The German giant’s latest 5-Series has the weight of expectation on it, and it delivers. Alvin Thomas reports.
The world is a pretty strange place: people would rather have pop music over classic jazz and soul; Adele over Kate Bush; microwaved pizzas over real hand-tossed ones; virtual relationships over real relationships; Trump over Hillary… do you get my drift?
Well, if not, my point is: why would you choose something inferior to the alternative option? Why shackle yourself with something mediocre when you can have the best, right?
So why would you take to the wheel of any car that is not the “ultimate driving machine”?
Yes, I’m talking about BMW, and more so about the all-new 5-Series.
And if numbers are all you care about, let me put down some facts: seven generations spanning across 45 years, more than 30 different variants and five million cars sold worldwide; the BMW 5-Series is, and has always been, a pioneer in the premium mid-size sedan segment.
Things are no different this year, either. But then, one could ask: is that a good thing? Or are things getting a touch too predictable?
Well, if the design is anything to go by, then you will surely feel right at home. Sure, it looks more grown-up and 7-Series-esque but with that traditional kidney-bean grille and elongated headlights, you will certainly be able to tell that this is indeed the fiver.
If you’re nitpicking though, you can point out that the new headlights are carefully, and rather seamlessly, integrated into the grille. Also, the new air intakes are more aggressive and effective than those found in previous versions.
The side profile follows suit too: BMW has only made subtle changes, which include highlighting the curves, and the sharp line that runs all the way from the front fender to the C-section in the rear.
I have to admit, though, it looks properly gorgeous – and that is something you do not hear me say about German cars.
People who have grown accustomed to the BMWs of old will also find themselves right at home with the new interior. It is laid out systematically; button placements are pin-point perfect and there aren’t any unnecessary buttons flagging the otherwise functional cabin.
Gone is the old awkward-looking steering wheel, and in its place resides a completely redesigned wheel, which is leather-wrapped and fitted with a hexagonal centre. Moreover, it still is thick-rimmed and provides a snug fit while driving.
My 540i tester is also completely clad in leather from top to bottom. Even the top of the dashboard and the headliner are finished in soft-touch materials. It all feels very well put together, unlike the fascias of some of its other close European and Asian rivals.
There’s plenty of leg room and headroom for the driver and also the passengers in the front and back. The new 5er does ride in a marginally stretched chassis, which makes way for that added leg room.
The seats are very comfortable, and provide very good bolstering while taking sharp corners. The driver seat in particular has been endowed with great side and lower back cushioning.
If you are still not convinced about the interior, however, just take the 5er for a spin at night. The adjustable LED mood-lighting inside the cabin (which is picked straight from the 7-Series) completely transforms it into an elegant cruiser, possibly only bettered by its own sister-company – Rolls Royce.
Meanwhile, the BMW iDrive (version 6.0) with its 26cm touchscreen is superb, and even intuitive. The graphics are the best in its class, and the touch response possibly even better than you would find in other European cars. My tester 540i also came with an amazing-sounding 600-watt 12-speaker Harman/Kardon system, which I would urge you to opt for if you are shopping for this car.
Since its inception, however, the 540i has been known for its driving prowess. Underneath that bonnet lies a 3.0-litre twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine that can pump out 340hp and a burly 450Nm of torque. Power is put down (on all variants) through the rear wheels via a slick eight-speed automatic.
The gear shifts are incredibly quick and almost unnoticeable unless you are taking control of them through the paddle-shifters and gunning it. The shifts are so smooth I could – rather effortlessly – slam dunk the 100kph mark from a standstill in under six seconds… on a 40-degree-Celsius afternoon. A better (and lighter) driver can easily attain the same given the right conditions in a mere 5.1 seconds.
The most stimulating part of driving the 540i, however, is still the cornering. It sticks to corners like glue (with traction control on) and does so with minimal body roll. Push it further and you will be treated to the BMW’s trademark oversteer (powerslide); and there’s nothing subtle about it.
Keep the turbo spooled up and the revs within the torque band, and the car starts smoking its own tyres even before you hit the corner. Of course, to do that you would have to set the car in “Sport+” mode.
The chassis, which is composed of lightweight aluminium, is very well sorted, and even lets you wag its tail out midway through a corner without a moment’s hesitation.
The steering, which is electric, is precise on normal driving conditions and fairly predictable during spirited driving. There is very little feedback being translated from the steering to the driver, though. The steering is very well weighted in “Sport+” mode, and light in normal driving conditions.
Many journalists have criticised (after Jeremy Clarkson’s review of the BMW M5) that the steering borders on un-driveable in “Sport+” mode. But I have to report that none of that is true. I also found the brakes on the car to be excellent. Actually, wait… these are the best brakes that I have tested on a normal family sedan. The brake feel is sublime and the brake force delivery is linear.
When all is said and done, the BMW 540i is a fantastic car that no longer feels like a stretched version of the smaller BMW 3-Series (like its predecessors) but rather a slightly smaller version of the lovely 7-Series. It really is a fantastic car.
So, is the BMW 5-Series the “ultimate driving machine”? Well, if there exists such a thing, then the it is certainly up there with the best. Fabelhaft!
BMW 540i Specifications
- Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Horsepower: 340hp
- Torque: 450Nm
- Top speed: 250kph (limited)
BMW 540i Features
- Rear-wheel drive
- BMW iDrive control w/ 26cm touchscreen
- BMW ConnectedDrive
- 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system
- Head-up display
- 8.5km/litre in city/ 12.7km/litre in highway
- Four-zone automatic air conditioning
- Optional ‘M’ kit
- Traction Control
- Stability Control
- Parking assistant