BMW’s next-generation 5 Series is one of the most hotly anticipated new models of 2017, and now we can reveal all the details. The executive model, which has been around since 1972, is the carmaker’s most profitable vehicle, and the current incarnation is still selling strongly despite being six years old. However, in February it will be superseded with a car that’s bigger, better and more efficient in every way, as well a closely resemble a scaled-down version of its bigger 7 Series stablemate.
First to arrive will be two petrol turbo saloons – the 2.0 530i and 3.0-litre 540i – and the 2.0 520d and 3.0 530d diesels. The Touring estate will follow on in the spring, along with the more efficient 520d EfficientDynamics with its 102g/km 2.0-litre diesel, and the 540e plug-in hybrid, which has an electric-only range of up to 28 miles. At the other end of the spectrum will be the V8-powered M550i. Later on we’ll see the next M5 and high-riding 5 Series GranTurismo, which will look more SUV-like than at present.
Launch prices start at £36,025 for the 520d and increase to £46,645 for the 540i xDrive, which are more than for the equivalent Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. Cheaper variants will be available later on, while the more efficient engines and weight reduction of up to 100kg aid economy, with the 520d rising by 2.8mpg to 65.6mpg.
BMW promises a class-leading drive, which can be enhanced by speccing Integrated Active Steering four-wheel steering. Meanwhile, xDrive 4WD will be available in right-hand-drive markets for the first time, while suspension options consist of the standard, comfort focussed set-up, a firmer sports system, variable dampers, and variable dampers with electronically controlled anti-roll bars.
The 5 Series’ classy cabin resembles that of the 7 Series in the same way as the exterior styling does, although the dashboard and centre console are a little more driver-focused. The excellent iDrive rotary controller gives easy control of the infotainment touchscreen, while Voice and Gesture Control set-ups are also available. Digital instruments are now standard fit. There’s more passenger space than in the current car, and plenty of boot room, too.
State-of-the-art connectivity and communications systems allow the 5 Series to ‘speak’ with other BMWs in the area, and by sharing information on, say, which electrical systems are activated, this networking could boost safety. Meanwhile, autonomous driving tech lets the 5 Series brake, steer and change lanes by itself, and allows the driver to take their hands off the wheel for up to 30 seconds.
The newcomer was partially developed on UK roads. After we drove it prototype form in north Wales, we can confirm that it has serious potential. We tried the 530i 2.0-litre and 540i 3.0 petrols, and 3.0 530d diesel. The smaller petrol has plenty of accessible performance from low rpm, while the 540i has plenty of extra muscle and its silky six-cylinder revs cleanly and audibly up through the rev range.
The 530d also sounds great and delivers blistering pace, but it combines this with impressive efficiency. Cost-conscious buyers will fare even better with the 520d model, which is likely to account for around 80% of sales, but a prototype wasn’t available to drive.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox felt great in all our test models, kicking down keenly or gently swapping cogs whenever driving situations dictate. The transmission will be standard fit on larger engines and an option lower down the range.
On standard suspension, ride and handling are comfortable and well balanced despite a little body lean during fast cornering and a slightly firm low-speed ride. Of course, sports suspension gives better control, while adaptive dampers broaden the range of abilities to suit any condition. The newcomer’s lighter weight aids agility and fast direction changes, while Integrated Active Steering tightens the line in corners. The steering itself hadn’t quite been finalised in the prototypes we drove, but early signs are that its feedback and weighting will be improved over the current car’s already impressive set-up.
Topped off by a first-rate driving position that helps provide a relaxing drive, the 5 Series’ future looks bright. Roll on the New Year, when we’ll be able to get behind the wheel of the final production models.
BMW 520d SE auto
Engine size: 2.0-litre diesel
Price from: £36,025
Torque: 295lb ft
Top speed: TBC
Fuel: economy (official combined) 65.6mpg
CO2/BIK band: 114g/km/22%
Rivals: Jaguar XF, Mercedes E-Class