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I’ve talked it over with friends and colleagues and most of us agree that this generation of the BMW 5 Series is the best looking car in the model’s recent history, but I just couldn’t fall in love with the looks. It’s handsome enough in profile or when viewed from the rear but something about the front end just doesn’t sit right with me. Others have likened the new 5 Series to a scaled-down 7 Series and I’d agree, but to my eye it looks like Bimmer missed the headlights and grille with its design shrink ray. It’s too upright, too bulbous and out of proportion with the rest of the car.
Styling is, of course, subjective but I think that both the Audi A6 and the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class are simply better looking cars. But what matters is most is which car I’d rather drive and the new 2017 BMW 530i sedan has seen some significant upgrades that make it a strong player in this class.
The 530i’s 2.0-liter turbo
Under the our 530i’s hood, you’ll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine — a smaller engine than you might expect to find in a sedan of this size, but still a fairly mighty one. Output is stated at 248-horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque which the 5 Series sends to the rear wheels via an eight-speed steptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a selectable sport mode. The automaker’s xDrive all-wheel drive system is available as an option.
On the road, that feels like a decent amount of power for the 5er. Power is easily accessible and surges with the smooth gearbox shifts in a way that never left me lacking during a pass or highway merge. The meaty mid-range torque curve also made for some relaxed fun when the road got twisty.
However, this is no canyon carver, it’s a grand tourer at best. The 5 Series felt most in its element on the highway and around sweeping bends where the suspension could showcase its Autobahn-tuned stability. On a twisty road, the 5 Series’ weight makes itself more apparent. The steering remains crisp and the firm but not harsh and the suspension remains responsive enough to raise a smile.
To further help tune the 5’s character, BMW has outfitted the sedan with about a half dozen “Driving Experience Control” modes to customize the performance of the steering, throttle, and handling. At one end of the spectrum you get the more aggressive Sport and Sport Plus settings which set the steering, handling and throttle to their most aggressive and responsive settings. In between is the Comfort mode, “Individual” programs for all of the modes that let drivers mix and match the settings and an Adaptive setting that just lets the car decide how to operate based on the current conditions and driver inputs.
Economy is becoming increasingly important, even to luxury drivers, so BMW has outfitted the 5er with more fuel saving tricks with each generation, including engine stop-start anti-idling, regenerative braking which reduces fuel lost to alternator load and subtle refinements in aerodynamics and weight. As a result, the 2017 BMW 530i is good for a stated 27 combined mpg (24 city, 34 highway).
iDrive version 6.0
The biggest updates to this generation 5 Series are electronic. In short, the new 5er gets almost all of the new tech goodies from the new 7 Series: New iDrive, new safety tech, new head-up display and a new gesture control system to play around with.
The automaker’s iDrive infotainment gets a version 6.0 redesign based on the setup we saw in the new 7 Series. The system features crisply rendered visuals, smooth animations and a new home screen with large virtual cards that explain the major sections of the interface, including navigation, media and vehicle information. The cards help a bit as you learn your way around the interface, but I still it a bit confusing at times. That said, I’m grateful that it’s so much better than it used to be.
The system uses a 10.2-inch touchscreen which can also be operated via the console-mounted iDrive controller and a touchpad on the iDrive knob can be used to write, swipe and pinch, or voice command. I personally felt the controller was more intuitive and kept fingerprints off of the central display. Plus, I’ve been using one version or another of this knob for six generations now, so I’m accustomed to it.
The most gimmicky new control scheme is the new gestures system that allows drivers to interact with iDrive without even touching it. Twirling a finger in front of the dashboard, for example, raises or lowers the audio volume. Waving a hand dismisses a notification. There are more gestures available but, aside from the finger twirl volume control, I found it easier and more accurate to just use physical controls for most interactions.
Overall, the iDrive tech is pretty amazing stuff and a substantial upgrade over the last time I saw the 5er. Even wireless Apple CarPlay is available for this generation, a first ever for the industry. Though, in typical BMW fashion, it’s a $300 optional upgrade. Android users are neglected by BMW for yet another generation; there’s no Android Auto upgrade available.
In addition to the reconfigurable digital instrument cluster ahead of the driver, our 530i also came equipped with a full color head-up display. Projected directly into the driver’s field of view on the windshield, the HUD displays speed and safety information as well as turn by turn navigation with bright, colorful graphics that helped me to keep my eyes on the road. However, if you wear polarized sunglasses while driving during the day, expect the HUD’s vibrancy to be diminished significantly.
Safety force field
Our optioned-up 530i came equipped with more cameras than I knew what to do with. There’s the rear camera, the front bumper camera, side curb-view cameras, and other modes that uses digital sorcery to stitch together a 3D bird’s-eye around view of the area around the car. With so many cameras and a plethora of sonar proximity sensors, parking the 5er is as easy as pie. But if you need a little more help, there’s also a semi-autonomous active parking assist — though I found that system trickier to activate and operate than just doing it myself.
There’s also collision-mitigating automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and rear cross traffic alert to help keep the 530i safe in the city.
However, driver aid tech isn’t just limited to low-speed operations. Features like lane keeping assisted steering, blind spot monitoring, driver alertness monitoring and adaptive cruise control — which even works in stop-and-go traffic — help make the highways safer as well.
A subtle addition to this generation’s safety tech suite is a single button on the dashboard — a car surrounded by a glowing green circle — that lets driver instantly toggle all of the equipped safety features (or a preselected set of them) with a single touch. I first saw such a “safety force field” button on Infiniti cars and am glad to see the simplified interface in Bimmer’s bag of tricks.
I should mention that the 5 Series is available with optional night vision that can display a monochrome, infrared view of the road ahead at night on the digital instrument cluster, but I found that the optional LED headlamps with automatic high beams and adaptive steering were, for me, a better solution to this problem.
Butterface, but a solid choice
The 2017 BMW 530i is better in nearly every way than before. It’s more attractive, the performance and efficiency continue to evolve and that cabin is just a great place to spend a commute with its excellent materials, massage seats and sweet audio system. However, a lot of my complaints about the 5 Series persist. For example, iDrive is better but still confusing to newcomers and BMW continues to ignore Android users with its cabin technology.
And then there’s the issue of the way BMW prices and packages its cars. Our example rolled into the garage with a $69,895 price tag in the glove box, but the new 5er starts at around $51,200 plus a $995 destination charge. That’s because BMW’s theme song is “Everything’s an Option.” Pretty much everything mentioned in this review short of the engine is an option including the safety tech, camera systems, much of iDrive’s functionality, many of the creature comforts and more. It just feels like you’re getting nickel-and-dimed when a luxury automaker asks for $300 for Apple CarPlay, a feature that most Volkswagens and Hyundais offer as standard along with Android Auto.
Still, the 2017 BMW 5 Series is a strong competitor in the midsized luxury sedan class. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the strongest until Audi’s next generation A6 arrives.
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