Friday 27 April 2018

Why I think the new BMW 5-series is 'all right now'

As rivals up game, this Beemer fails to excite

BMW 5-series
BMW 5-series
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I remember not really liking 'All Right Now' by Free the first time I heard it. I now think it is one of the great rock songs. I can never get enough of its throbbing guitar and soaring riffs.

Some things take time. Like people, like cars, like TV shows, they grow on you.

It has taken a long time for the new BMW 5-series to do so with me. It has not been an instant hit - like the previous one most certainly was.

This one would need to be growing on me at this stage, considering I've now driven so many versions: 530d, 540i, plug-in 530e and M 550i.

And I've just completed a lengthy 800km stint on Irish roads in the 520d xDrive which is, I think, the model of real relevance here.

I was far more positive with the previous generation but I've struggled to tune into areas of genuine enthusiasm and sparkle with this.

To use the pop-song analogy, the tune isn't as catchy as I expected, the beat isn't as infectious and there is no outrageously outstanding guitar riff to set the pulses racing.

And yet, there is no doubt that a perfectly fine car lies beneath its more coupé looks (coming around to liking them, too).

Technically (new suspension) and technologically (connectivity coming out its ears) it is right up to the mark. It is excellent, proficient but just a bit dull, if I'm honest. Maybe it is that set-back/coupé look - and what I think is a less expansive cabin (even though they claim there is more room).

Let me put all this in context. For years, I have regarded the 5-series as the best driving mid-size executive car around. Rivals such as the Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 had progressed but still trailed.

The Jaguar XF and Lexus GS competed more actively, but no, for me, the 5-series was Number 1.

Now with the salubrious new E-Class and a brilliant-driving Jag XF, the BMW just about shades it on one major distinguishing factor of being a driver's car. The others have caught up in so many other areas. It is neck and neck now between the Merc and the Beemer. The Merc's cabin is nicer, slicker, feels more luxurious. I think the E-Class looks better and is wonderful in the cabin where, if you pay a few grand more, you can sit and appreciate, while the car (sort of) drives itself.

You can have semi-autonomous driving from the BMW, too, to be fair, but I don't think I felt altogether as pampered when I was sitting in it.

The Merc will be remembered for transforming how and what can be done to a cabin. Will the Beemer? I don't think so. Which begs the question: what makes this new 5-series stand apart?

I think my first drive in the 530d xDrive abroad was a standout example of what a sporty executive saloon could, and should, do.

The level of power, grip and composure was extraordinary. It felt like a driving car. It is still, therefore, the best in that area.

But is that enough any more?

Maybe it is, for some, but on the basis that it is still growing on me, I have to say I'd struggle now, if I had €60,000, to decide whether I'd buy the Merc or 5-series.

Essentially what has happened, you see, is that the rate of advances across the board has been phenomenal and you now have a 'bunching' of really good cars in this mid-size executive segment.

I have a soft spot for the Beemer; I like how it drives; its engines; the way the chassis comes alive. Yet the 520xDrive I tested longest here in Ireland was only moderately impressive.

I am a fan of the xDrive (all-wheel-drive) elements of the car, and I know from experience how wonderfully reassuring it can be in situations where I truly valued its grip.

I was also impressed with the semi-autonomous drive elements on my test car. I let it drive me a good bit of the way to Cork. Like all such systems, you have to touch the steering wheel at regular, short intervals, but it took some stress from the drive I have to say. Except for when it lost its way a bit where the motorway widened to accommodate on-ramp traffic.

Funnily, it wasn't nearly as cogent on the way back, I had to intervene far more often, something BMW experts at European level were surprised with when I brought it to their attention.

Technically and technologically the 5-series is excellent. I just wanted to see a major stride forward; something that set it truly apart and gave it an overwhelming attribute that would make us associate it solely with the 5-series.

Maybe that is too much of an ask in an era where the advance and accessibility of ­technology has created a more level playing field.

Which, for me (and many would disagree) makes it more 'All right now' than truly outstanding.

Facts & figures

BMW 520d xDrive M Sport saloon (1,995cc, 188hp, 4.7l/100km, 124g/km (road tax €190; €270 for car tested). Prices (520d SE) from €52,800 on the road (OTR). Car tested: €76,107.

SE trim: 17ins alloys, auto air con/two-zone, 8spd auto, cruise control, satnav, BMW Professional Multimedia, PDC/front/rear heated front seats.

Also on tested car: M Sport suspension, Nappa leather, technology pack, head-up display, enhanced Bluetooth/wireless charging, gesture control; M Sport Plus package, 19ins wheels, Harman Kardon surround sound, comfort seats, front; concierge service.

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