The Business Athlete. That’s a strong title which can be translated in many ways, for me, it’s a title that evokes a sense of presence, stance and performance. When this title represents a car, one would naturally have high expectations – a business athlete vehicle would have to do many things, very well.
Last year BMW outdid themselves with the 7 Series with looks, technology, performance and comfort few can match. As a result of this, there were high expectations for the 7th generation 5 Series.
The beautiful coastal town of George would be our playground for the two days of the launch. During this time I got plenty of time behind the wheel to sample two variants, the 540i and 530d.
Upon arriving at the Oubaai golf resort and after checking out some of the sample classic 5 Series models that were on display, we headed over to the beautiful lined up 5 Series fleet. A range of variants and colors, with all but one fitted the M-Sport exterior package. I was never a massive fan of the 5th and 6th generation 5 Series but BMW have really stepped it up with the 7th generation.
Strong, beautiful lines feature down the doors and down the bonnet giving it an aggressive, sporty look. It has a good stance – it sits strong, wide and has a presence. It definitely shares many design features with the 7 Series, but in a more compact, sporty package. The rear of this vehicle follows suit with the rest of the car with its wide rear end and large shoulders. All variants of the 5 Series will also feature dual exhaust pipes, one on either side of the vehicle. I felt this added to the sporty presence and symmetry. This has to be the most beautiful 5 Series in a long time, which only leaves me waiting to see how good a 7th Gen M5 will look.
A friend of mine said to me that the 5 series is no longer a bigger 3 series, but a smaller 7 series. This is so true, and the interior backs up that statement. Large bolstered seats are a lovely place to sit and provide good support. The M-Sport steering wheel fills the hands nicely and you are surrounded by leather, wood and metal.
A few interior features stood out to me; the multi-zone air conditioning panel is a full touch responsive digital display and the attention to detail on this system impressed me – sometimes the smaller things make the biggest difference. The iDrive system has been updated and features 6 main horizontal blocks on the home screen, providing access to options such as media, navigation and Connected Drive. I enjoyed the fact that each block or option updates in realtime and when clicked or touched, opens the feature up on the full screen.
Gesture control is also available- I had never used this before so after a few minutes of wafting my hands around at varying speeds, I finally figured it out and once I did, it responded and worked well. To sum it up, it is a very nice place to spend many hours behind the wheel.
After exploring the vehicles, taking photos and playing with features, I was itching to get behind the wheel and find out if the 5 series really was a business athlete. The first variant I drove was the 540i, which features a 3.0 straight six twin turbo engine producing 250 kW and 450 N.m of torque. This is the most powerful engine available in the 5 series in South Africa, until the M5 of course.
Power is delivered wonderfully through the 8-speed Sports auto – it’s smooth and linear. It is very well insulated from exterior noise and speed can creep up on you very quickly, but from the outside, the 540i produces a low-key but powerful exhaust note, stretching the 540i legs into the higher RPM and shifting with the Sports Auto does provide a satisfying blip which can be heard from the interior. It serves as just a little reminder that you are driving the performance based business athlete.
The double wishbone suspension on the front provides a sharp front end and cornering at speed will not make you feel uneasy at all. The 5 Series is very well balanced. On the long sweeping bends along our route in George, one can be confident to feed more power mid corner and even though the 7th generation took it in its stride, the rear end did start to twitch slightly, but never at one point did it feel uncontrollable,
The 5 Series is by no means a small vehicle and providing a helping hand to driving performance is the adaptive handling system. Under 60 km/h the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front, to a maximum of 3 degrees. Further to this, the new 5 Series weighs less thanks to the use of lighter but stronger materials. The extra agility was noticeable in tight bends, when expecting the vehicle to understeer slightly, it responded with more front end grip.
The 5 Series now feels like a good mix between the 7 Series and the 3 Series, bringing comfort, luxury and space elements from the former, and the dynamic attributes from the latter.
Would I buy a 540i? No. The main reason for this goes by the name of 530d. In my opinion from what I experienced over the two days in George, this is the variant to pick from the new 5 Series range.
You don’t get the same level of performance as the 540i, but you do get 620 N.m of torque, which is a lot. This torque also kicks in at the lower end of the rpm range which gives lovely near instant acceleration. As expected, power does fade in the higher rpm where the 540i excels but the performance is still fantastic, and being a diesel it comes with a host other benefits. One of these is the fact that it sips fuel and will give you a 4.5 l/100km rating.
It is slightly heavier and this can be felt when driving hard, but in terms of driving dynamics, there is little difference from the 540i. Apart from the 530d and 540i variants that I drove, another petrol and diesel engine are available in the from of a 530i and 520d.
There are a host of cool features on the 7th generation 5 Series, it features the ever improving Connected Drive and semi autonomous driving. The car will even pick up your scheduled meetings in your smartphone calendar, and using the built in RTTI and business navigation system, which is now a standard feature, it will drop you a message to let you know that because of traffic conditions, you will need to leave earlier. If you have a smartphone that supports wireless charging, the 5 Series will do that for you as well if you simply leave your phone in the front console.
The head up display is now also 70 percent bigger and has a better resolution, allowing the driver to have more information in front of them, if they want.
Taking the number one spot, though, has to be the smart key. With a digital display to allow for starting, opening windows and checking vehicle information, its pretty cool. What’s cooler though is the fact that you can remotely drive your car in or out of a parking space when standing outside.
In conclusion, the 5 Series lives up to its title, the business athlete. It’s a car that you can spend many many hours behind the wheel of and be a very happy, comfortable motorist. Yes, it shares many features from the 7 Series, but the 7 Series is a car you want to be driven in, the 5 Series is a car you want to drive, its enjoyable to drive and provides a host of features to make your life easier and more comfortable.
530i : R838,700
540i : R985,300
52od : R770,500
530d : R952, 500