What do you do when you have a fantastic-selling product that simply won’t stop selling well, despite it being old? You make small changes, update some things that need updating and largely leave it alone, right? Don’t fix what ain’t broke, as the old adage goes. From the outside, it seems as if BMW’s done just that with the new G30-generation 5 Series. It isn’t dramatically different looking than the F10-generation it replaces, so you’d be forgiven if you thought that it was more of the same. However, underneath the skin, the new 5 Series couldn’t be more different from the car it replaces and that became immediately clear from the moment we set off in the new 2017 BMW 530i M Sport.
To give journalists the chance to drive the new 5 Series, BMW flew us out to the usually-beautiful San Francisco, except this time it was raining. When we got to our hotel, we were met by the original E12 5 Series standing outside the lobby. The old car, with its sharknose front-end and perfectly simple and elegant proportions, stood proud as it represented the beginning of a historic lineage.
The following morning, we were greeted by a fleet of new G30-gen 5 Series’ in lashing rain and fog. Not the best weather to test a brand new car but there they were, standing next to their maker, the E12 5er. It looks good, this new 5 Series. Pictures don’t do it justice, where the car seems like much of the same. However, in person, it’s far more elegant while also being more muscular than the previous F10-generation car. By contrast, the older car looks downright bland and boring. Where the shoulder line meets the front fender, there’s a muscularity to the new 5 Series that the old car never had, like an athlete ready to launch.
Up front, new headlights that meet the signature Kidney Grilles looks great and feature LEDs as-standard. With the M Sport package, the front end looks aggressive but not overly so. In fact, I think it needs the M Sport package, which adds larger air intakes and a more aggressive front fascia, to really do the car justice. Out back, the new taillights are a massive upgrade over the old car’s. While they may not look anything special in pictures, when seen in person and when compared to the old 5er’s, they are a marked improvement and give the whole tail end of the car a more elegant look.
I recently tested a 7 Series just a few weeks prior to testing this new 5er and I was genuinely more impressed by the far less expensive 5 Series.
Step into the driver’s seat and the door closes with an aristocratic “whoomph”. This is a solid feeling car, one that feels more expensive than its price tag would suggest. From the incredibly comfy driver’s seat, every touch point and material feels solid and expensive. It feels as if it was built to withstand a nuclear fallout. When BMW first revealed this new 5 Series’ interior, it received some flak from enthusiasts and journalists alike for not being much different than the 7 Series that came before it. When Mercedes-Benz makes the C-Class look like the E-Class which looks like the S-Class, no one bats an eye, in fact they applaud the folks in Stuttgart. When BMW trickles its 7 Series luxury and tech down, there’s rioting. It’s absurd. What’s even more absurd is how this new 5 Series’ interior feels even better than the 7 Series’.
I recently tested a 7 Series just a few weeks prior to testing this new 5er and I was genuinely more impressed by the far less expensive 5 Series. The fit and finish is unparalleled in this class and the materials feel top notch. This feels like a six-figure car interior at half the price.
Then there’s the technology, which is equally as impressive. The new tile-based interface of BMW’s new iDrive 6.0 is brilliant, as it’s incredibly easy to use and the tiles feature live information, so you don’t even have to click on one to see what’s going on. The navigation tile will show real-time nav directions without even having to click it and open it up, for instance. It’s brilliant. And the fact that there are so many redundant ways to interact with the iDrive system just gives the driver more flexibility without overwhelming them with information. So, you can use the traditional iDrive controller as intuitively as ever, or you can simply touch the screen, with pinch and zoom functionality as well, or you can even use Gesture Control, which is far easier to use and responsive than you might think. And all with ultra-slick graphics. It makes Mercedes’ COMAND system and Audi’s MMI seem like Commodore 64s.
But once you get past the looks and the brilliant cabin, it’s time to start the car. The BMW 5 Series has a rich, long history of combining ride comfort and driving dynamics in a sublime package. However, the most recent previous iteration of the 5 Series, the F10-gen, sort of lost that and focused more on comfort. So there was a lot riding on this push of the starter button.
Fire it up and the B48 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder fires to life with a quick grumble. It isn’t the best sounding engine in the world, but it’s not bad either, for a little four-banger. From the outside, there’s just the faintest of burbles, as the four-pot idles, but on the inside it’s as quiet as a church. While enthusiasts might want some more engine noise, the sound insulation is impressive. Pop the gear selector in “D”, get rolling and the 5 Series moves with an effortless grace that seems to have been lost on BMWs in recent years. The steering is light but weights up nicely as you add steering lock and there’s actually some decent feel.
There’s a silkiness to the way the 5 Series glides about, it feels light on its feet and sure of itself. Stab the throttle and the 2.0 liter engine revs freely, making a commendable growl, if nothing too special sounding. However, it motivates the 530i with a verve that was simple unexpected. Its 252 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque are more than enough to make the 530i a quick car. BMW claims 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds but it wouldn’t surprise me if that number dropped under 6 seconds in real-world testing. It’s also smooth for a little four-pot, but it does have a bit of coarseness at the top end.
As always, the eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic shines, effortlessly swapping cogs and putting the transmission in the perfect gear regardless of situation. When in “D”, it will shift to the highest gear possible, of course, for fuel economy purposes. But just a gentle stab of the accelerator and the ‘box will instantly drop a few gears and give you the right-now power you need in the blink of an eye. Pull the gear selector towards you, into “S”, and it becomes far more aggressive, hanging onto lower gears to give you the most possible power. When shifted manually, via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, each gear change is immediate and as smooth as butter. If there’s a better auto gearbox on the market, I haven’t seen it.
In packed San Francisco traffic, the BMW 530i is a gem. It’s effortless and calm, simply wafting its passengers about in superb ride comfort and serene luxury. It’s ultra-quiet in the new 5er, thanks to some fancy new tech, such as Special Synergy Thermoacoustic Capsule (SYNTAK) engine encapsulation technology, acoustic glazing for the windscreen and the acoustic headliner. If there was a complaint, it’s that there’s a bit of excess road noise that comes into the cabin at highway speed. However, that may be thanks to the run-flat tires. I’d like to get a set of summer Michelins on there and see if that quells the issue. But in traffic, BMW’s new Active Cruise Control and semi-autonomous steering systems make easy work of traffic.
The new 5 Series can steer itself and keep itself in the lane for up to 50 seconds at just the press of a button on the steering wheel. Thumb the button and a little green steering wheel icon will appear on the dash if the system is available for use. If so, it will allow the driver to take their hands off the wheel for short periods of time and, so long as there are clear lane markings, can keep itself in the lane and driving safely all on its own. However, if you keep your hands off the wheel for long enough, the green icon will turn yellow, basically telling you “Hey, pay attention and you should probably grab the wheel.” If you fail to heed its warning after a few seconds, the yellow icon turns red and you will get some audible indications that it’s necessary you put your hands back on the wheel. Fail to Heed its warning more and the system will you that it’s stopping steering assist and you’re on your own again. If you follow the rules, though, the car will easily and effortlessly assist you in staying in the lane while also keeping a safe distance behind the car in front of you on its own. It really can take the stress out of traffic.
But, as impressive as that technology is, it’s not what we were there for. How does it actually drive when the road opens up and you can chuck it around a bit? In a word — refreshing. As soon as we were able to really cut the wheel and throw the 530i around, we were impressed at just how nimble it feels. There’s no two ways about it, the new 5 Series is a big car. But when pushed, it shrinks around you, making it feel a lot smaller than it is. The front end bites and the nose tucks in fantastically for a car this size and the rear end follows as it should. If pushed hard, you can even get the back end to play a bit.
It’s the steering, though, that impressed most. The last-gen 5 Series and even the current-gen 7 Series, upon which this 5er is based, both felt gluey in their steering. However, this new BMW 530i felt sharp in its steering, with a delicate and perfectly accurate responses. There’s none of that on-center deadness that’s plagued a lot of modern BMWs. Just quick, precise and light flicks of the wheel that produce accurate responses and make this 530i a genuinely fun car to toss around.
While the BMW 530i might not be the perfect expression of how fun the new 5 Series can be, it’s certainly a massive step up from its predecessor and a fantastic car to drive everyday. The blend of ride comfort and handling capability is back, bringing back memories of the E39-generation 5 Series. And while this new G30 may not be as good as the E39 was, it’s the closest thing to it since. And that gives us hope for the future of not just the famous 5 Series model line but the brand as a whole.