It was the perfect sequence: an hour to test the autonomous driving functions on the motorway, then a brisk drive on the country road, followed by an intensive handling course. BMW invited me to Miramas, in eastern Provence, to drive pre-production examples of the new 5 Series, internally designated the G60 – still in disguise and a month before its official unveiling.
It is the eighth generation of the iconic 5 Series, introduced in 1972 as the successor to the “New Class”. The range represents the spiritual core of the brand, along with the smaller and probably not-so-profitable 3 Series.
Still lightly camouflaged, the G60 can’t hide its sheer size. He will crack the 5-meter mark, formerly the traditional threshold to the luxury class. In fact, it’s longer than a 7 Series E38. The 5 Series has grown over the decades, as have its main competitors, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Audi A6/A7.
But there are important conceptual differences. One of them: While Audi and Mercedes-Benz build completely independent cars for their conventional and hybrid or fully electric drives, BMW has designed the G60 series in such a way that it can accommodate all drive types. Equipped with diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid powertrains, the car will retain its traditional model designations as the 5 Series, with the all-electric versions being called the i5.
It’s certainly no coincidence that BMW put me in two versions of the i5: in the 250 kW/335 hp i5 eDrive 40 for driving on country roads and in a 440 kW/590 hp i5 M60 xDrive with all-wheel drive for handling route and the drive to test the assistance systems. Because BMW’s ability to construct a sporty, agile and comfortable petrol and diesel car is undisputed. In fact, these models have served as benchmarks for the industry for decades. But can the all-electric models keep up?
As far as longitudinal dynamics go, there’s no doubt that they can do it. Even the entry-level eDrive 40 gets going quickly and delivers enough torque well over 130 km/h. The M60 model is once again in a different league: It accelerates with tremendous vehemence, it practically never runs out of power, and as long as there is no speed limit on the motorway, its superiority can also be savored in reality.
The new i5 models feature the same double wishbone front suspension and five-link rear suspension as the conventionally powered 5 Series models, but there are additional reinforcements at the front, torsion bars at the rear and an active roll stabilization system on both axles. A narrow layer of batteries is below the passengers, the elements in the center tunnel and under the rear seat are built higher, allowing the passengers to sit unusually low. The loss in interior height is negligible, as are the slight variations in trunk volume.
The wheel sizes of the regular 5 Series models range from 18 to 21 inches, but the i5 comes standard with tires measuring 245/40 R 20 at the front and 275/35 R 20 at the rear. An optional rear wheel steering system makes the vehicle more agile at low speeds and more stable when changing lanes at high speed. The new and ultra-fast vehicle dynamics management system, which controls dampers and roll stabilization, takes into account a multitude of variables to make the 5 Series sportier and more comfortable than ever.
The results of this electronic effort can be felt immediately, both on the road and on the demanding test track, where the i5 could be pushed mercilessly to the limit without losing composure. Potholes, slight bumps, bad surfaces: the car masters these challenges effortlessly and precisely. This is actually unprecedented in the world of electric cars – apart from very sporty and expensive models like the Porsche Taycan and the Audi e-tron GT. The spread between the comfort modes and the sport mode is large, and you can live well with both settings.
As much fun as it is to drive the i5 without any noticeable intervention: With its assistance systems, it is also well prepared for a future that is gradually becoming more autonomous, although it is still classified as a “Level 2” model. Equipped with vision and radar systems, the range of systems includes an extremely powerful “Highway Assistant” that allows the driver to take their hands off the wheel at all times as long as they remain alert (which the car can closely monitor).
Lane changes can be automated, and when the BMW suggests a lane change, all you have to do is look in that direction to initiate the process; no manual entry or voice command is required. This gaze control is fascinating, if perhaps a little disconcerting: never has a car come so close to reading the driver’s mind.
The head-up display doesn’t include arrows that move back and forth in space, unlike some competitors. BMW says this function could not be implemented in the desired quality. In other vehicles, the arrows tend to vibrate depending on the road surface. There is an augmented reality function in the instrumentation for this, in which camera-based real-time images are superimposed.
BMW is not yet talking about the regular engines. But we expect there will be diesel versions, at least a four-cylinder called 520d and a six-cylinder called 540d, but also four- and six-cylinder petrol engines – and, based on the six-cylinder petrol engine, a plug-in hybrid. The M5 will probably keep its V8, but the regular eight-cylinder will disappear in favor of the most powerful i5. And there will also be touring variants again.
The i5 eDrive 40 will probably achieve a range of up to 582 kilometers in the optimistic WLTP cycle, while 516 kilometers are expected for the i5 M60 xDrive. That’s not bad for electric cars, although the diesel versions could easily get twice as far with a similar driving style. A new “Max Range” mode can significantly increase the range if necessary, but at the expense of performance and comfort. This mode will also be introduced in other BMW models in the future, just like the latest assistance systems.
The design remains evolutionary, the most striking are the new, vertical daytime running lights at the front and the two horizontal stripes at the rear, which are reminiscent of the signature of the Korean luxury brand Genesis. The cockpit is characterized by the new, curved display, which operates with angular graphics. The look is polarizing, but will characterize all new BMW models for the time being.
It’s reassuring that the rest of the vehicle still looks, feels and drives like a 5 Series – and it’s the best 5 Series ever. The car will be unveiled on May 23 and launched in October – with prices likely to start well over €50,000. (aum/jm)
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