New BMW 5 Series (2017) review: Hands on with the most connected BMW yet

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The 5 Series is a hugely important car for BMW. Although it’s not usually the largest or most technically advanced car the German maker has to offer, it’s the one most synonymous with the brand, representing 17% of global sales. The sixth generation of the BMW 5 Series was one of the most popular yet, outselling its nearest competitors from Audi and Jaguar, but matching Mercedes-Benz.

But the landscape has changed significantly since then, with the new Mercedes E Class and updated Audi A4 emerging, including everything from semi-autonomous driving to connected car technology. In response, BMW has unveiled the seventh-generation BMW 5 Series, and huge amount of tech onboard, it’s currently the most advanced BMW you can buy today. But is it any good? We went for a drive around Malaga in Spain to find out.

BMW 5 Series (2017) review: Design

From the outside, at least, the new BMW 5 Series is a clear improvement over its predecessor. Car manufacturers seem to make their cars bigger and tamer with every update, and the previous 5 Series exemplified that trend perfectly. With rounded headlights and chunky, curved corners, it wasn’t exactly the sharpest-looking car, and seemed to play safe where other cars such as the Jaguar XF and Audi A4 and A5 made a statement.


Thankfully, the new 5 Series is anything but boring. BMW has given it a complete redesign that makes the car look edgier and more dynamic. Almost every area of the car looks sharper and slicker, but it’s the car’s famous “kidney” grilles that represent the most obvious area of change.

They’re wider than before and actually join with the car’s sharper, LED headlights. Just like the 7 Series, the new 5 Series’ grille employs the firm’s “Active Air Stream” tech, so it will remain closed when the engine needs to warm up, and opens only when cooling is required, making the car more efficient.

The rest of the car has stronger lines than last year’s model and, although the rear is relatively unchanged, the new 5 Series seems more athletic, even in the non-M-Sport configuration. Nevertheless, this is still a BMW, and has all the styling cues you’d expect, right down to the air-breather and iconic Hofmeister kink (the bold flick behind the rear passenger-door windows) in the c-pillar. BMW says the new series has lost 100kg of weight, though (around the weight of one 6’3” motoring journalist), and the sportier design seems to echo that fact.


BMW 5 Series (2017) review: Interior

Inside, the BMW 5 Series is a little different to its competitors. Unlike the Audi A4 or the Mercedes-Benz E Class, the 5 Series’ low-slung cockpit feels driver-orientated the moment you step in. The interior is dominated by a huge, 10.25in touchscreen, beneath which you’ll find air-conditioning vents, music controls and a surprisingly large area devoted to the car’s air-conditioning controls, complete with their very own screen.

The 5 Series uses BMW’s iDrive knob to give you control over the car’s menus and systems, but you can also use the touchscreen or even motion control, something I’ll get to later on.

The rest of the interior is pretty much what you’d expect from a premium saloon car. In the, £45,000 530d xDrive model I drove, the interior was dominated by glossy black plastic, highly polished wood and swathes of matte aluminium. As with the new Mercedes E Class, the 5 Series also includes ambient lighting, so you can alter the colour interior downlighting to suit your mood. I had mine set to cool blue, in case you were wondering.


BMW 5 Series (2017) review: Infotainment

Before you even you turn on the ignition, you’ll notice the BMW 5 Series’ huge central display. Measuring a massive 10.25in across the diagonal, it’s one of the biggest screens I’ve seen on any modern car, and I found it easy to read in both bright and overcast conditions. It’s also extremely easy to use, and that’s due to several design decisions.

BMW has moved to a tile-based setup for much of its UI. A redesigned homescreen consists of different squares showing information such as navigation or media, and you can expand each one to see more information. The interface lends itself well to touchscreen use – those big buttons are very easy to find, whether you’re sitting in traffic or driving – but critically it remains as effective and easy to use with car’s “manual” iDrive controls.


And that’s the second reason the system is so simple to operate. iDrive’s large rotary dial is both precise and intuitive to use and, when coupled with the handful of shortcut buttons surrounding its base, it makes navigating around the 5 Series’ in-car systems a breeze. There’s also a touchpad with character recognition built into the surface of the rotary dial, and because it has great palm reduction, you won’t set it off when you’re not using it.

BMW 5 Series (2017) review: Performance

This is all backed up by an extremely responsive system. The new 5 Series’ infotainment system is powered by a 1.5GHz processor along with 2GB of RAM, meaning it’s more comparable to an iPad than a normal car satnav system. Certainly, it could handle everything I threw at it and remained responsive in BMW’s handy split-screen mode.

What I’m missing out here is gesture control, because it’s a feature the 5 Series could do without. Simply put, gesture control picks up selected hand movements and then translates them into commands. For example, using a hand to swipe left or right was supposed to move the tiles on the homescreen, but I never got that gesture to work. When I tried it on the larger 7 Series, I found it slightly gimmicky and hard to get the hang of, and my opinion doesn’t change here.


The volume gesture did work, but rotating my finger in mid-air as instructed felt odd, and the fact it worked only 75% of the time made things worse. Even more irritatingly ,it would frequently recognise unintentional hand movements as commands changing the volume without warning. The only good thing about it? It’s easy to turn off.

In addition to the HUGE touchscreen, the BMW also has a 12.3in dashboard display behind the wheel – although the look is slightly more traditional than Audi’s super-techy Virtual Cockpit. Instead, BMW’s electronic cockpit blends the old and the new, using silver highlights to outline a more traditional-looking dial layout.

The system is subtle, but useful: you can see the speed limit of the road you’re on, and the buttons on the steering wheel can convert the rev counter into a small menu, via which you can check navigation, change music tracks, check crucial vehicle information and even browse contacts.

Depending on the mode you’re in, the dials change colour and style. For example, with the car in Sport mode, the dials accentuate the speed and revs, and glow in an aggressive red hue. Although the system was in good in practice, I found it slightly limited when compared with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system. Although it was completely electronic, BMW’s insistence of basing its system of traditional dials means the 5 Series’ cockpit screen can’t adapt or change to the extent that Audi’s can. Despite that, what the BMW could do, it did well.


Finally, and as with several other cars in the sector, the 5 Series also includes a heads-up display (HUD), which BMW says is 70% larger than the unit in the last 5 Series. This shows speed and speed limits right in the windscreen, but it also has some other nifty features to set it apart from its competitors.

It can show road signs and a list of the next few navigation steps, along with a map. It also stacks speed-limit warnings so you can prepare to brake in good time. Although it might seem like a minor point, the HUD’s use of several different colours also makes it easier to read than a monochrome or single-colour display.

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