First Drive: 2017 BMW 5 Series

First Drive: 2017 BMW 5 Series

With a history spanning seven generations, the BMW 5-Series is a venerable icon. Consider for a moment that over its run, more than 7.9-million units have been sold. And in the South African context, it is woven rather tightly into the motoring fabric. This premium business sedan is associated with a variety of owner profiles – over and above the intended suit-wearing audience it was built for. Call to mind nicknames like Anaconda, Matchbox and Isandla Semfene (which means “monkey’s hand”); denoting the gear-shift pattern on the early models.

Those first generations were said to be loved by swaggering, flamboyant gangster types. Heck, the third generation (E34) version even found favour among those who earned a living by tipping over cash-in-transit vehicles. On a far lighter note, our very own Esther Mahlangu also deemed its bodywork a suitable canvas for her beautiful art. Take that, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.

The latest iteration of the model was launched to media in George, Western Cape, last week. You will notice that the styling is rather derivative – but can we level criticism at BMW for this? Not particularly. Its other German peers are also guilty of this template-type approach to aesthetics. Although it is no coincidence that it resembles a more compact version of the current 7-Series. Because underneath the skin the pair shares more than a few architectural similarities. The new 5-Series is 100kg lighter than its predecessor, the F10.

Buyers will be able to pick from an assortment of petrol and diesel units. The four-cylinder choices comprise the 520d (140kW and 400Nm) and 530i (185kW and 350Nm). While your six-cylinder picks extend to the 540i (250kW and 450Nm) as well as the 530d (195kW and 620Nm). Later this year the range will be joined by the entry-level 520i as well as a hybrid version; the 530e iPerformance. Our test stint over the sinuous layouts of the province was limited to the high-powered diesel derivative.

Many regard the BMW 5-Series as a yardstick when it comes to the dynamic prowess of the pack. It is a bit like the high-achiever from your matric class: perhaps begrudgingly lauded for its array of talents. The latest version is no different. Even with Sport mode engaged on the drive selector, the 5-Series feels superbly plush in addition to being plugged-in. It complied happily when a more spirited character was required. And although it might not be as engaging as a product like the Jaguar XF, it strikes a far better balance between being polished and athletic.

But what is undisputed is the soothing cruising abilities of the BMW: one thinks this could very well be the refinement leader of the pack. It certainly puts the turgid Mercedes-Benz E-Class to shame. An enticing option is four-wheel steering: the virtues of this mean greater ease of use around town and scythe-like cornering competence for those countryside roads. All models are equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Hopping inside, things are as you would expect. BMW has adopted a driver-centric approach to fascia design, as they always do. But things are far tidier in here than they were in the previous model. And the interesting part is that buyers can specify many of the items from the options list of the 7-Series. That includes semi-autonomous driving technology. As well as a digital interface which responds to hand gestures – you can raise the volume by twirling your finger, for example.

The parking nanny from the flagship model is on offer, too. This enables the owner to insert and withdraw their vehicle from a bay via the use of the key. My inner five-year old squandered at least thirty minutes playing with this function while tourists at our overnight accommodation stared curiously. As it is our job to nit-pick, we will state two areas that disappointed us.

The plastics on the lowest parts of the interior seat structure seem too coarse for a car of this nature. And some of the new switchgear items (only the indicator stalks); feel a bit cheaper than the chunky variety one experienced in BMW products of years gone by. But these are minor gripes.

All things considered, the product certainly delivers on the brand’s marketing taglines: yes, we can agree that the 5-Series is the “business athlete” of the D-segment luxury sedan ambit. What this scribe finds encouraging is that the model does not feel as if it were engineered to be the less successful sibling of the 7-Series. In fact, if you can overlook the status factor – and the slightly greater dimensions of the other car – then the 5-Series is the one to have. So well done, BMW, for doing justice to the illustrious lineage of the nameplate.

And what about the M5, you ask? Well, company representatives were tight-lipped about the matter. Other than to say, “We’re working on it!” – Brenwin Naidu

Base pricing for the new BMW 5-Series starts from R770 500.