- Beautifully finished inside the 5 Series
- Design evolution increases spaciousness
- Optional extras include HUD and Gesture Control
BMW’s traditional driver-orientated interior layout has stepped up a notch with the latest 5 Series, taking inspiration from the more expensive 7 Series luxury saloon.
It’s still recognisably a BMW inside, but the newly free-standing central display screen makes it seem more modern, spacious and airy up front, while a significant increase in design intricacy helps give the dashboard a first-class impression of quality without making its features more difficult to use.
The rotary controller remains the principle – and most intuitive – way of interacting with the iDrive infotainment system. But the software has been redesigned to make it easier to use the optional touchscreen capability, and the 5 Series now offers Gesture Control as well.
Gesture Control: don’t bother
This has been improved since its introduction in the 7 Series, and now reacts more quickly and with greater consistency to the small number of hand and finger movements it understands, allowing you to do things such as dismiss on-screen notifications and change the volume without touching anything at all.
It’s a bit of a gimmick still, though, so we’d probably save the cash for something more useful. It’s still quicker to just turn the volume up or down using the buttons on the steering wheel or the volume knob itself.
Head-up display: do bother
The (also optional) head-up display is more useful. This projects information onto the lower portion of the windscreen in front of the driver so you no longer have to look away from the road to see – for example – the speed you’re travelling at or the satellite-navigation instructions, and with a 70% larger area it’s now handier than ever.
BMW has always been one of the pioneers of this technology, and it shows, with crisp graphics that aren’t too distracting.
Top quality (almost) everywhere
Emphasising the attention to detail BMW is now going to in order to compete with the quality of its rivals’ interiors, some elements of the dashboard in the 5 Series are individually laser scanned so that adjoining pieces can be made to exactly match them – for every individual car.
It’s a shame then that the knobs for the climate control feel just a little bit cheap. This aside, we have no complaints – while it doesn’t necessarily look as posh as the E-Class inside, it definitely feels more solid than the Merc, but will have some competition in the form of the Audi A6, while the Volvo S90’s simple and stylish interior also takes some beating.
Specific dials for the hybrid
Pick the 530e hybrid and you’ll notice a few changes to the instrument cluster – there’s a small secondary dial showing battery range (this looks a bit like a petrol gauge) and a remodelled rev counter.
On one side of this dial there is a charge zone to display when the batteries are being topped up, and the other shows how much power (both electric and petrol) you have in reserve, related to how flat your right foot is.
Floor it and the needle rushes past the 40% mark denoting the maximum amount of electric drive available, and the petrol engine will start up. Using this gauge it’s possible to keep the 530e in all-electric mode without firing up the conventional motor.
BMW M5: behind the wheel
As you’d expect from a range-topping M car, the M5 has a lot of kit and high-quality parts for its interior. There’s a specially configured instrument display, showing parameters such as a gearshift indicator for optimum performance, all-wheel drive and adaptive damper settings, and drive mode information.
This information can also be projected onto the windscreen with an optional head-up display, though in some low-light conditions it’s so busy you can barely see what’s going on on the road in front of the car.
An M Sport multifunction steering wheel can be used to control the multimedia system but also features M1 and M2 buttons adjacent to the shift paddles, which allow the driver to switch to a pair of pre-configurable drive modes instantly. This handy feature means the M5 can be instantly switch between an all-wheel drive long-distance cruising machine and a rear-wheel drive, traction-limited track-ready monster.
The front seats are electrically adjustable sports items finished in fine grain leather. Our only slight criticism is the driving position, which feels a touch too high to us, resulting in occasionally feeling like you’re sat on the M5, rather than inside it. This only becomes evident when you’re driving rather too quickly for most situations, though.
The M5 Competition's cabin benefits from added carbonfibre trim, but not a huge amount else.
- Exceptionally good ride quality with adaptive suspension
- Very comfortable seats are supportive at the same time
- Brilliant long-distance mile-muncher, but also good around town
Despite being a pricey option, the flexibility and comfort offered by the Variable Damper Control system makes it well worth considering.
Paired with 18-inch wheels (and smaller 17-inch wheels are standard on SE) the ride quality is exceptional. This is a big step forward over the preceding generation of 5 Series, and doesn’t even effect larger-wheeled models as much as you might think.
Choose your wheels carefully
It does get a bit thumpier over bad surfaces if you go up to 19-inch wheels; however, compared with the tinny sensations you get from the latest Mercedes E-Class over lumps and bumps, the BMW always feels reassuringly solid and substantial.
In fact, the 5 Series is a soothing long-distance cruiser all round. The seats are very comfy, with lots of adjustment – and an optional massaging function that actually feels like it’s doing you some good – while the straight-line stability makes it a relaxing partner for lengthy motorway journeys.
Refinement is also a strong point, with zero vibrations in the cabin and just the right amount of engine noise to remind you that you’re driving a car from a sporty brand.
While the 530e hybrid is whisper-quiet when operating in all-electric mode, the four-cylinder petrol engine gets a little noisy and coarse when pushed hard.
What’s more, the build quality is such that it suggests the 5 Series will continue to feel this good for a long time to come.
BMW M5: is it comfortable?
Given its startling performance, the M5 surprised us with just how comfortable it can be in full cruising specification and the dampers turned down to Comfort. It’s built for long-distance driving as well as those days when you’re on your favourite road and feel like dialling the speed up a little.
Of course, switch those dampers into Sport or Sport Plus modes and things firm up considerably, with an almost eradication of bodyroll at the expense of sharper bumps jolting through the car.
The M5 Competition is a harsher, less forgiving beast all around. If you're after comfort, it's best avoided.