Road test: 2017 BMW 5 Series
The Germans pretty much own the medium-large prestige saloon segment. Yes, there are interlopers such as the Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, Infiniti Q70, Maserati Ghibli and Cadillac CT6, but the lion’s share of sales is accounted for by the Teutons.
Mercedes last year rolled out its excellent new E-Class, and now BMW has returned fire with its seventh-gen 5 Series (known by the designation G30) that aims to pull the rug from under the wheels of its Stuttgart rival. Audi? Don’t worry, they’re also burning the midnight oil in readying an all-new A6 that arrives next year.
But it’s the 5 Series we’re focusing on here; specifically, the 540i that currently spearheads the range, at least until the muscle-bound M5 variant is unleashed later in the year. The model I’m testing is the M Sport, which scores 20-inch alloys shod with low-profile rubber, a subtle body kit and firmed-up M Sport suspension. My test car is also kitted out with optional Integral Active Steering (BMW-speak for rear-wheel steering).
The newbie is longer and wider than its predecessor, yet a stiffer, lighter new platform (shared with the latest 7 Series) means that it has lost a significant amount of lard, tipping the scales at a relatively modest 1,670kg. Not bad for a large, luxo-laden saloon.
Nestled under the 540i’s snout is a potent, silky-smooth 3.0L twin-turbo motor, and it’s one of the very few in-line six-pots left, as almost every other manufacturer has switched to more compact V6 layouts. Outputs of 340hp and 450Nm yield a rapid 0-to-100kph split of 5.1 seconds, and the Bavarian saloon feels every bit this quick out in the real world.
The 540i serves up vast reserves of effortless grunt, and the eight-speed auto it’s hooked up to is so seamless that upshifts are barely perceptible. If there’s one area in which the BeeEm scores a decisive win over its Merc counterpart, it’s in its brilliant engine/transmission combo.
The latest E-Class has made huge gains in its dynamic capabilities, but the 5 Series hustles just as capably (especially in M Sport guise). But if there’s one thing that lets the BMW down, it’s that Active Steering, which feels a bit video-game-esque in the feedback it relays to your fingertips. You get used to the strangely artificial tiller, but more tactility would be nice in a car conceived to be a driver-focused saloon.
Considering the M Sport’s beefed-up suspension and liquorice-strip rubber, it rides with an agreeable degree of compliancy, and is only upset by sharp-edged corrugations in the tarmac. It’s impressively quiet, too, so you could knock over a 500-kilometre journey without undue fatigue.
The cabin is beautifully finished and, as is the norm in a BMW, the centre console is angled towards the driver to create an enveloping cockpit ambience. The overall layout is more traditional and straight-edged than that of the E-Class, which is characterised by sweeping surfaces and lots of circular elements. The Mercedes better caters to back-seat dwellers, because the rear compartment in the BeeEm feels a tad claustrophobic. The back seats are also higher at the outside edges than in the centre, so you sit with your spine at a slight angle, which isn’t ideal.
All in all, though, the 540i M Sport is a superbly polished sporting saloon, once again placing BMW at the pointy end of this executive-chasing segment.
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Updated: May 24, 2017 04:00 AM