2017 BMW 5 Series: 7 Series Comfort, 3 Series Agility

Strong points
  • The car and driver are one
  • Impeccable interior finish
  • More intuitive iDrive system
  • Exciting ride
  • Standard all-wheel drive
Weak points
  • Limited number of versions for now
  • The iDrive system still requires too much attention
Full report

Although the 3 Series is BMW’s top seller in Canada, besting the Bavarian manufacturer's various SUVs, the 5 Series is the brand’s most well-known model. While the first generation was introduced in 1972, 2017 will witness the arrival of the seventh generation, which we’re comfortably calling spectacular after our first encounter.

Two versions to start

When it touches down in February, the 5 Series will be available in only two versions: the 530i xDrive ($61,500) and the 540i xDrive ($69,000). Both bear the xDrive name, meaning that all-wheel drive comes standard in Canada. And that’s good news, even though some swear by the virtues of rear-wheel drive.

The 530i succeeds the 528i and gets a new turbocharged, four-cylinder engine producing 248 horsepower at 5200 rpm. Its 258 lb.-ft. of torque, however, is deployed quickly from 1450 rpm.

Drivers who want a little more power can opt for the 540i. Its 3.0-litre six-cylinder serves up 335 horsepower, which is 35 more than the previous 535i. Its superior power shaves 1.2 seconds off the 0-100 km/h time compared to the 530i. All versions inherit an eight-speed automatic Steptronic transmission.

Plug-in hybrid in the works

There's no diesel engine planned for Canada, but next year, BMW will instead offer the 530e iPerformance, a plug-in hybrid version with an operating range of approximately 50 kilometres in fully electric mode.

It's also a safe bet that an M5 is in the works—and there are whispers that it could arrive much sooner than we think, the manufacturer having decided to get it to market faster than originally planned. There's no getting around it, since a new-gen Mercedes-Benz E-Class has just arrived and there's already a bunch of versions available, including a wagon and a beastly AMG. Advantage Mercedes for the time being, so BMW needs to respond in short order!

Photo: Sylvain Raymond

Standard M Sport package

The new versions of the 5 Series are also designed with lightness in mind. The engineers managed to cut nearly 100 kg by using lighter materials, thus favouring handling and fuel economy.

This generation’s slightly more muscular style makes it more dynamic. In front, the black outlines around the grille and headlights are a nod to the first generation. Mercedes often includes AMG packages as standard on its Canadian versions, and BMW is doing the same with the 5 Series by including the M Sport package, thereby boosting sportiness with aerodynamic features, 19-inch rims and a lower suspension.

A driver-oriented passenger compartment

They’ve done an amazing job inside the cabin. It looks spectacular when night falls, thanks to ubiquitous lighting, and attention to detail is obvious throughout. That used to be Audi’s hallmark, but now it’s BMW’s.

There’s a new infotainment screen that seems to float in the middle of the dashboard and is part of the increasingly intuitive, sixth-generation iDrive system, which controls pretty much everything inside the car. Whether you use the dial or the touchscreen, several controls give direct access to the main functions. Gesture control, first seen in the 7 Series, can also be used to manage certain system functions. Just wave your hand in front of the screen and a sensor in the ceiling will pick up on the movement.

But you know what really sets the new 5 Series’ cabin apart from that of its rivals? Everything is oriented towards the driver. This vehicle’s mission is to be a driver’s car—and mission accomplished! Everything is right at your fingertips, plus the driving position is good thanks to numerous seat and steering wheel settings. The large steering wheel rim is comfortable to hold and increases the feeling of control—it feels like you’re driving a race car, not a luxury sedan. No one would want to give up the wheel in this car, no matter how roomy and comfortable the back seats are!

As it’s a little bigger than the previous generation by a few millimetres (in height, width and length), the model is not only roomier for passengers, but also has more cargo space. The total capacity is 530 litres, which BMW tells us is enough to transport four golf bags.

Photo: Sylvain Raymond

On the road

We had the opportunity to drive the 540i for several hundred kilometres, but our test car was not equipped with all-wheel drive. The first thing we noticed was that the engine delivers torque quickly and without any lag. You control the car with the tip of your toes, thus ensuring a fun ride at all times. You’ll really appreciate that when you have to get out in front of another car or pass another vehicle. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to put the base four-cylinder engine through its paces and can only hope that its output is equally good.

Various driving modes are offered, with our favourite being Sport mode. It lets the engine roar a little more, especially during gear changes. The fast and ultra-precise transmission is irreproachable. Gears can also be controlled manually using paddles located behind the steering wheel.

If ever you tire of sporty driving, Comfort mode transforms the vehicle into a palace on wheels with massage seats to help you and your passenger relax by modifying pressure points. That function is sure to knock your socks off.

Of course, the 5 Series gets all the latest advancements in terms of driving assistance. There’s blind spot detection, intelligent cruise control and now, a lane keeping assistant that acts as a sort of autopilot that, by way of a series of sensors, keeps the car in the middle of the lane by intervening in the steering. But since it rained during our second day of testing, we weren’t able to use this system. We’re definitely a long way from fully autonomous driving.

In this segment, there are several very attractive models outside of the three main German protagonists. There’s the Cadillac CT6 and Jaguar XF, but neither of these vehicles has the right combination of qualities to be the leader of the pack. As for the million-dollar question, E-Class or BMW 5 Series, the decision is tougher than ever. The argument in favour of the 5 Series is that it’s a notch better in terms of driving experience. It’s literally one with the driver, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it with the 5 Series.

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