The BMW 5 Series will join the all-electric revolution later this year with the arrival of the all-electric i5. The battery-powered 5 Series will use the same mechanical package as the existing i4 and i7, and will come with a colossally powerful M version.
While the 5 Series will continue to offer both conventional petrol and diesel power, as well a plug-in hybrid variant, it’s the all-electric i5 which will be the headline act when the new model goes on sale towards the end of 2023.
Based on the same CLAR platform that also underpins the i4 and the massive i7, the i5 will come with an 81.2kWh battery pack (that’s the net usable capacity) which gives the i5 eDrive40 version a one-charge range of up to 587km.
That eDrive40 model uses a single 340hp electric motor driving the rear wheels, which has electric consumption of between 15.9 and 19.1kWh/100km and which can accelerate to 100km/h in 6.0 secs.
That seems brisk enough for most, but BMW isn’t stopping there. Although there will be a V8-engined successor to the current high-performance M5 version – which is currently rumoured to use the plug-in hybrid V8 system from the controversial XM SUV, possibly with as much as 1,000hp – there will be, from launch, a very rapid M60 version of the all-electric i5.
This uses two electric motors for four-wheel drive and a combined 610hp, with up to 820Nm of torque available if you select M-Sport Boost mode – activated by pulling a small paddle behind the steering wheel. That’s enough to shove this 2.2-tonne electric saloon from standstill to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. That’s less than a second slower than the current fastest M5 CS, a car which weighs considerably less. Just don’t expect to get anywhere near the i5 M60′s claimed 516km range if you’re making much use of that sort of performance.
The battery can be charged at up to 205kW from a rapid DC charging point (good luck finding one…) or at up to 22kW from a kerbside AC charger (although that’s an option – 11kW AC charging is standard). If you can get a charger to provide 205kW DC power, you can add as much as 156km of extra range in just 10 minutes’ charging. Depending on the charging provider, the i5 can support plug-and-charge, which means you don’t need to mess around with apps or RFID cards, you just hook up and the car’s electronics take care of charging and payment. If your battery is running really low, and you’re scraping the bottom of the cells to get to a charging point, there’s an Apollo-13-style ‘Max Range’ function which limits the top speed, and turns down non-essential heating and ventilation functions to give you as much as a 25 per cent boost in range to get you home.
Mechanically, the i5 is pretty conventional – there’s no air suspension option, unlike Mercedes’s rival EQE, but you can have adaptive suspension dampers, and the M60 version comes with specially-tuned M-Sport suspension which includes active an active anti-roll system.
According to the Andreas Holzinger, the i5 project leader, the hardest part was getting all the various combustion, hybrid and electric parts to come together for production. “That was the hardest. We are building all three versions – electric, PHEV, and combustion – on the one line at Dingolfing, so it’s a complex issue” Holzinger told The Irish Times. Why then, we asked, not follow Mercedes’s lead and develop a stand-alone platform for the electric versions? “The advantage for us is that we can react flexibly. So if the market decides that it wants more electric models, or if it wants more PHEVs, then it’s easy for us to do that. Also, for the customer, they are just buying a 5 Series – whether they want combustion power or electric, it doesn’t matter.”
BMW has been criticised in the recent past for its mixing-and-matching of combustion models and electric cars on the same structure, with critics saying that its EV models can’t match the one-charge ranges of the opposition. Holzinger denies that there’s any compromise, though. “There is no compromise,” he said. “You can see from the drag coefficient that the i5 has a Cd of 0.23, this is competitive and even the combustion models have a Cd 0.24. The electric version benefits because we are able to close up more of the gaps underneath the car. But you can also see on top, the rear is almost like a fastback, and that gives us even more aerodynamic benefit.”
Stylistically, BMW has played relatively safe with the 5 Series, in that it has not given it the overbearingly massive grilles of the likes of the i7 or the XM, but the design of this eighth-generation model is nonetheless likely to be as controversial as was the 2001 E60 5 Series.
It’s a considerably larger car than before – 97mm longer, breaking the five-metre barrier which was once the preserve of the largest luxury cars. It’s also 32mm wider, at 1,900mm, than the outgoing 5 Series, and 36mm taller. That increase in height is quite noticeable, and you can see how much deeper the sides of the car have become to accommodate the battery pack under the floor. There’s an extra 20mm in the wheelbase, but little of that goes into creating extra passenger space. BMW says it didn’t want to compromise on boot volume (520 litres for the combustion models, 490 litres for the i5), so there’s a scant extra 3mm of rear legroom. Don’t go expecting that electric power makes for a massively more roomy 5 Series.
One benefit of the extra wheelbase, though, is that the battery can be mounted lower, so according to Holzinger, in spite of the i5′s 2.1-tonne kerb weight: “You can drive it almost like a sports car. And then on a longer journey, it’s almost like a 7 Series.”
Up front, there’s a combination of design tricks taken from the current X1 crossover (the lights) and the 2 Series Gran Coupe four-door (the grilles). At the rear, the way the rear pillar sweeps down into the boot lid is very like that of the 7 Series and i7, but the brake lights are bigger and seem less pinched than those of the larger BMW.
Inside, there is the now familiar vast curved instrument panel which is home to both the digital dials and the infotainment system. Once again, there are multiple ways of interacting with the car’s software, from the familiar iDrive clickwheel on the centre console, to the touchscreen itself, to steering wheel buttons, voice control and even the gimmicky gesture control. The overall design of the cabin is quite minimalist, without the grander gestures of the i7′s crystal-like switches, but there is a ‘BMW Interaction Bar’ which stretches the whole width of the dashboard and which lights up in response to control inputs or acts as part of the car’s interior mood lighting.
BMW is clearly thinking about what drivers might like to do when topping up the charge of their i5′s battery, and so has included video games into the infotainment system, for which passengers can use their smartphones as controllers. You’ll also be able to use that phone as your digital key for the car and you can use it as a remote control for the whole car, slotting it into parking spaces while standing outside, or getting it to drive as much as 200m from where it’s parked to where you’re standing.
The technology most certainly doesn’t end there. BMW has upgraded its ‘Highway Assistant’ electronic driving aid, which means that – in countries where it’s legal to do so – you can take your hands off the wheel for extended periods. The automated lane-changing assistant will also now suggest manoeuvres to you, and you can confirm that you want the car to swap lanes merely by looking at the appropriate mirror – the eye-tracking software that checks to make sure you’re not falling asleep at the wheel can also tell at which mirror you’re looking.
Needless to say, none of this will come cheap. The entry-level for the new 5 Series will be the turbocharged petrol 520i, which thanks to a 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance system now has 208hp and 130g/km of CO2. That will cost €69,850 (that’s the recommended retail price – it’s €70,845 on the road) for the M-Sport version (the old SE model has been dropped, due to lack of interest) when the new car goes on Irish sale later this year. Some markets will get a new 520d diesel, but it’s not coming here. Later in 2024, new 530e and 550e plug-in hybrid variants will arrive as will Touring estate models.
The electric models? The i5 eDrive40 will start from €91,100 – slightly more expensive than the most affordable of Mercedes’s EQE models. The powerful i5 M60 will start at a more robust €119,210.