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2017 BMW 5 Series review: First drive

4.5

The Good

  • Superb refinement
  • Assured ride
  • Lots of standard equipment

The Bad

  • Numb steering
  • Some worthwhile extras are costly

The 2017 BMW 5 Series has arrived, complete with a new face, cleaner engines, Gesture Control from the 7 Series and other clever technologies. We headed to the continent to see how well it drives as part of our review.

BMW reached the ripe-old age of 100 in 2016, but 2017 is shaping up to be considerably more interesting. A succession of forthcoming car launches, including the new 4 Series, M4 CS and new M5, begin with the seventh-generation 5 Series.

Since its launch in 1972, the German saloon – complete with its trademark circular headlights – has become a favourite for people who know ROI stands for more than Republic of Ireland. As a result, more than six million cars have been sold worldwide, making it a bit of a hit.

With Jaguar back in the groove and its home rivals hell-bent on claiming their share of the executive saloon pie, BMW is, of course, only too aware the pressure is on to keep the accountants happy.

We took the rain with us to Gibraltar and spent the day driving along the mountain roads of southern Spain to find out if enough has been done to keep its rivals at bay and make it worthy of the 'ultimate driving machine' tagline.

2017 BMW 5 Series: What is new?

Not a huge amount if you look at the car. The new 5 Series gets new LED headlights, new taillights and clever design lines designed to make the car look wider. It certainly has more presence, but you could accuse it of being too similar to the cheaper 3 Series.

BMW has increased the length of the new 5 Series by 36mm, width by 2mm and height by 2mm. The wheelbase, meanwhile, has increased by 7mm and the instrument cluster now sits lower. Not huge differences, but the increased spaciousness is noticeable.

Some features of the flagship 7 Series have trickled down and some of them are even standard fixtures. The Active Air Stream Kidney Grille, for instance, stays closed to speed up engine warm-up and opens to breathe cold air on the engine.

"620Nm of torque hurls it towards the horizon with smile-inducing pace..."

Another new addition are the Air Breathers on the side of the car, which reduce air turbulence in the wheel arches and lower the drag-coefficient to as little as 0.22Cd. They also add a little visual interest to the side profile.

The 2017 5 Series is hardly the most exciting car to look at, but the adjustments do freshen it up and serve as a more enticing basis for the forthcoming sporty M version. It may not wow but, like a good suit, it will turn the odd head.

2017 BMW 5 Series: What about all-round practicality?

Making the new 5 Series bigger has the added benefit of increasing the boot size, which is now 530 litres – an increase of 10 litres on its predecessor. That is the same as the current Audi A6 but 10 litres fewer than the Mercedes E-Class.

The hybrid version loses space to the battery pack needed for the electric motor, but the 410-litre capacity is an improvement and plenty for most shopaholics. Optional split-folding rear seats, meanwhile, make it possible to accommodate longer items without booting out all your rear passengers.

The 2017 5 Series can take up to three child seats (via ISOFIX) or three adults in the back seats, although the middle passenger will want to be shorter than 6ft and will have a central tunnel to contend with – not to mention somewhat limited elbow room.

The door bins and glove box are similarly spacious and there is a central storage bin to keep valuables out of sight. Not only that, QI-enabled phones can be stored and charged wirelessly just ahead of the gear selector so there is no need to worry about it sliding around under hard acceleration.

Overall, the 5 Series is spacious for both front and rear passengers and the boot is on par with its rivals, especially as the loading area is nice and wide, but bigger families will be better off waiting for the less pretty but more practical Touring estate version coming later in 2017.

2017 BMW 5 Series: How well does it drive?

For a relatively unexciting genre of cars, the 5 Series is surprisingly memorable and gets better as you pick up speed. The 5 Series's composure and tautness encourage you to be a bit of an idiot – and the level of grip lets you get away with it most of the time.

The new steering system is meant to improve feel but is numb. At least the chassis communicates what the front and rear wheels are up to, making it easy to counter-steer over-enthusiastic entry speeds.

For the most part the 5 Series hides the fact it weighs 1,560kg (less than its rivals, admittedly) rather well, but it can be ungainly. A whiff of water on the road, for instance, can spark unusual levels of understeer for a rear-wheel drive car.

The optional xDrive all-wheel drive system (£3,000) is capable of sending all power where it is needed most and it does give the 5 Series a more planted nature. Rear-wheel steer is another option that is said to improve stability at higher speeds and improve turn-in, but we never got to test it.

As for engines, the 520d diesel has enough torque (295lb/ft) to propel it forward without having to endure the harsh four-cylinder diesel scream at higher revs. Punchy is the best way to describe the 190hp output. A bigger engine feels more at home in the 5 Series, it must be said, but it is more than ample.

"Approach the red line and you are quickly reminded you turned your back on petrol, but the 252hp output means you never need to go near it."

Unsurprisingly, the 530d xDrive is substantially more entertaining. 620Nm of torque hurls it towards the horizon with smile-inducing pace, while the engine provides a grumbly note even the most ardent petrolhead will be happy with.

0-62mph in 5.4 seconds makes it only a bit slower than the fastest petrol engine, which we will get to in a moment, but the reality is that all that torque lets you make as brisk progress without having to be as heavy-footed. That in turn keeps the noise and your fuel bills down.

Approach the red line and you are quickly reminded you turned your back on petrol, but the 252hp output means you never need to go near it. Combined with the near-faultless eight-speed Steptronic automatic, progress is notably effortless and wonderfully smooth.

The petrol 540i – capable of 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds – will be available to drive later in 2017, but there appears to be little reason to take a hit on efficiency figures for a modest (on paper) performance gain. Then again, it seems like the government has it in for diesels.

Ride quality is another strong suit. The 2017 5 Series handled relatively poor Spanish roads without being harsh or bouncy, even with bigger alloy wheels and the variable suspension set to Sport. Comfort mode is even smoother if you are happy with a less assured ride.

The 5 Series also scores very highly for motorway cruising. Both diesels soon pipe down to being almost inaudible, with wind and road noise similarly unnoticeable at 70mph. In any case, most owners will make use of the very capable 16-speaker Harman Kardon and Bowers & Wilkins speaker packages.

It must be said, the Jaguar XF offers a more exciting drive. The E-Class, meanwhile, is less involving and rolls more in the corners. The current A6 is showing its age, but the new A6 (expected next year) could be a winner if the A5 Sportback is anything to go by.

2017 BMW 5 Series: What about value for money?

A base 5 Series SE comes with plenty of standard equipment including a 10.25-inch touchscreen display with navigation, heated front seats, leather upholstery, digital cockpit, paddle shifters, ambient lighting, parking assistant and aluminium trim. Yours for £36,025.

A good haul indeed, but then this is a BMW so you can expect a shedload of options that can easily add at least £1,000 onto the final bill, even if you opt for the range-topping and only other M Sport trim.

Our 520d M Sport test car was fitted with a £1,495 Technology Pack, which adds a head-up display, Display Key, Enhanced Bluetooth with Wireless Charging, BMW Gesture Control and WiFi Hotspot.

It also had the M Sport Plus package, which costs £1,995 and has 19-inch double-spoke alloy wheels, sun protection glass and the Harman Kardon sound system. Another £995 went on the sunroof, £985 on Variable Damper Control suspension and £435 on soft close doors. Total price: £48,495.

In BMW's defence, there is no real need to upgrade the base car but a few extras such as the head-up display and aforementioned dampers are worth considering. The £2,000 xDrive upgrade may also prove alluring for country folk. 19-inch alloys and run-flat tyres are worth avoiding because the ride quality suffers.

2017 BMW 5 Series: How clever are we talking?

If you spend the money, the 5 Series is exceedingly clever. The Remote View feature, for example, uses four cameras to take a 3D snapshot of your surroundings, which you can view through the navigation system to see any nearby obstacles or make it easier to locate your car using the BMW Connected app.

Real-time traffic information is another freebie and this can help you avoid congestion, while the Car-to-X system, which allows all 5 Series cars to communicate with each other, can inform the driver of road accidents or changing weather conditions.

"The 5 Series really feels like a mini 7 Series when packing the more powerful diesel..."

There is also a safety system that will help steer you around an obstacle if it is too late to brake, while the adaptive cruise control can maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front from 19mph up to way beyond the legal limit. Useful for Autobahn road trips, then.

You can even spec a self-steering option that uses the white lines to keep the car in lane without you ever touching the wheel, although a quick tap is needed every 30 seconds to keep it from disengaging. Full autonomy, this isn't, but it does make motorway driving more bearable.

Another neat touch is the Eco mode, which tells you when you can lift off the accelerator entirely, encouraging better fuel economy. It takes some getting used to, but it seems like it could save you money in the long run – if only because it relaxes the accelerator.

BMW has also made the head-up display bigger, making it easier to view. For the sheer convenience and safety aspect of keeping your eyes on the road ahead, it is a no-brainer.

Another potentially useful feature (another from the 7 Series) is the ability to use the key to get the new 5 Series out of a space without you being in the car, which is very James Bond-esque and saves you having to squeeze into the car if someone parks too closely.

For the benefit of passengers, the two rear seats can have their own displays that features HDMI and Bluetooth connectivity or you can stream content from the 40GB hard drive. It helps that different content can be streamed at the same time with the exception of the TV tuner, which relies on a single aerial.

Speaking of aerials, the WiFi hotspot is a doddle to connect to and, signal depending, boasts fast data speeds because the car acts as a giant antenna. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also feature and can be used in split-screen, but the redesigned iDrive 6 system is feature-rich in itself.

One option worth talking about is Gesture Control. Turning up the volume can be done by twisting your finger, with the direction of travel dictating whether the volume goes up or down. Once you know where the sensor is, it works with the smallest of inputs. Somewhat pointless, but rather satisfying.

Other gestures exist and there is an option to include a custom one of your choosing, which can be used to, say, skip forward to the next song in an album.

You could argue there is perhaps too much going on in a time when people are too easily distracted, but the infotainment stuff can be handy and the 5 Series is probably the most sophisticated car under £40,000, which will be a turn-on for some.

2017 BMW 5 Series: Is it cheap to run?

With diesels in the firing line, who knows how much more expensive to run they will become. But right now, even with the April 2017 VED changes looming, the diesels are the way to go. A 520d, for instance, offers a claimed 68.8mpg – a jump up from its predecessor's 62.8mpg. CO2 emissions are 108g/km.

Those who really want to watch the pennies can go for the 520d SE Efficient Dynamics model (arriving in March 2017 in the UK), which can eke out a claimed 72.4mpg and CO2 of 102g/km from the four-cylinder diesel.

Even the vastly quicker 530d, our preferred engine, can manage a claimed 60.1mpg and CO2 of 124g/km and we saw upwards of 40mpg on our test drive that saw anything but gentle driving.

The petrol engines are less impressive in this area, but the very fast 540i's 39.2mpg is still good if it can actually achieve it; the 164g/km of CO2 spewed from the exhaust less so.

Those who live in the city or need a company car could be best off with the more expensive 530e iPerformance hybrid as it offers up to 134.5mpg, CO2 of a mere 49g/km and an electric-only range of 28 miles. But it will take a long time to offset the higher initial price.

2017 BMW 5 Series: So should I buy one, then?

BMW's 5 Series still has something of a cold corporate image about it that may put some buyers off, but it is a serious amount of car for the money and a vast improvement on its predecessor. Even the entry-level 520d provides more than ample performance, equipment and luxury.

The interior, meanwhile, is put together nicely, looks luxurious and is extremely comfortable. You also get a big boot and enough safety systems to keep your family safe. Or, at least, safer.

Pay extra for the 530d and you end up with an especially capable saloon that is both fast and frugal. It may seem like hyperbole, but the 5 Series really feels like a mini 7 Series when packing the more powerful diesel engine – and that is a big compliment considering we voted it our luxury car of 2016.

You could spend more for the E-Class and get a nicer interior, or chuck your cash at the XF for more of a driver's car, but the 5 Series manages to perform strongly enough in all areas to make it king of the executive saloons. For now, anyway.

Key Specs

  • 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel
  • 190hp
  • 295lb/ft (400Nm)
  • 0-62mph 7.5 seconds
  • 108g/km of CO2
  • Up to 68.8mpg (combined)
  • From £34,025

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