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Take a look at Driving the BMW i5: A Victory for the Evolutionaries

Take a look at Driving the BMW i5: A Victory for the Evolutionaries

BMW has nailed its EV colours to the mast with the new fully electric i5 executive saloon. To find out whether it’s a worthy successor to the seven preceding 5 series generations, Prestige takes it for a drive.

If you were wondering whether there were two design teams at BMW, each pulling in a different aesthetic direction from the other, look no further than the company’s recently launched contender in the premium executive segment. It’s actually the eighth iteration of Munich’s much-loved and -imitated 5 series, whose initial E12 generation took its first peek at daylight more than 50 years ago – in 1972, to be exact. And unlike several recent Beemers (mentioning no names, though on second thoughts I will: the 7 series luxo-barge, and the X7 and XM mega-SUVs), whose polarisingly vast bulks and angry countenances bellow “Get out of my way!” to lesser denizens of the automotive kingdom, the latest G60 incarnation’s elegant, athletic and, most of all, evolutionary styling is exactly what I think a 5 series – and, indeed, all BMWs – should look like. Do the two teams throw bread rolls at each other from opposite ends of the design department? Or do furious fist fights between brutalists and evolutionists erupt during styling strategy meetings? I’ll leave you to ponder these and similar questions in your own time.

BMW i5
Is the new i5 the best- looking BMW in ages? We certainly think so

Not that major changes haven’t been incorporated into series 5.8. For a start – and in spite of being reassuringly familiar – the car’s silhouette is even more slippery than before, with a drag coefficient of a mere 0.23 or even less, depending on the model, which should help conserve whatever kind of fuel it’s powered by. No surprises, either, that it’s bigger in every dimension than the outgoing seventh-gen G30 model, breaking the 5-metre barrier by 6cm and, such is the way of things with all automobiles these days, piling on the kilograms too. As BMW is among Europe’s most enthusiastic adopters of electric power, the 5 series is currently offered in two battery versions: the single- motor rear-driven i5 eDrive40 and the considerably more potent M60 xDrive, whose dual motors vector torque to all four wheels. And that latter model, whose enormous output promises the kind of performance normally found only in supercars, tips the scales at only slightly less than 2.4 tonnes.

A limited number of mild-hybrid and PHEV variants of the new 5 will also be offered in some markets, as will an M5 super saloon later this year, probably with a plug-in-hybrid-V8 powertrain similar to that of the XM, but in this part of the world the focus will firmly be on pure electricity. As for fans of traditional station wagons, they’ll surely be delighted to hear the range will even be joined by Touring versions, both electric and otherwise, possibly as early as the end of 2024.

With more than 10 million units sold over the past half-century, the 5 series has become a byword for superb build quality, comfort and ergonomics, but what’s always distinguished it from the upper-executive competition are its exceptional dynamic capabilities. With the possible exception of Jaguar, no other manufacturer has consistently engineered a machine in this segment whose vivid performance and sharp, precise and predictable handling have offered such genuine driver satisfaction – indeed, it was only a couple of years after the 5’s unveiling that BMW’s US advertising agency came up with a slogan that perfectly described the car then and could still rightly be applied to many of the company’s products today. Refined and comfortable but with the heart of a sports car it really was, as the copywriter said, “the ultimate driving machine”.

The view of the i5 most of
will see – as it disappears down the road ahead of us

Now, more than 50 years on, the question is whether a battery-powered 5 series is capable of providing similar levels of enjoyment to those offered by its illustrious petrol-fuelled forebears – and to answer it BMW has lent me an i5 M60, fresh out of the showroom, its lustrous pain job gleaming in the winter sunshine. Set off by plenty of carbon-fibre add-ons and (apparently) aerodynamic bi-colour 21-inch wheels, this i5 would have hooked me on looks alone had I not needed to delve further than skin deep.

So let’s return to the powertrain for a moment. The M60 xDrive employs two electric motors: the one at the rear provides 335bhp and 430Nm, while a front-mounted unit provides an additional full-throttle boost (you need to select the right mode for this), which raises maximum power to 593 horses and torque to a phenomenal 820 Newtons. Those hefty numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via a single-forward-speed transmission, mean a 0-100km/h time of just 3.8 seconds and a maximum of 230, during which an ominous Hans Zimmer-composed electronic soundtrack tells you you’re heading at warp speed deep into hyperspace. Or something.

So yes, it’s massively powerful and goes so ridiculously fast that in real-world terms it’s almost as quick as the old M5 Competition, but does the M60 possess the agility, grip, steering precision and, equally important, communication skills that made earlier and more conventionally powered 5 series cars such a joy to drive? Well, the engineers have certainly done their homework with the chassis, as not only are M Sport suspension and brakes fitted as standard equipment, but there’s also adaptive damping and active roll bars – plus the car has also been fettled with Integral Active Steering, which is Beemer-speak for rear-wheel-steer.

BMW i5 interior
The i5 has one of the best cabins in the business

And the good news is that it works – amazingly so, in fact, for a car that, with passengers aboard, is likely to weigh 2.5 tonnes at the very least. Having already driven the i4 and i7, both of which offer exceptional handling for heavy battery-powered machines, I should have known the i5 would be at least as competent, but
in terms of driving satisfaction I’d say this new car comfortably outstrips them both. Grip is tenacious and body roll negligible, so you can weave it along winding roads with a supple fluidity, while to enhance the impression of remarkable agility, the steering is quick, perfectly weighted and provides plenty of feedback – and, of course, those steerable wheels at the back end are working their imperceptible magic too. In absolute terms the M60 may lack the absolute pin-sharp focus of the old M5 – but honestly, no one’s going to notice.

Although the M Sport suspension is set on the firmer side, it effectively cushions all but the nastiest potholes – and that wafting ride is a perfect complement to one of the – if not the – best interiors of any current car on the road, a cabin that cleverly contrives to be at once wonderfully luxurious and yet coolly minimal. The seats are fabulous, and if saving the planet really is your thing you can have most of the surfaces swathed in a leather-like material called Veganza, which is exclusive to BMW. As for the i5’s glass cockpit, Beemer has rolled out the latest iteration of its Curved Glass display, which combines twin screens under a single panel and is frankly amazing to look at, even if – like me – your preference is old-school analogue. If I can find my way around most key functions with relative ease, which is something I can’t say about most such set-ups I’ve tried, I’m pretty certain you’ll have no problems either.

BMW i5 glass cockpit

Purely in driving terms, the i5 M60 leaves almost all the competition flailing in its wake, though I’d love to see how it compares with Porsche’s Taycan, which has always been my electric yardstick. Although it’s phenomenally quick, the chassis seems easily capable of handling all that power and torque – a reassurance when you’re inclined to explore the outer limits of the performance envelope – and when it comes to the car’s principal purpose of transporting four passengers in grace, style, quiet and comfort, it fills those objectives equally admirably. (And though this is hardly a reason for buying a car, when driving past a row of plate-glass windows, this is one current BMW in which you might even wish to sneak an admiring sideways glance of yourself now and then.)

Hugely impressive, great to look at and a worthy successor to the seven generations of 5 series that have gone before it, Munich’s latest electric contender has hit the bullseye in just about every respect. Call this one a victory for the evolutionaries.


BMW I5 XDRIVE

ENGINE
Twin electric motors

TRANSMISSION
Single-speed

See Also

MAX POWER
593bhp

MAX TORQUE
850Nm

MAX SPEED
240km/h

ACCELERATION
0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds

UNLADEN WEIGHT
2,380kg

PRICE
from HK$998,900, under one-for-one replacement scheme

Source: Prestige Online

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