Like its mixed-material architecture and its approach to diesel, petrol and electrification, BMW is sensibly open-minded about autonomous driving: it knows that if it covers everything, it has options in every market. So it figures that most of the time you’ll want to drive, but that sometimes you might want a hand with it, and eventually you’ll want the car to do its own thing. And you’ll want all of that from one car.
The new 5 Series, then, can steer itself in its lane and accelerate and brake itself. It’s not autonomous by any means – the steering has a halfmoment of hesitation when you pass a slip road on the motorway – but I do find it knocks back driver fatigue; you can keep your awareness but reduce the functions you’d usually have to carry out, even subconsciously. In the UK, where it’s crowded and lane discipline is disastrous , it’s less useful, but overseas on broad, quiet roads I’d tick the option box every time.
What it means is that when I start eyeing up the roads as they push higher in Andorra, I’m fresher than I’d otherwise be and, this being a BMW, I can switch off all the driver aids. The roads here are kept clear, even up to ski resorts, which is just as well because, while most people are running winter tyres, certainly not everybody is. But they press on a bit – on the way up to the ski lifts, at least. They’re excited, presumably, because they’re slower on the way back down later. But these roads, at this time of year, while beautiful, are not built for enjoying on four wheels. We find better ones – quieter ones – lower down, on southern-facing slopes where, if there was any winter snowfall, it has departed with what feels like spring in the air, leaving only the altitude to ensure there’s skiing at higher levels.
And here the 5 Series is good, enjoyable, with lots of traction, grip, poise and feedback. No car of this girth is going to be truly, magnificently, tremendously agile, although Jaguar’s XF has a crack at it. But don’t forget this is a multi-tasker; what it tries to do at this end of the scale has to be offset by what it does at the other end, where cars like the Mercedes E-Class excel. Certainly, I’m not convinced the 5 Series, at least on 20s, is as comfortable as an E-Class, and nor does it feel as lithe as an XF, but I don’t imagine BMW deliberately pitches it between the two. I rather suspect it thinks the 5 Series defines the segment and that other cars align themselves around it, rather than the other way around. But I think it’s the car that BMW will perceive has the broadest array of performance in the sector, intending it as comfortable as an E-Class, as dynamic as an XF, as pleasingly built inside as an A6 and as cool as a V90.
I’ll leave it for someone else to decide where on the spider web chart of attributes the 5 Series ultimately sits. Meantime , I’m happy to steer it repeatedly around the same set of hairpin bends for Papior’s camera, soaking in the view and enjoying the poise of the car while knowing that, when the sun dips behind the Pyrenees and the lighting is just right, Stan will take his last photo and we’ll have another heck of a drive ahead of us. Pity. I could use another day in somewhere as pretty as this. Still, a third non-stop day at the wheel, another 800 miles. With that kind of drive ahead of you, you want a world -class car in which to do it, one that is comfortable, fast, economical, connected and willing to help you out. The new 5 Series, no question, is precisely that kind of car.