What are you driving?
It's the 2017 BMW 540i sDrive, which means a rear-drive version of the 5 Series powered by the company's latest (and sonorous) turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine. We drove this car at the international launch of the 'G30' seventh generation 5 Series, alongside the BMW 530d xDrive. As you read this test drive, bear in mind that the 540i will only be offered for sale in Ireland in xDrive four-wheel drive format, from €77,240. Nonetheless, this is an early chance to experience the rear-drive chassis, as will be used in the vast majority of Irish 520ds, which are priced from a rather more affordable €52,800 on-the-road.
The test car is pictured in M Sport specification, with its modest styling changes inside and out. It also was fitted with a few choice optional extras, including adaptive damping, Integral Active Steer (rear-wheel steering) and more to make it drive at its best. Inside, the larger head-up display was included, as was gesture control for the widescreen infotainment system.
Name its best bits
There's a lot to like and be impressed with the 2017 BMW 5 Series for and while its wealth of new technology will grab all the headlines, for me it's the newfound refinement that shines through. That's emphasised in this 540i model, which is silky smooth and even quieter than the cultured 530d. Those expecting this to be an out-and-out sports saloon may be a little disappointed, as it's not that, but it is a likeable car all the same. When you do extend the engine it sounds great and it piles on speed deceptively due to its smooth delivery.
In terms of the chassis, front end grip is high, there's precious little body roll and the car is precise and easy to adjust in the middle of a corner. It feels composed and stable and up for a challenge. The damping is good (though remember that our car had adaptive damping) and body control is exceptional. What's more, it didn't run out of ideas when the road turned bumpy. The variable ratio steering rack (and the rear-steering) helps the 5 Series feel agile through a sequence of tighter corners, though there's not loads of feedback through the lovely new steering wheel. Instead you learn to trust the chassis and the high levels of grip.
Anything that bugs you?
While we applaud the advancement of safety technology, we found some of it unnecessary and at times even annoying. The semi-autonomous function, for example, works pretty well most of the time, but when it wants you to take over, it isn't really obvious enough (I found the same problem in the equivalent system in the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class). And the lane-keeping assist function is too 'bossy' with its corrections when you're actually doing the driving for yourself. I found myself turning it off, which defeats the purpose of having it in the first place.
Another piece of technology that will no doubt have potential buyers oohing and aahing in the BMW showroom is gesture control of the fancy new widescreen infotainment. It does work well, I'll allow, but it seems unnecessarily complex given how easy it is to carry out the same functions, for the most part, without taking your hands off the steering wheel. Saying that, of course, this is the first generation of the system so we do expect to see it become more useful in the future.
And why have you given it this rating?
The core BMW 5 Series is clearly a classy car, and we expect the best-selling 520d to score even higher than this four-star rating, but for now, the 540i is an amusing distraction that serves to reinforce how refined the new 5 Series is and how competent the new car's rear-drive chassis is. Few Irish buyers will consider the 540i, but it's still a lovely thing.
I want to know more
As we've published a full test drive of the 2017 BMW 530d, this is a shortened format, reflecting low likely demand for the petrol-fuelled 540i model. Nonetheless, go to our Ask Us Anything page, send us a question and we'll give you as much detail as you need on any specific aspect.