BMW 5 Series

Caught short trying to be all things to all people

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IT’S BECOMING a bit of a lottery trying to find a (non-M) BMW that doesn’t boggle the mind with its minefield of dynamic options. And, sadly, the new G30 5 Series falls straight into the trap that has already caught out the F30 3 Series and second-generation X1 before it.

Even BMW’s own employees are confused by the proliferation of choice, yet the irony is the new-gen 5 Series requires a very specific set-up to truly capitalise on its underlying excellence.

At its international launch last December, the G30s that John Carey drove weren’t representative of Australian spec. A 530d xDrive on Luxury suspension and a 540i (wearing smaller 19s), both with ‘Integral Active Steer’ four-wheel steering, proved far more persuasive on smooth Portuguese roads than our two-wheel-steer test cars did on Australia’s challenging surfaces.

At the top of the G30 tree, for now, sits the 540i with M Sport package, adaptive dampers (standard on all bar the 520d), Adaptive Drive with active anti-roll bars, and guard-filling 20s. It’s a lot of car for quite a sum of money ($136,900), with BMW claiming it offers $34K of additional value compared to its F10 535i predecessor. It’s quick, too – 5.1sec to 100km/h courtesy of a thrusty new-gen 250kW/450Nm 3.0-litre single-turbo straight six.

Yet the 540i isn’t our favourite G30. Its engine sounds subtly sporting but is arguably outshone by the turbo-four 530i and turbodiesel six 530d. And without optional variable-ratio steering (see sidebar), the information fed through the 540i’s stylish steering wheel is inconsistently and artificially transmitted, without enough ability to load up naturally.

It doesn’t ride well, either, with too much jiggle making its way to the cabin. Sport mode removes some of the mild float evident in Comfort mode, but it still doesn’t add enough proper weight to the steering. And the new Adaptive mode is even more flawed, combining Comfort’s overlight steering with suspension seemingly unable to truly sense what it needs to be filtering or feeding through.

Thankfully, the new Five’s handling prowess really shines when you ask plenty of it, though it’s only on really tight roads that its all-new, aluminium-intensive suspension seems hell-bent on carving it through a corner. With a quarter (or more) turn of steering lock on, there’s an agility to its handling in press-on driving that must partly be attributed to its trim kerb weight.

The 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-four 530i is a second slower to 100km/h (6.2sec), nearly a litre thriftier on the government fuel cycle (5.8L/100km), and a sweeter car overall. With more natural (if still remote) steering, it’s an easier car to place on country roads, however it’s the identically equipped 530d with a 195kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel six that tickles our fancy.

Managing 0-100km/h in 5.7sec and an astounding 4.7L/100km fuel number, the 530d is a persuasive combination of sex and sense.

It delivers a lovely, lusty surge through its mid-range and an effortlessness that’s totally in keeping with its sports-luxe focus.

Perhaps with optional fourwheel steering – a feature that achieved great things in the previous F10 – the G30 will realise its undoubted potential.

But as it stands, the 5 Series is an enigma. Neither involving enough to appease driving purists or plush enough for ride, it sits in a confused middle ground, as much a victim of providing too much choice as it is of trying to please too many people at the same time.

PLUS & MINUS

Oversized wheels; unsettled ride; remote steering; predictable styling Fabulous engines; high-quality interior; ultimate handling ability Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW 530d 2993cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, TD 195kW @ 4000rpm 620Nm @ 2000-2500rpm 8-speed automatic 1640kg 5.7sec (claimed) 4.7L/100km $119,900 Now

Builder’s labour

BMW Australia’s product planners have attempted to rein in the confusion over Munich’s proliferation of dynamic options. If you want ‘Integral Active Steer’ (four-wheel steering with a variable-ratio ‘active’ sport steering rack) it’s a no-cost alternative to the 540i’s standard Adaptive Drive (active anti-roll bars). On all other models, it’s $2250 extra. And because the 530i, 530d, and 540i all have Dynamic Damper Control, their standard M Sport package doesn’t include M Sport suspension, but it does on the base 520d with fixed-rate dampers.

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Mercedes-Benz E350d $134,900

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Jaguar XF S 30d $121,805

The real test for the BMW’s dynamics, seeing the XF inherits much of the superb XE’s dynamic fluency and ride suppleness without needless complexity. It’s bang on the 530d’s price too, if not its interior class.