While BMWs seventh-generation 5 Series is crammed with more technology than we have time to go into here, and it's all very impressive, it also comes with a promise from BMW's engineers that they're renewing their focus on the car's dynamics. So not only has the new car the unenviable task of fending off the advances of an excellent Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it must introduce the company's next generation technology, be more efficient, more refined and as comfortable as before, all while giving the driver the sense that they're driving the sportiest option in the executive saloon class. No pressure, then.
In the Metal:
We realise that the new BMW 5 Series looks largely evolutionary at first, but if you park the new car next to the old it makes its predecessor look bulbous and flabby in comparison. The new version is lean and sharp and it's all thanks to a subtle redefining of the design language - following on from the current BMW 7 Series. Up front it takes a lot of influence from that car, notably around the wider kidney grilles and new lights. Those grilles, the lights (all-LED as standard) and the smoother bonnet all come together in one shut line, which neatens up the front end considerably. The new 5 Series isn't much bigger than before, but it looks lower, wider and longer. That's especially the case from the side, where the 'Air Breather' detail behind the front wheel visually reduces the height of the car, and that's emphasised by a subtle detail line that links the 'Hofmeister kink' side window shape to the swage line along the car's flanks. Slim rear lights (also employing LED tech) are complemented at the back by a restrained upward flip of the boot lid and symmetrical exhaust outlets across the range.
Inside, there's been a bigger step change, with obvious new technology. The head-up display is notably larger and more useful than ever, while the wide screen in the middle can be controlled by touch, voice, the usual iDrive controller or even gesture. It's actually more sophisticated than the one in the current 7 Series, though I couldn't see how the gesture inputs were any more useful than easy-to-reach buttons. The 5 Series takes further inspiration from the 7 inside, as there's also an appreciable step up in perceived quality and lovely attention to detail. Look closer at the new steering wheel and you'll see what appear to be extra buttons for the cruise control system. They're actually part of the BMW Personal Copilot, which allows semi-automated driving in certain conditions up to 210km/h, including an automated lane change.
We do think there's the makings of a five-star car in the chassis of the new BMW 5 Series, and we suspect it may come from a less well-equipped version than the test cars provided at the international launch. Both this 530d xDrive model with four-wheel drive and the 540i M Sport car we tested were fitted with adaptive damping, four-wheel steering and more options to ensure we experienced the 5 Series at its best.
In the 530d, the smooth six-cylinder diesel produces 265hp and 620Nm of torque so it's never short on go, but what's most impressive is its refinement. Sure, you can hear the engine if you push on, but it's usually a quiet rumble in the distance. What's more, there's very little in the way of road or wind noise. And, even when you drive over a big pothole or speed bump, there's very little unwanted noise from the suspension. We'll have to wait until we get back to Irish roads on standard suspension to give our final judgement, of course. For what it's worth, even in Sport mode we found little to fault with the way this car absorbs bumps and rough road surfaces.
And when you do push on, the 5 Series feels balanced, keen, agile and not at all like a big executive saloon car. A 100kg weight reduction over its predecessor helps with that and it really is a joy to attack a challenging set of corners in this car. The xDrive four-wheel drive system works well, allowing the 5 Series retain its inherent rear-drive characteristics until the rear tyres begin to lose grip. It's fast-acting and incredibly useful on wet roads in particular, where you can get on the power when exiting a tight corner much earlier than you can in a conventional rear-drive 5 Series. The result is safer, fuss-free cornering, but the important thing to note here is that BMW has managed to retain a modicum of driver interaction in the process.
What you get for your Money:
A starting price of €52,800 (for the BMW 520d) is high by any standards, but it's right on the money against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the BMW is just as well-equipped with the latest technology, etc. There are cheaper options in the segment, but none that offer the same compelling mix of economy, performance, technology and driving dynamics as the new 5 Series. Our value rating is for the whole 5 Series range, not this 530d xDrive, which costs a chunky €69,480.
This isn't our final judgement on the new BMW 5 Series. That'll come when the most important model, the 520d, arrives in Ireland 2017. Our test drive in this 530d xDrive variant was useful in terms of getting to know the breathtakingly large step the new 5 Series has taken over its predecessor in terms of technology and, emphatically, refinement. While the high specification of the test car muddies those waters to a certain extent, the new 5 Series is better than ever to drive, while retaining all the comfort of its predecessor - just as BMW set out to do.