As far as automotive design goes, the last-generation BMW 5er was an anomaly. Some loved the flamboyance that bordered on the weird, while some marvelled at what lay beneath. Yet, like in the case of the king who marched on the street naked, no one bothered to tell. A massive V10 under the hood and an M badge saved the blushes for those who couldn’t be swayed towards Stuttgart or for that matter, Ingolstadt. Around the 5 Series, other BMWs were starting to look more sober— the 3 aged gracefully, the 7 adopted the ’monument on wheels’ look and the Z4 actually showed Bangle’s talent. Then, the departure to the wild happened with the achingly sporty X6 SUV and the definition-changing GT. Enough was enough.
Eyebrow jobs are good— on women. The cross-dressing days of the 5 Series are finally over. It had to go back to its roots and the new car passes the genetics test with no mention whatsoever of the wild aunt who maligned the bloodline not so long ago. Yet, this is not a car built by an architect or a sculptor. It may not have piqued the interest of the Portuguese public as much as I would have expected a new BMW to. Now that is the story from a good ten metres away. Get closer and you see the details— subtle scalpel work meant to enforce the dynamic message, respectful homage to the history books and a certain flawless balance to the design that allows the sun to rise in the east. Predictable? That seems to have been the idea. Almost perfect? Yes is the closest answer you can get to. Do I like it? Maybe it will grow on me in another 12 months’ time.
I don’t know whether it is me, but I see more than a hint of Jaguar in the exterior design. For best effect, cover one half of a photograph of the new 5 and see it without the kidney grille! And the multiple folds of the bonnet (though well explained by the Gina concept) make you feel that the powerful engine was shrink-wrapped in aluminium to get the effect— just like in the XJ and more recently in the XF. Add to that a multi-spoke alloy wheel design and chrome ’British’ door handles and the Jagadelic effect is complete. The new car may look very similar to the 7 in photos, but there is no mistaking the form when seen in the flesh. A very bold watermark is the highlight on the sides of the car. The ’molten lava’ effect on the tail-lamps first seen in the 7 is used in a thinner execution. It is not a sharp car— instead it looks like a blunt instrument that can be empowered with more horsepower and wider wheel arches (and fitting rubber) as and when the M version arrives.
SMELL THE LEATHER?
In case the Union Jack was hoisted in your brain-scape as you stepped into the new 5, the interior takes care of the role of landing you back in Germany— without a thud. The beautifully crafted interior is now more spacious than ever before. There is more elbow room for the front passenger and driver and there is room for three adults at the back. The 535i that I got to drive featured a matt black-and-tan trim with matching tan leather that is splendidly stitched together. The pistol-grip gear selector continues and so does the new iDrive as seen in the 7 Series. The three-spoke steering wheel is a tad too thick for comfort and downright tricky when you are in the mood to have some serious fun. The rest of the interior, as expected, oozes a certain degree of quality and finish. In short, there is no silly clock or leather piping that a Jag or Bentley would have had— thank God.
ADDICTED TO SIX
This is a sweet engine, the inline six-cylinder unit that displaces around 3000cc to give birth to 302 healthy ponies at 5800 rpm and over 40 kgm of torque at 1200 rpm. Don’t be surprised to see the rpm figure here— modern-day petrol engines are developing peak torque pretty early in life, despite being fed by turbochargers. The twin-scroll turbo-engine unit emits a bark along with a strong induction whine when you step on the gas— closer to 100 kph and above— but otherwise, the proceedings are more or less silent. BMW has fitted an eight-speed gearbox in the quest for refined cruising ability on motorways and better overall economy. BMW claims a 100 kph time of 6.1 seconds— agreeable indeed. Also available for the launch drive was a six-cylinder diesel that I could not lay my hands on thanks to a truncated schedule due to late flights into Lisbon. But the highlight of the trip was indeed the visit to the legendary Estoril race track where the 535i could be pushed really hard... Read on!
ROAD AND TRACK
After roughly 100 km of driving on average B-roads in and around Lisbon, we headed for the Estoril autodrome, which used to be a Formula One-spec track. You see, BMW didn’t have to do this— that is, allowing hacks from around the world to have a ball of a time! In all probability, they didn’t want journalists to believe that their midsize car is more luxurious and less sporty. All it took was five laps around the legendary track to realise that the sportiness quotient is intact. Sure, the new electro-mechanical steering is nowhere close to the hydraulic units of the past when it comes to providing feedback to the driver. Yet, the steering is much easier and as instantaneous when it comes to reaction times. With the traction control button switched off and in the Sport+ mode, there is plenty of fun to be had. I can’t help but compare this Estoril experience with the Audi A4 track test in Dubai. The RS4 with a 414 bhp V8 up front and power going to all four wheels with a 40:60 split was a dream to go sideways on almost every corner. All it needed was a generous amount of throttle and willpower on the part of the driver to have a whale of a time. The 535i that I was driving at Estoril may have had only 300-odd bhp and that too being sent to the rear wheels, but the Beemer is as benign as the super sedan on the track. In my second lap itself I had the confidence to carry enough speed into corner number three (which climbed as well as tightened) for the tail to step out and stay put till I went around the apex and decided to lift off momentarily (to correct the line) and power out again. Of course, the very next lap I cooked it big time on the same corner and was saved the embarrassment of being stuck in the sand pit only by a whisker. If your idea of fun is to go as fast as possible around a racing track, then the new 5 will work with you to that goal— but I won’t be surprised to see the new 5 being the default issue car at drifting schools around the world.
The above paragraph does not mean that the new 5 is unsafe on the road. On the contrary, the new 5 can transfer torque effectively to diffuse any unwanted traction-free episodes— to put it mildly. If the six-cylinder car is so much fun, expect the new M5 to be the stuff automotive erotica is made of.
BMW has adopted a new suspension layout for the new 5 with a double-wishbone setup coming in to replace the time-honoured struts up front. Rear suspension is based on a multi-link layout. Ride quality, despite persisting with runflat tyres, has improved tremendously as was evident on badly paved roads in suburban Lisbon.
This is the money-spinning segment for Mercedes-Benz in India and if BMW wants to continue the dominance of the Indian market, the new car needs to take on the new E and win. And with the new-found plushness, comfort and effortless steering (and scores of other features that can provide enough reading material to a geek for over a year), the new 5 is stuffed to the gills to do just that. BMW seem to have achieved the impossible task of making a car more luxurious without reducing the sporting intent and this might find more takers in India. Expect a total of four powertrain options and a price tag that stretches between Rs 40 and 50 lakh as the new car reaches showrooms. And it ain’t a crime to look good and be oh-so-talented, right? (The writer was invited by BMW to drive the new 5 Series in Portugal.)