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BMW goes for a younger look with 'tailor-made suit'

The new BMW 5 Series is the "right car at the right time", declared company chairman Norbert Reithofer at its launch, last Monday, in Portugal. He added that the company had got through a difficult year in 2009 when -- despite the Audi A6 beating the outgoing 5 Series as top premium executive car -- it still ended as the top manufacturer in that segment.

"We are going to make our cars younger . . . they will be aesthetic, dynamic and efficient. This is what a BMW should be," added the good doctor. And, by all accounts, the new 5 Series has it in spades. It looks sleeker, smarter and sportier.

Testing on a mixture of mountain roads and excellent dual carriageways behind Lisbon and the smart resorts of Cascais and Estoril showed that, as a driving machine, the 5 series has few competitors. (We will forget experiences in the recent snow, when I wasn't alone among my colleagues in having major problems with rear-wheel-drive Beemers).

The car is marginally longer than it predecessor, but does manage to be a lot bigger inside, so that at last gives it the rear space a car of this class should have. Overall, the new 5 Series is exceptionally comfortable, with front seats that will go through every contortion to make you comfortable. And comfort for its balance sheet is what the new generation is all about.

Half BMW's profit comes from its bigger models and the new car is expected to outperform its predecessors in that regard. Launched in 1972, under the 5 Series name, the original in its class dates back to 1962. There have been 5.5 million units sold since then.

Adrian van Hooydonk, the BMW director of design, likened the 5 Series to a "tailor-made suit". He compared it to the 7 Series, which is flatter and more upright to show "prestige". Elements of the new 5 Series, by contrast, have been modified to give a wider, sportier feel.

The new car is cleaner, more economical, lighter and faster than its predecessor -- and orders across Europe are already above expectations.

We will know more about prices nearer the launch date in March. The big-selling 520d variant -- at around €45,000 -- won't be ready until the summer, so this is really a car for next year's orders, although it could be appearing on award lists well before then.


Sunday Independent