Damien O’Carroll finds the new 5 series engaging, involving and stuffed with high tech.
The BMW 5 Series has always been a big sedan that is all about driver involvement above anything else. While the Mercedes-Benz E-Class was always more your retired gentleman’s car, the 5 Series was always something a bit more dynamic and exciting.
Then two strange things happened – Mercedes came over all high tech and sporty with the latest E-Class and BMW somehow lost the plot a bit with the last 5 Series.
It’s not that it isn’t any good - as it was a very good car indeed – just that it lacked that ultimate edge that automatically made it more involving and fun to drive than the opposition.
And it’s almost like BMW knew this, because the latest 5 Series answers that criticism and then also tackles the Merc head-on in terms of the high tech stuff.
Until the M5 arrives, the 540i you see here is the range topper in the 5 Series sedan range and is powered by a 250kW/450Nm 3.0-litre turbo inline six cylinder petrol engine that will belt the 540i to the legal limit in 5.1 seconds.
So first things first – yes, the 540i certainly does live up to BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” tag by being a beautifully composed and fantastically sharp thing.
The engine is silky smooth and belligerently powerful, while the eight-speed automatic transmission is fantastically quick and imperceptible in its shifts.
The steering is delightfully weighted and – while a wee tad remote – beautifully fast and responsive. Plus you also get a superb ride.
So that’s the “engaging” and “involving” part back on track then, but what about this high tech stuff I hear you ask?
While Mercedes has chosen to make the E-Class its technology leader, BMW has a more holistic approach and both the latest 7 Series and the new 5 Series are packed with some of the highest tech stuff available today.
This means that the 540i is virtually capable of driving itself, thanks to the advanced driver assists on offer. It is easily up there with the Mercedes system in terms of topping the Level 2 semi-autonomous driving thing and is a far smoother and less aggressive system than the Tesla Autopilot.
But the 540i can also park itself. Big deal, right? So can a Ford Focus. Yeah, but the BMW can do it with you outside the car.
Part of the optional $1,450 Technology Package are the remote control parking and touchscreen display key (the pack also includes wireless Apple CarPlay) that allow you to remotely control the progress of the automatic parking system.
While this sounds like a silly gimmick, in reality it is actually rather useful. In fact, I used it twice out of necessity in the time I had the 540i. Both time were when the only parking space available was a tight perpendicular spot with another car on one side and a fence on the other.
Under any other circumstances I would have had a choice – park like an ignorant idiot so that the other car couldn’t be accessed on my side or give up and find another spot.
The BMW system allowed me to line the car up, hop out and park it remotely, tight up against the fence allowing the driver of the other car easy access to their door.
The downside is that is is rather cautious and slow (although this is understandable), so you wouldn’t be popular doing it on a busy road. Plus you will always attract a crowd…
Okay, so the interior design is getting a bit dated now and the display key is unfeasibly large, but – surprisingly useful gimmicks aside (the 540i also had gesture controls for the phone and audio, which were equally surprisingly useful) – the 540i is still a remarkably comfortable luxurious car that is athletic, agile and deeply satisfying to drive.
Body type Sedan
Engine type Inline six-cylinder turbo petrol
Engine capacity 3.0-litres
Max power 250kW @ 5200rpm
Max torque 450Nm @ 1380rpm
l/100km (Combined) 6.7
C02 emissions 154g/km
Boot capacity 535 litres
Spare tyre Run flats
ANCAP rating 5 stars