BMW’s new 5 Series: corporate mainstay puts its case at Mondello track

Can the new BMW hold off the challenge from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class?

 

BMW’s new 5 Series hit showrooms several weeks ago and already orders are boosting the Bavarian brand’s registration figures. At Mondello race circuit, we had one more chance to get acquainted with the seventh generation of what has become a mainstay of the Irish corporate car park.

Just as a black Mercedes-Benz E-Class was the icon of a ministerial motor in the Celtic Tiger era, so the silver BMW 520d SE became the car of choice for corporate Ireland over the last 10 years.

Thanks more to serendipity than smart planning, the 520d hit the carbon emissions sweet spot when it came to the post-2008 CO2 motor tax regime. The pricing was ultra-competitive, the tax low and the car the best in its class. Rivals could only look on and rant.

Gradually the gap has closed, however. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class overtook the sixth-generation 5-Series, while the likes of the Volvo S90 was biting at its heels. It certainly had the beating of the BMW when it came to all-important in-car tech pizzazz.

Showcase

At the showcase for the new car at Mondello, BMW Ireland aimed to address each area where rivals closed the gap. First up a few laps of the national track in both the 520d and 530d. It says a lot about a car firm that they invite you to throw their family saloons around a race track, but BMW is very proud of the car’s handling. And it was as engaging as we expected, though it’s fair to say the 530d is worlds’ better than its smaller sibling.

The extra power – 265bhp v 190bhp on the 520d – makes a huge difference. Throw in all-wheel drive and the car simply sticks to the track, even through the more tricky technical corners at Mondello. There’s little body roll and plenty of grip, although it should be noted that it was a gorgeously dry day. Even with that proviso, it’s clear that dynamic handling and driving dynamics is the forte of the 5 Series.

While BMW’s DNA was built around a fundamentalist rear-wheel drive ethos, the brand has taken a more catholic approach to powertrains. The 1-Series and 2 Series Active Tourer both come with front-wheel-drive while the firm is now pushing the all-wheel drive system on this all-important 5 Series. Despite a silly and pointless demonstration of the system in a field, the benefits of all-wheel drive was evident on the track. Added control through corners is what drivers will appreciate. After years of denial, BMW seems to have realised Audi were probably right all along. Humble pie must be on the way from Ingoldstadt to nearby Munich.

Tech challenge

In terms of in-car tech, BMW is making much of its so-called Connected Drive system, an umbrella term for all the gadgetry on offer that ranges from park assistance systems to the syncing of your emails with the in-car infotainment system.

Some features are slick – the way the car can read out emails to you and let you dictate replies – but there is nothing here that’s a lap ahead of rivals. Many mainstream firms offer more sophisticated park-assist systems. The steering assistance system that heralds self-driving cars of the future is on a par with rivals but no more advanced and likely to be overtaken by new tech in the coming 18 months. Opel’s OnStar programme offers real-time human assistance at the touch of a button that would be impressive in a 7-Series, yet is currently offered with a new Corsa.

Meanwhile, features like gesture control – where you supposedly control functions like volume and phone controls at the wave of your fingers – are clearly at the nascent tech phase. It’s hit or miss if you manage to achieve your goal and in frustration you often reach out the extra two centimetres and use the switch or touchscreen instead. Pointless pointy tech? Perhaps for now, but one day gesture control will be a whizzbang feature. Just not now.

Prices for the 520d SE now start at €52,800, while the all-wheel drive XDrive system adds €3,540. The 530d SE starts at €65,710. Both face uphill battles in the midst of a current Mercedes-Benz sales offensive that sees its prices starting at €47,975 for the 150bhp E200D, €50,150 for the 194bhp E220D and €63,315 for the E350D.

The Mondello event, a 10-day 5 Series festival for potential customers for the new car, certainly showed the new car in the best light, particularly on the track. Yet the real battle remains in the showrooms and by the look of things the 5 Series no longer enjoys the lead over rivals it once had.

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