IT’S THE BEST
WAY to stir the soul. Instead of putting me into a more lowly
model, my introduction to the new BMW
5er-Reihe was in the V8-powered 550i. There’s something hard-wired
into the male mind that enjoys the purr of a bent eight, overcoming
the rationality that tells us that such cars emit more carbon dioxide
But, even then, you begin rationalizing it. You tell
yourself that BMW has managed to get
its average carbon dioxide emissions down considerably, and that
it’s lower than its rivals over at Ingolstadt, Stuttgart and Toyota
No matter how green-aware we get, there will be a group
of buyers who’ll opt for this class of saloon. The question then
becomes: which combines the emotive side of the brain with the responsible
The 550i might just tick all the boxes. The emotive
side loves the V8. It’s not huge on cubic centimetres: BMW
has put its 4·4-litre eight and added twin turbochargers to it.
(The days of the last two digits denoting cubic capacity have long
passed.) There are 407 PS on tap.
The engine goes wonderfully smoothly, with the 550i easily the most
refined saloon in its class. The ride is sublime, the sort of behaviour
that you would expect from the class above. If the 5 doesn’t wind
up poaching 7er sales as well as those from the competition, we’d
We didn’t test the chassis at its very limit, though
a drive over the Rimutaka Hill Road north of Wellington shows the
550i to be particularly composed. In fact, the steering is so direct
that in one of the downhill hairpins, you’d swear you were cornering
a hot hatch, not a saloon that measures 4·9 m head to tail. It’s
really that good.
Above Elegance in detail.
And, the looks. When
we first covered the Fünfer on its launch in November
2009, we felt that BMW had recaptured
its elegance. We said, ‘on looks alone, this looks to reestablish
the BMW Fünfer as the most
elegant executive-class model on the roads.’ After living with it
for a week, there’s nothing to dim that judgement. This shape won’t
date quickly, and if you look at the model two generations before
(the E39)—one that still measures up dynamically to a lot of cars
today—you get the idea. Elegance is something that transcends the
generations, and someone with a very good eye in München was
in charge this time. All hail Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW
The responsible side says it’s one of the safest bets
there are. You can see BMW’s Efficient
Dynamics work: each time you brake or go downhill in gear, the little
graphic beneath the speedometer shows a battery being charged, as
the car recaptures the energy. It’s got the usual array of airbags,
including side curtain ones. The sat-nav helps plan a good route.
Combined carbon dioxide emissions range from 129 to 257 g/km—not
bad for this size of car. There’s an eight-speed automatic box that
seems well geared between performance and economy, although we only
managed to get 19·3 mpg (14·63 l/100 km) on our test drive. The
safety kit is neatly laid out, and erecting the reflective hazard
triangle is simple (putting it back takes a little longer).
Above The BMWs cameras help draw
a three-dimensional picture of what is around the car.
there are those things that straddle both logic and wonder. The
small cameras to the side of the car help draw a three-dimensional
image of what surrounds the car, making it particularly easy to
park. It works better than the conventional rear-view cameras (which
are still there), as you’re able to judge the positioning that much
Not everything works that well, mind. The adaptive cruise
control leaves something to be desired versus the same feature on
the Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (we’ll reserve judgement
on the next A6 till we test it). It gets more easily confused by
vehicles in neighbouring lanes, slowing down unnecessarily. It’s
a small penalty in an otherwise very convincing 2010s package.
BMW has a history of delivering
the best car in the world with its 5er. The design, inside and out,
is more pleasing than its Swabian rival. Dynamically, it’s the best
drive you can get in this market. It’s more environmentally friendly
than the equivalent Mercedes-Benz E500, according to our colleagues
at Auto, Motor und Sport.
But with the car’s thirst (not against its rivals, but
against other cars in general), your emotional side is still going
to make the judgement, just because of a sublime engine and its
sheer elegance. Will emotion trump sense?
The engine goes wonderfully smoothly, with
the 550i easily the most reﬁned saloon in its class. The ride is
sublime, the sort of behaviour that you would expect from the class
above. If the 5 doesn’t wind up poaching 7er sales as well as those
from the competition, we’d be surprised