On paper, these two rivals have never been closer, but one has managed to package its premium feel better than the other.
The eighth-generation BMW 5 Series has arrived for the 2024 model year, and as fate would have it, it follows just weeks after perennial cross-country rivals Mercedes revealed a new E-Class. While these two brands wage war on many fronts in many segments, the 5 Series vs. E-Class battle is arguably one of, if not the most important. These core models are the very foundation of premium luxury, status symbols for the middle to upper class, and at the heart of the entire premium market.
But in a battle of style, substance, and technology, which of these sedans is best? We'll have the opportunity to get behind the wheels of each soon, but until then, this is how they stack up on paper.
Both brands are no strangers to controversial design - BMW for its garish nostrils and Mercedes for its nesting doll design - but the 5 Series and E-Class show surprising restraint and class.
BMW cites strong Italian influences in the 5 Series, which is to say it relies on subtle lines over big, in-your-face design decisions. Needless to say, we appreciate it. Narrow, wide kidney grilles evoke sportiness and hark back to the Sharknose design of early 5ers and the grille comes with vertical or horizontal slats depending on trim.
The drawn-back headlights may require some getting used to, but their upper and lower edges translate into clean lines that trace the bodywork neatly and lead the eye down the flanks of the new 5. Speaking of the flanks, BMW has opted for a classic Hofmeister kink rather than the modern interpretation, which uses the name but nothing else. Perhaps controversially, though, a debossed '5' sits next to it - an element perhaps a little tackier than one might expect of the 5 Series.
The rear emulates a 7 Series with long, narrow taillights and represents an evolutionary design that looks timeless.
The E-Class is a little more complex in its design, opting for an EQ-inspired front grille panel. Flanking this are headlights with a notched design and a unique LED DRL signature. These are the most identifying trait of the E-Class; when the car is viewed from the side profile, it looks like a subtle reworking of the previous generation's design.
The rear has a stronger design element: a full-width light bar - also inspired by the EQ design language - and chunky LED taillights with a 3D Mercedes star design insignia. This aspect appears at odds with the rest of the design and is equally as displeasing to look at as BMW's 5 badge on the Hofmeister kink.
Both have performance body packages available, which suitably spice up the looks, but ultimately they remain classy executive sedans. The E's evolution stands out less than the 5's clean-sheet design, and while it does enough to identify itself as a new car, it likely won't stand the test of time in the same way we expect the 5 Series will. A decade from now, the 5 Series will be instantly recognizable, but the E-Class will just be another Mercedes.
A sign of the times, perhaps, but there are no V8s on offer in either of these sedans. It's likely the M5 will receive a plug-in hybrid V8 from the BMW XM Label Red, while Mercedes has a similar powertrain at its disposal for the full-fat AMG variant that will inevitably arrive.
Instead, four- and six-cylinder powertrains are the staple, both displacing 2.0 liters and 3.0 liters, respectively, and both employing turbocharging and mild hybridization.
In the case of the BMW, a new generation 2.0-liter turbo integrates the exhaust manifold into the head design and utilizes the Miller combustion cycle for enhanced efficiency. Power outputs of 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque in the 530i derivatives can be channeled to either the rear wheels or all corners via the ubiquitous eight-speed automatic. Zero to 60 mph takes 5.8-5.9 seconds, depending on drivetrain choice. The Mercedes manages to match these outputs identically in E350 guise, pairing them to a nine-speed automatic and all-wheel drive only.
With the fours so evenly matched, the sixes provide some differentiation, if only slightly. Displacing 3.0 liters and utilizing turbocharging and a 48-volt electrical system, both brands generate 375 hp. But it's the BMW that generates more torque, with 284 lb-ft of twist to the Merc's 369 lb-ft and the ability to up that to 398 lb-ft for brief periods. A 4.5-second 0-60 mph sprint for the BMW is claimed, while Mercedes says nothing of the benchmark acceleration time.
We must mention the i5 here, too, as BMW is adamant it is a 5 Series first, with its powertrain choice being secondary - something we can attest to after an early prototype drive. While it directly competes with the Mercedes EQE - a separate model entirely - it gives buyers the 5 Series package they want with up to 590 hp in M60 guise and a 3.7-second 0-60 mph time. The lesser eDrive40 produces 335 hp. To get similar from an EQE, you'd have to opt for the 617-hp AMG EQE, which is not officially an E-Class.
Maybe one day, premium brands will realize that the premium feel of a cabin does not directly correlate with how much screen estate you include, but today is not that day.
BMW is perhaps closer to that realization than others, with the BMW Curved Display integrating digital instrumentation (12.3 inches) with a 14.9-inch infotainment screen behind one curved piece of glass atop the dash. Atop, yes, meaning it has the potential to dominate sightlines.
The E-Class boasts the MBUX Superscreen, which is integrated into the primary dash, but spans the entire width and includes various displays for driver and passenger.
Both claim similar functionality like voice control, zero-layer access to primary functionality, and various connected features and OTA updates. Head-up displays are also included, as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
BMW includes in-car gaming through the AirConsole platform, which may seem gimmicky, but only until you learn of the E-Class's optional selfie camera and in-car app integration for Zoom, Angry Birds, TikTok, and more.
Subtle tech integration that fades to background noise is a winner in our eyes, and BMW nails this with the Interaction Bar the 5 Series inherits from the 7 Series. A backlit crystalline bar across the dash provides ambient lighting when not in use but lights up with various animations to indicate incoming calls and has touch-sensitive controls to help manipulate climate control, hazard warning lights, and more. It's a classy solution to the information overload modern society thrives on.
Both of these cars have become large enough to cater to the needs of almost any modern family. Both have more seating space for front and rear occupants, and both have larger trunks than before, although the 19 cubic feet in the E-Class manages to trump the 18.4 cubic feet in the combustion-powered 5 Series models.
Similar trim and upholstery options are available for all, but BMW makes a fuss about the fully leather-free Veganza interior option, although Extended Merino leather can still be specced in a variety of colors.
While the E-Class can be specced with an AMG styling package with a new steering wheel and sportier interior touches, the BMW's standard wheel and seats seem more than a match in terms of sportiness. Spring for the M Sport package and a red 12 o'clock marker on the wheel, red desh trim, and special seating with Veganza/Alcantara upholstery, red and blue translucent accents, and M pedals make the 5 Series seem significantly sportier.
On paper, there's little to separate these two sedans in terms of their performance, efficiency, space, and general specification. This is good, as it means that personal preference will determine their popularity, and it means that competition has driven both to a high standard of overall excellence.
Without having driven them yet to evaluate their chassis and powertrains, we fall back on a slightly objective verdict, which comes down to impressions of style and implementation of technological advancement.
With these rubrics in mind, the 5 Series seems, at first glance, to be the superior midsize luxury sedan. Its exterior is more easily identifiable and seems like a design that will age timelessly. The interior doesn't overload occupants with an abundance of screen estate like the E-Class does, which is something we feel strongly about.
As we said when we experienced the 7 Series alongside the S-Class, BMW's ability to integrate technology in a subtle manner without resorting to the big-screen fad will pay dividends in the long run. We maintain that philosophy and the new 5 Series manages to bring together the best of the 7 Series in a smaller, more stylish package that cements itself as the epitome of BMW. The E-Class, contrarily, seems gimmicky inside and doesn't differentiate itself enough on the outside.
All that's left is to drive them, but on first impressions, BMW has hit another home run.
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