An alluring blend of luxury, performance and refinement

An alluring blend of luxury, performance and refinement
Wide stance telegraphs tenacious roadholding  of this luxury express

Wide stance telegraphs tenacious road-holding of this luxury express

I GUESS in a world of metric measurements it’s not exactly kosher to describe the new seventh generation 5 Series BMW as a “mile muncher” but that alliterative description really does fit the bill.

Such talent was revealed in no uncertain terms at the SA launch of the latest iteration of the saloon model that’s defined the Bavarian brand since the birth of the 5 Series in 1972.

If you’re familiar with previous BMW model nomenclature such as E28 or E39 for example, you might be puzzled as to why this newly-wrought model carries the G30 moniker but that’s not nearly as relevant as what lies in store for motorists looking to get their hands on a thoroughly convincing luxury sedan endowed with typically BMW sporting genes.

The G30 clearly spent some time in the gym during its gestation as it’s shed up to100kg compared with its predecessor. You can thank the use of more aluminium and stronger steel for this just as you can thank BMW’s styling studio for making the newcomer look a fair bit sleeker than it’s mildly portly predecessor.

For sure, there’s no denying all the usual BMW styling cues are present but this time they are more correct and cohesive to endow the mid-sized Beemer with an altogether sleeker look that extends all the way to the rear where the tail lights in particular are neatly integrated.

Unmistakably a BMW but now with more fluid detailing

Unmistakably a BMW but now with more fluid detailing

Sadly, the world is moving away from sedans, and that even includes premium iterations such as this, so the marketing people will have their work cut out to convince potential buyers that the new “Five” really is the way to go.

On launch, four models are listed, these being the 1 995cc 520d, the 1 998cc 530i, the 2 993cc 530d and the range-topping 2 998cc 540i. If you’re confused, you’re not alone but neither is BMW alone in using model nomenclature that mostly does not represent engine displacement as it did in days of yore.

The first two models listed above are each propelled by 4 cylinders which means that lovely BMW 6-cylinder thrum is a thing of the past thanks in part to the clean air merchants. But for traditionalists, the 530d and 540i retain the famed six-cylinder configuration albeit that turbocharging stifles the glorious exhaust note we all drooled over in the past!

Our first on-road acquaintance was with the 200kW twin-scroll turbocharged 530i. Would the deployment of just 4 cylinders spoil the aural experience, we mused. To some extent, the answer is “yes” but the engineers have done such a good job in isolating mechanical thrash that it‘s only under severe provocation that the motor betrays its make-up.

Power delivery is linear which tells you that turbo lag is not an issue and for the most part, there is more than adequate muscle on hand to deal with all terrain including steep mountain passes.

Cockpit-like environment for front seat occupants

Cockpit-like environment for front seat occupants

Next up was the altogether more sporty 250kW 540i which put its 50% greater displacement to good use with surging acceleration and a delicious yet restrained thrum from under the bonnet. The penalty is extracted at the pumps but our 12.2/100km figure isn’t too bad given liberal use of the throttle during our tenure which included a sinuous mountain pass.

Without a doubt though, the star of the G30 show is the 195kW 530d. The likely demise of the diesel engine within a decade is hard to stomach when such a powerplant delivers such a convincing performance while consuming fuel at just 7.7l/100km even with very liberal use of the throttle.

Here’s a compression-ignition motor that masks knock uncannily successfully at low revs while delivering a rather pleasant if subdued hum at higher revs. And no-one can sneeze at a 0-100 time of 5.7s.

All models feature the familiar ZF 8-speed auto which sees service in competitive makes too, albeit that each manufacturer tweaks software to suit. In this application, the box is delightful in every sense, whichever model is driven. There’s next to no slip, changes are smooth and rapid and the provision of paddle shifters simply sweetens the formula.

Refinement too is top class. Wind noise is beautifully masked and mechanical commotion for the most part is non-existent. On some older, coarse tar surfaces, road roar can make itself heard but given the size of most wheel/tyre combinations, this is hardly surprising.

Two issues though did surprise to some extent. The variable-ratio steering for example, even with Integral Active Steering (rear-wheel steer) on board, feels a little woolly around the centre position and for me, a little too light at all times.

Many drivers will probably like the easy feel but for a sporty BMW, it feels just a tad disconnected. In the same vein, I have little doubt the majority of drivers will like the slightly soft suspension set-up.  Even with the lowered and stiffened suspension offered on the M Sport package, the ride is relaxed rather than sporty but the rewards are great in terms of long distance comfort as the Beemer absorbs most bumps with great finesse and fine control.

Let’s just say that the new 5 Series has moved more in the direction of the 7 Series in terms of dynamic feel which could just account for the “Business Athlete” tag bestowed on it by its makers. Be aware though that a host of options is offered in terms of suspension set-up.

Configurable virtual instrument display is a model of clarity

Configurable virtual instrument display is a model of clarity

Open the door of any model and you’ll be greeted by a classy interior finished to very high standards and equipped with all the latest gizmos, the extent of which is dependent on how far you wish to dip into the near-endless options list.

Material selection (with the exception of the mostly-hidden steering column shroud that looks and feels plasticky) is impeccable and seat comfort/adjustability, including rear space, is nigh on perfect. But, and this comment may reflect my very lofty expectations, the design execution is a tad too familiar.

The dashboard design lacks the modernity and drama of that in the E-Class while the overall execution doesn’t match the subtle yet classy simplicity delivered by Audis but don’t get me wrong – the cabin still feels really good and sports an amazing array of modern niceties.

The configurable virtual instrument display is clear and informative and the updated central infotainment screen will keep you entertained for an eternity. Control can be effected courtesy of steering wheel buttons, via console buttons, by voice or gesture commands or via the iDrive controller itself.

When it comes to tech, this Beemer takes second place to no-one. For example, the list also includes a night camera, on-board wi-fi, a concierge service, which we tested successfully, and such niceties as massaging seats with configurable side bolsters.

Further, and I’ve only hinted at how many options are available in terms of dynamic configuration,  the number of comfort and aesthetic combinations such as wheel/tyre and colour/interior demands that you visit a BMW website such as you’ll find at www.bmw.co.za

Unfortunately, the “entry” level 520d escaped our clutches but if it gets anywhere near the levels set by its more powerful siblings, it too will be a hoot to drive and be driven in. That indeed is one of the key points of the new model.

It has morphed into something of a compact 7 Series through offering a raft of luxuries and a relaxed drive underwritten by peachy refinement levels that will be appreciated as much by passengers as by the pilot. But under the skin, there’s a sporting BMW waiting to be unleashed when the mood takes. So, while the latest G30 iteration may not be the plushest of the luxury middle weights nor the outright sportiest, it blends the two attributes better than any of its rivals so it retains its crown as the best all-rounder, full stop.

 

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