rest of the range are fitted standard with ZF’s 8-speed automatic transmission that we know well enough for its sterling service since the days of the F10. Selected markets additionally get the option of all-wheel drive.
Underpinnings of the new G30 are derived from the 7 Series, but without the groundbreaking Carbon Core inner structure. The reason for this, we are told, is less about cost but simply because current manufacturing techniques are not able to churn our carbon fibre in sufficient quantities to meet the 5 Series’ projected volume. Nevertheless, by intelligently working with materials that it can use, namely aluminium, high-tensile steel, and magnesium, BMW is still able to make the G30 a full 100kg lighter than the F10. A more relevant comparison – the 1,615kg 530i is 85kg lighter than the F10 528i it replaces.
Being developed concurrently with the G11/G12 7 Series, it is unsurprising that the G30 5 Series not only shares much of its bigger brother’s underpinnings, but common styling cues as well. The fascia, for starters, is a dead ringer for the G11 notably with its wide oversized key grilles joined to headlamp clusters housing those distinctive double-C LED daytime running lights.
Zoom out, however, the silhouette points to a more evolutionary progression from the preceding F10 model. Notable cues retained from the predecessor include the strong character line running along the shoulder through the door handles and the distinctly acute curvature of the Hofmeister kink that first appeared in the E34 then not seen again until the F10. Overall effect of the styling strikes a middle ground between the outlandish E60 and the more subdued F10.
The 5 Series has grown along all three physical dimensions, albeit by minor increments in each direction. Lengthwise, the G30 has gained 37mm to stretch the tape measure to 4,936mm; seven of those extra millimetres went between the axles, pushing the wheelbase to 2,975mm. The new car is also 8mm wider and 15mm taller than its predecessor, these two measurements reading 1,868mm and 1,479mm respectively.
In typical BMW fashion, the G30’s cabin is more functional than it is luxurious. You get the virtual instrument cluster and free-standing iDrive touchscreen complete with gesture control from the 7 Series, but unlike the E-Class, the overall layout is distinctly conventional. Entirely appropriate, however, if the idea is to take focus off the cabin’s dressing and onto the driving experience, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Significant improvements are nevertheless visible with BMW’s choice of materials of which we can find no meaningful fault. We particularly like the patterned aluminium dash inserts that were fitted our 540i M Sport test car. The cabin does not appear outlandishly expensive as the Mercedes E-Class, but is far from lacking in quality. Whilst it seems to carry an evolution of the F10's cabin layout, make no mistake, gains in fit and finish are leaps and bounds from the predecessor.
Of greater importance over an ownership cycle is the intuitive clarity with which the instruments and controls are laid out that make ease of day-to-day operation of the vehicle. In true BMW fashion, this cabin is unmistakably functional first, and plush a close second.
We demand nothing short of class leadership from a BMW 5 Series where driving performance is concerned, and early indications in Portugal suggest those expectations will be convincingly met, even though the model mix of test cars made available to us were hardly reflective of what we will be getting in Malaysia.
A fuller verdict await our review of local-spec cars, but in 540i guise as tested, the 5 Series presents itself as a car with its breadth of abilities better rounded than ever. Running on a more aggressive M Sport suspension setup, admittedly with adaptive dampers, the 540i offered convincing body control whilst barely sacrificing any notion of comfort.
Steering delights too; pleasantly weighted with just enough heft to feel substantial, but not too much to feel unwieldy at low speeds. Allied with Integral Active Steer in our test car, the 5 Series is impressively nimble and agile for a car its size; we certainly felt the new car’s reduced kilograms more acutely around tight corners than we did its extra millimetres around the seams.
Despite all the electronic driving aids BMW has bundled into the cars, the electric-assisted rack was not found wanting for feedback, although it’s admittedly not as feelsome as we experienced with elder members of the lineage.
Straight line performance is impressive, but strangely less brutal than the less powerful 535i of the previous generation. Don’t be fooled into thinking the newer car is slower, however, it isn’t – it is a full second faster to 100km/h from standstill. The new car accelerates faster and does so with a greater degree of finesse.
The diesel-powered 530d xDrive is even more accomplished, with 620Nm of twist applied to all corners, it is a properly fast yet supremely stable vehicle. It has that same nimble feeling as the 540i yet more sure-footed and confident; one gets the distinct sensation that all-wheel drive is geared to be a mainstream option with the G30 rather than just as a niche offering in select markets.
It is quite unfortunate then, that the combination of a 3.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive is overkill for the needs of our market – the 530d xDrive feels like a very complete and well-honed package with an impressively wide range of talents.
Comfort & Refinement
The G30’s gains in the handling department is surprisingly well-matched by equally deft improvements in comfort. Our 540i M Sport test car notably delivered a ride quality that was truly supple without sacrificing any notion of body control. The 530d xDrive, also with adaptive dampers, but in standard tune and 18-inch alloys, added a further layer of polish to an already supremely plush ride.
The suspension’s impressive pliancy come hand-in-hand with similarly noteworthy levels of refinement. At highway speeds, neither versions of the G30 troubled our ear drums with uncomfortable levels of noise. Whatever sounds that were let into the cabin, were mostly of the pleasant variety produced by its gloriously smooth straight-six engines.
Auto start-stop, once the bane of BMW vehicles when the technology was introduced, also sees significant improvements in its application. It’s not imperceptible, the way the engine cuts in and out of firing, but sounds and vibrations inherently generated by the process are sufficiently well-damped that they did not trouble us.
BMW engineers claim that they have fine-tuned the system minutely enough that the car is able to ascertain whether actually stopped at a traffic light or merely caught in stop go traffic or just exiting a junction. The system is supposedly programmed to not shut the engine down in the latter situations.
As it was, the F10 BMW 5 Series was already convincingly competitive athlete with a sufficiently balanced spread of abilities that made it a class favourite when launched and still near the pinnacle of its class at the end of its model life cycle.
That the G30 was going to better its predecessor was a given, but the quantum of improvement achieved by BMW is still nevertheless impressive. Balancing market trends toward more economical and more autonomous driving, BMW was somehow able to meet those needs whilst still producing a vehicle that is quantifiably better and more engaging to drive than its predecessor, without sacrificing any comfort to boot.
The all-new BMW 5 Series is due to launch in Malaysia later this week, and we await the opportunity to sample a local-spec car before delivering a fuller verdict more relevant to Malaysian readers, but indications are that BMW's latest mid-sizer is set to resume its position of leadership against its rivals. A thoroughly accomplished all-rounder, this is.