2017 BMW 5 Series First Drive Review: Is It Really A Game-Changer?

First Drive

We drove the new 5 Series in Napa Valley to see what all the fuss is about.

When the new BMW 5 Series debuted last October we called it game-changing. It's easy to make such a declaration when you've only seen a car on a computer screen. The real measure of a car comes only after testing its performance and features. Recently we had the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of BMW's new mid-size sedan. So, after being in the driver's seat has our verdict changed? Is the new 5 Series really a game-changer? In a broad sense the new 5 Series is not a game-changer, but for BMW it certainly is.

Our day behind the wheel began at the automaker’s tech office in Palo Alto, California. We know, it’s hard to get excited about a car for how smart it is, but that’s what BMW is going for with the G30 5 Series. After an hour-plus at the tech office the automaker’s focus on the 5 Series’ intelligence was made abundantly clear. It’s not really a shock given the fact that the new 7 Series is practically a BestBuy on wheels. Its tech is naturally trickling down. While the same intelligence-focused approach was taken on the 7 Series we still enjoyed our time behind the wheel of it. The same is true of the new 5 Series.

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The 530i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four and makes 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The 540i’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six makes 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The 530i will do 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds. The 540i does it in 4.9 seconds. Our testers were RWD although xDrive models will be available at launch. In the city and cruising on the highway the difference between the two models isn’t all that evident. It’s when you want to have some fun on lonely roads, or when you need to pass a slow-moving wine-weary motorist, that the 540i asserts its dominance. Both test cars came complete with the optional M Sport package ($2,600) and M Sport brakes ($650). Dynamic dampers and beefier brakes don't make up for the loss of 100 ponies.

The eight-speed automatic, complete with paddle shifters and a handful of driving modes (Adaptive, Comfort, Eco and Sport), was smooth and aggressive when asked to be. Steering feel on both cars was a bit numb although you could still feel the road and the weight of the M Sport steering wheel was good. Integral Active Steering, aka four-wheel steering, is available. It's not a must-have by any means. Through the corners the 5 Series felt tight and light, this thanks to BMW’s new Cluster Architecture which helped it shed 137 pounds. In the 530i the turbo-four and eight-speed auto return an mpg split of 24/34/27. In the 540i that figure rises to 20/30/24. Other than saving at the pump we don’t know why you wouldn’t shell out the extra $5,250 for the 540i.

Speaking of shelling out cash, both the 530i and 540i we drove were optioned through the roof. The base model had a final price of $74,150 but an MSRP of $52,195. The 540i went from $57,445 to $81,910 thanks to $24k in options. For comparison’s sake, the V8-powered M550i xDrive starts at around $72,000. While we’re more than happy to complain about inflated stickers we really did enjoy all the extra tech and luxury bits. While riding shotgun it was almost impossible to stay awake in the heated Mocha Nappa leather seat. Even in Sport mode the suspension was able to absorb all the bumps and humps thrown at it, while the 530i can run with its stablemates just fine when it comes to comfort and cruising.

On the tech front the iDrive infotainment screen can now be touched and its menus organized into tiles. It's very responsive and the tile-based UI is intuitive and easy to reorder. Like with the new 7 Series, gesture control is available albeit limited to two commands: a finger twirl and a two-finger pinch. It’s gimmicky and doesn’t always work as planned but we can see a future here. Eventually, using your fingers to skip or mute a song feels natural. The heads-up display is more than 70 percent larger than on the previous-gen 5 Series and looks spectacular. It’s one of the best we’ve ever seen and ensures that you can keep your eyes glued to the road when navigating unfamiliar roads.

Of course you need to pay extra to get it, and that’s one package we wouldn’t mind optioning. Same for the $4,200 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Additional tech extras include Apple CarPlay, a wireless charging pad and a WiFi hotspot. When it comes to looks the G30 isn’t massively different than the F10. The dimensions are basically the same but the new model does look more taut and athletic than the outgoing one. The interior is a seamless blend of color-matched leather and wood along with metal trim. The wealth of buttons and nobs, along with the analog bits in the semi-digital gauge cluster, is a reminder that physical elements still have a place in today's cars.

The new 5 Series is stylish, capable, comfortable and fun enough to leave you wishing that the drive home was longer and the roads less congested. The six-cylinder model is powerful enough for all but the M-crazed . The turbo-four, while underpowered, is still just as good looking and comfortable. You won't be wanting for luxury or comfort, especially if you have cash to spend. While the G30 5 Series doesn't redefine its segment it has succeeded in nudging the iconic nameplate back to its origins while ensuring that it's thoroughly modern at the same time. Thanks to Trefethen Family Vineyards for allowing us to shoot on its property and to Mark Elias for the high-speed shots.