A few years ago, the top-of-the range model would bask in tech glory for a good year or so before that filtered down to the rest of the range. Not so today. In some cases, the technology that has trickled down has already been improved upon, as in the case with the latest BMW 5-series.
While South Africans and most of the world are embracing SUVs, the mid-sized executive sedan still has a heartbeat, and one of the most iconic of those sedans is undoubtedly the Five.
From its introduction, the 5-series has given executives a luxurious business sedan from Monday to Friday, as well as a country road blaster over the weekend. The problem with the latest Five though is that many people are comparing it to the 7-series, which depending on how you look at it, can be a good or bad thing.
I therefore recently accepted the keys to the current flagship model the 540i, to see if it still felt like a mid-sized luxury sports sedan. For starters, the new Five is slightly larger than the model it replaces, and also a bit wider. Despite this, it is also around 100kg lighter thanks to the use of aluminium in the panels, underpinnings and suspension.
As for the rest of the car, it certainly looks good. More of an evolution over the old model, BMW has revised the front and rear bumpers, lights and have added a similar blade-like design to the side profile as seen on the 7-series, with another feature being the active grille shutter claimed to improve aerodynamics. The model I drove also came fitted with the optional M-Sport pack, which gives the 540i a sportier look thanks to specific bumpers, wheels and blue brake calipers.
Despite the badge denoting a 4.0-litre engine, fire power comes courtesy of BMW’s popular 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged petrol that develops 250kW/450Nm. Hooked to an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox, the 540i will go from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 250 km/h.
It is however the drive where the big Five comes into its own. With its lighter mass and more than enough grunt, it feels agile and delivers a sporty drive with impressive steering feel, agility and balance.
The surprise factor continues inside, not only because of the overall design, but in terms of material quality and modern appearance. Touches like the TFT instrument cluster, gloss black inserts and the new 10.25-inch iDrive infotainment system all work together to create a luxurious and indeed spacious feel.
Speaking of that iDrive system and the amount of tech it houses, the new HD display is not only more visually appealing than the old 5-series’ setup, but felt more akin to working on a tablet with a number of gesture, swiping, tapping and pinching functions. If it sounds too complicated, then stress not because BMW has retained the rotary dial which features a touch pad.
To answer the question, yes, the new 5-series does feel very similar to a 7-series, yet still offers a sporty yet comfortable drive with impeccable levels of refinement and class-leading tech to boot. Its nomination then as a finalist for the 2018 South African Car of the Year comes as no surprise, although we would encourage caution with the extensive options list as it can drive the price up very quickly.