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Has the plug-in hybrid sporting executive saloon finally come of age?

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Despite the prosaic remit, the BMW 5 Series has always been championed at Autocar.

For one thing, the concept itself hardly lacks breadth. Our preferred executive saloon sets out not simply to convey occupants down motorways in superb comfort, but also to reward its driver on decent roads, to purvey a sense of subtle luxury through both its interior quality and exterior design, and to offer plenty of practicality to boot. Over the decades, the 5 Series has often delivered on all these fronts.

The outgoing car, codenamed G30, was no different. Sheer scope meant it was arguably a greater achievement than any of its forebears. It could nudge 50mpg in no-nonsense 520d guise, or play up to its rich heritage as a blue-blooded performance saloon in six-cylinder 540i M Sport form.

At the top of the tree, the M5 CS was such an extraordinarily talented family supercar that Ferrari was decidedly lukewarm about the idea of us putting one up against the Purosangue.

But no matter the flavour, the G30’s baseline credibility concerning everything from dynamic polish to cabin ergonomics was often class-leading. 

So, the eighth-generation car has plenty to live up to. What’s more, the G60 enters a world less fussed with traditional saloons than ever, and one where slipping a big, un-hybridised engine under the bonnet isn’t an option. Interior tech is also evolving at a frightening rate, as is the notion among car makers that even discreet saloons should now stand out. Physical size, striking looks, pixel count and low on-paper emissions are today’s priorities.

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It all contrives to send the 5 Series into uncharted waters. So, while you might have made up your mind about the styling of the new generation, does the same rich substance – that old 5 Series magic – still reside within? Let’s find out.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
520i M Sport 205bhp £51,000
530e M Sport 295bhp £59,455
i5 eDrive40 M Sport 335bhp £74,105
550e xDrive M Sport 483bhp £76,605
i5 M60 xDrive 593bhp £97,745

Shorn of its predecessors’ diesel engines, the eighth-generation 5 Series range consists of two plug-in hybrids, two electric i5s and the entry-level 520i mild-hybrid petrol.

There are three de facto trims for UK buyers: M Sport, M Sport Pro (tested here) and M Performance (as represented by the range-topping i5 M60). The last two are distinguished by exterior styling elements (eg an illuminated grille) and gain extra kit.

DESIGN & STYLING

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2024 BMW 5 Series side dynamic

With its pinched face and leering grille, the G60 takes inspiration from the BMW iX SUV. This seems a questionable approach for a car many still expect to embody a certain elegance.

That said, this isn’t the first time BMW has challenged the status quo. The E39 5 Series killed off BMW’s much-loved shark nose aesthetic and the ‘Bangle’ E60 that succeeded it caused outrage in some circles with its flame surfacing. Like those cars, the G60 is not instantly lovable, though the sloping boot does hark back to the Paul Bracq-penned E12 5 Series, with its neat Italianate aesthetic and superb proportions.

On that subject, this is the biggest 5 Series yet. You would expect as much, but the fact that the G60 has more or less the same footprint as the old-shape 7 Series feels notable. At 2995mm, the wheelbase has grown 24mm. This elongation of the CLAR platform, along with the 5 Series’ monolithic-looking body, pushes length beyond five metres – until now the preserve of full-size limos.

Weight is also up. The entry-level 520i M Sport tips the scales at 1725kg, versus 1610kg before. The addition of a 48V mild-hybrid set-up accounts for some of the gain.

The flexible CLAR platform has been in service since 2015 but, to accommodate both the electric innards of the new i5 and the plug-in hybrid arrangement in the 5 Series, it has been updated. The mechanical make-up of the 5 Series is otherwise unchanged.

Aluminium suspension (wishbones at the front, multiple links at the back) is marshalled by springs and electronically controlled dampers. ICE models use BMW’s trusty ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, integrated into which is the electric motor that gives the PHEV derivatives extraordinary claimed economy and a good deal of EV driving range. Four-wheel drive is available but now deployed only on the flagship 550e xDrive.

M Sport trim (standard on all 5 Series in the UK except the i5 eDrive40) brings firmer springs and dampers and places the body 8mm closer to the ground. EV and PHEV models, no matter the trim, also get self-levelling air springs at the rear. The 550e comes as standard with Adaptive Suspension Professional, with its adaptive, stroke-dependent dampers and rear-wheel steering. The i5 M60 is the only model that can be specified with Adaptive M Suspension Professional, which adds active anti-roll bars.

The engine line-up itself is less varied than it once was, at least for the UK. Diesels are out. Moreover, to have a juicy twin-turbo V8, as the old M550i was furnished with, you will need to opt for the upcoming M5.

So don’t let the nomenclature fool you: the 550e xDrive tested here uses a 308bhp version of the 3.0-litre B58 six-cylinder petrol engine, plus a 194bhp electric motor. Total output is a healthy 483bhp, and electrically operated Vanos camshaft phasing is said to have lowered emissions.

The only other engine is the B48 2.0-litre four-pot petrol, either in 205bhp mild-hybrid 520i guise or 295bhp 530e PHEV form. Of course, you could also go down the i5 path, though this comes with a considerable premium, especially if you opt for the range-topping M60.

INTERIOR

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2024 BMW 5 Series full interior

If you like the interior of the new BMW 7 Series, you will like that of this 5 Series.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Whatever your view, it is undeniable that this represents the greatest generational shift for the 5 Series’ cabin since the iDrive system’s debut 23 years ago.

Yes, BMW’s slide into the world of touch-sensitive screen-based controls and expansive high-resolution displays continues apace here. While the infotainment remains characteristically angled towards the driver, the only other tangible vestige of the old 5 Series is the rotary iDrive controller on the transmission tunnel, though even this is now rendered for visual impact, being in the style of cut glass, with angular facets if you ticked the box for ‘Crafted Clarity’.

Crystalline influence is also found on the convex dashboard. A strip of backlit plastic, which extends along the door cards, is from the 7 Series. On acquaintance it is quite arresting, and its colour-configurability results in a nice night-time ambience. However, in direct sunlight the smudges from any prodding of controls (for the door locks, air vents and headlights) are unsightly. The commands themselves are also not responsive enough. Even firing up the hazard lights often requires a second go. BMW is not alone when it comes to this sort of frustration, mind.

In terms of digital integration of common controls, thankfully the 5 Series doesn’t go as far as some. Wing mirrors, volume, gear selector – all remain in the realm of things you can twist or push. However, climate controls are almost entirely digital, and while the useful shortcuts that surround the iDrive rotary remain, they are harder to press at a glance. Indeed, all testers found they had to look away from the road more than was desirable.

Another observation was that while build quality remains undeniably high in the 5 Series, materials quality isn’t what it was. There is too much gloss black, and a few too many uninspiring plastics.

Driving ergonomics are good, however. The hip point feels a touch high, but the relationship between ankle, hip and hands is pedigree, with 20mm improved adjustability in the steering column and seat.

This is also a vast cabin, at least in the context of a mid-size saloon (which arguably the 5 Series no longer is). Up front, elbow room is 7 Series-esque, and oddment storage excellent, though rear leg room and boot space could better reflect the 5 Series’ dimensions.

Multimedia system

We are now onto BMW’s iDrive Operating System 8.5 infotainment generation. Just as it does in the iX and i7, the system incorporates the heater controls, seat adjustment controls, interior lighting controls and many other functions you might expect to find physical switchgear for.

BMW tries to provide shortcut functions around the margins of the screen to make it easier to reach particular controls quickly, butthey are small and fiddly to hit while driving.

The system’s saving grace for drivers is that there’s still an iDrive-style cursor controller on the centre console. However, there’s no cursor controller on the steering wheel (like Mercedes provides), and going through the main menu screen to find a particular function to adjust can be slow and distracting.

The navigation system is easy to program via voice command and it routes sensibly and is easy to follow. Equally, integration for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is slick, as per BMW’s usual standards.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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2024 BMW 5 Series front distance

Since the designation made its debut in 2005, the presence of ‘550’ on the backside of a petrol 5 Series has always meant one thing: a thumping V8 up front. This, of course, changes for the latest generation, but the loss of two cylinders hardly portends a shortfall in performance.

A recorded 0-60mph of 4.4sec makes the 550e 0.2sec quicker than the V10-hearted E60-gen M5, and we suspect this is also the first non-M-badged BMW to sprint to 100mph in less than 10sec.

Of course, the hottest PHEV 5 Series barely hints at this sort of pace when you first slide aboard. Defaulting into EV mode, it pulls off the mark with barely a ripple, the straight six igniting only once battery charge is depleted, when a serious bout of acceleration is called for, or when you put the gearbox into ‘S’ mode, for snappier upshifts programmed to slot home closer to the 7400rpm redline.

The nature of the performance is familiar – as a non-M model with a torque converter, gearchanges aren’t whip-crack fast, but this ZF unit (now with an upgraded oil pump and improved vibration damping) continues to ensure there’s no meaningful break in the considerable flow of torque.

The linear B58 motor is as sweet as ever, too. It develops peak torque at 1750rpm, sustaining it until nearly 5000rpm. Does this motor justify the £17k premium the 550e asks over the four-cylinder (and purely RWD) 530e? Rationally, no, but any 550-badged 5 Series has always been more about ‘want’ than ‘need’.

As for the lack of a V8, it is a shame, but the 550e has one trick up its sleeve beyond its ability to unobtrusively slip between electric and combustion propulsion (and, if you so choose, return long-term economy stats of which owners of the old 550i could only have dreamed). In Sport mode, hybrid assistance means tip-in throttle response is outrageous. The 1.9sec taken for the 20-40mph dash in third gear actually beats that of the M5 CS we tested in 2021.

However, gut-punch speed is a quirk of the 550e, not a hallmark. It’s mostly a relaxed, tourer-type personality, capable of wild pace at the drop of a hat but never much encouraging you to overindulge in it, as an M5 does. Happily, the 550e’s Q-car credentials remain intact.

RIDE & HANDLING

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2024 BMW 5 Series rear lead 2

The 550e cuts an unflustered figure. Given the old-shape car was already impressive in its all-round composure, and the new one has a longer wheelbase, wider tracks and, says BMW, even better weight distribution, this is hardly surprising.

In 550e guise, the new 5 Series also benefits from rear-wheel steering as part of the standard-fit, 5mm-lowered Adaptive Suspension Professional. This not only shaves half a metre off the turning circle but increases directional stability at higher speeds, when the hubs on both axles turn the same way. 

When it comes to carrying speed, the 550e is mighty. The grip from its efficiency-minded Michelins is, if not outright superb, then more than good enough. However, it’s the quiet control of the chassis that leaves a lasting impression.

Mid-corner crests, crenellations in the road and unexpectedly tight bends elicit pitch and roll, sure, but these are deft movements, neatly cushioned at the variable extremities of the suspension’s travel (Sport mode is tightly controlled but leaves plenty of head room for the M5). Brake-pedal feel is also good, instilling confidence. It adds to the intuitive drivability of this 483bhp 5 Series.

However, you can’t ever quite escape the feeling you’re driving rather a large car – certainly one more so than before. The 5 Series no longer feels ‘right-sized’. In fact, many of the sensory cues during driving – the width of the bonnet, the well-managed but palpable heft of the body, the nicely weighted but manifestly ‘electric’ steering feel – are now more suggestive of 7 Series than 5.

The 550e is an accurate, assured and, when pushed, throttle-adjustable saloon, but all the chassis tuning in the world can’t disguise such size on the road.

Comfort & Isolation

When we road tested the i5, its rolling refinement was hamstrung by a reactive ride. But that was a passively suspended i5 eDrive40, and the 550e xDrive is a different proposition.

For a car of its ilk, it provides wonderfully refined company both on the motorway and on more tortuous commuting routes alike, where it slips into EV mode whenever possible.

Its gait is fluid but never sickly in its movements, and the chassis’ isolation of vicious potholes and road-surface corrugations proved a thoroughly pleasant surprise, especially in light of those striking 20in rims.

Noise recordings of 66dBA at 70mph and 62dBA at 50mph are also excellent, and you can deduct 2dBA from each figure when in EV mode.

Less beloved by testers were the substantial A- and B-pillars, which inhibit visibility at junctions, and the fact that the bolster adjustment for the Comfort front seats is now accessed only via the touchscreen.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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2024 BMW 5 Series front lead

The 550e xDrive M Sport starts at £76,605, but the better-equipped £79,605 M Sport Pro offers superior value for money. Neither model is inexpensive, but it’s difficult to contextualise them as the 550e xDrive is unique – no rival offers a six-pot PHEV saloon.

So, while we generally would not bring used cars into the equation, in this case we will point out that low-mileage examples of the old V8-engined, and still very modern-feeling, M550i can be had for less than £50,000.

Those who want EV capability and a great engine will still need the 550e. And, in electric matters, the 550e is commendable.

On winding roads, our test efficiency of 2.5mpkWh suggests a real-world range of 47 miles. This drops to less than 30 miles in congested urban drudgery. Touring economy is also strong, our test car returning 40.1mpg with the drive battery depleted.

With a full tank, and a full battery, you might claw 600 miles. Note also that for this generation of 5 Series PHEV, maximum charging speed has increased to 7.4kW. 

VERDICT

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BMW 520i 2024 jb20240227 1455

Whether the G60 5 Series has heightened or diminished the appeal of this storied model line will depend on your criteria for an exec saloon.

On one hand, the 550e xDrive, tested here on the most capable suspension offered for the new 5 Series, has limousine qualities in abundance. We found it to be quieter even than an E-Class, and it rides with an unexpected grace that becomes even more remarkable as you discover just how composed this chassis remains when fired down a tricky B-road with almost 500bhp. 

However, a little of the ‘Goldilocks’ magic of the 5 Series has been lost along the way. The dimensions have increased – palpably so from the driver’s seat – and yet cabin ergonomics don’t take full advantage of this development. A slight over-reliance on touch-sensitive tech and some questionable materials also undermine the warmth and intuitiveness of the cabin. Overall, the 5 Series can feel a touch synthetic and more coldly capable than before.

All of that said, with its fine pure-EV attributes, this plug-in hybrid is still immensely versatile, with company car drivers getting a particularly sweet deal. But as a concept, the 5 Series is now less neatly defined than before, and less lovable for it. 

 

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.