By Nick Hodgson
It seems like just yesterday that Miles got back from the South African launch of the new 5 series, yet six months later I too am left pondering over my experience with the new “Business Athlete”. I’m trying to figure out just what this offering from BMW brings to the table. Of course we’re all familiar with the traditional 5 series idea, a big family car for the businessman who wants a cabin full of tech, boot full of golf clubs and enough driving composure that the car doesn’t throw its hands up in despair when you show it a corner or two. Being the Jones’ was what this car was all about and what it excelled at. The trouble is that now the Jones’ no longer have a traditional saloon, they’ve got an SUV, so what exactly has BMW done to reinvent what arguably used to be its flagship model.
Certainly not much on the looks front.
As Miles postulated back in March, the 5 series hasn’t gone under the knife in a desperate attempt to reinvent itself in a way reminiscent of so many pseudo celebrities. I quite like that though, as the 5 series style has always been one of unassuming presence, preferring to let the action do the talking rather than the commonplace boastful chest puffing. Not to say this is a bland motor vehicle, you’re unlikely to lose it in your local supermarket parking lot for instance, it just strikes a wonderful balance that many who prefer a more discrete look will take pleasure in.
Does it really need to drive well?
Depends how you define “drive well” I guess. My personal metric leans on the side of handling characteristics, driver involvement and that ever illusive smile per mile factor. The general masses are clearly baying for something different based on my experience behind the wheel of the 5 series. The steering is quite numb no matter what mode you have it in while the car does respond quickly to your inputs, it never gives you that cheeky “go on, push a bit harder, let’s have some fun” feeling that the 5 series has been traditionally know for. As a result, I found myself pootling round town or wafting along the highway in great comfort, being an exceptionally responsible and beige citizen, only ever driving in comfort with my mind straying far from driving pleasure. This I think brings us onto the crux of my dilemma with the new 5 series.
It’s incredibly refined, with all the optional extra mod cons that you could ever want and plenty of those that you don’t (I’m looking at you gesture control). It sooths your brow at the end of a long hard day while being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and as a daily run around I almost couldn’t be happier. Sure there are a few quality issues like the weird hollow rattle you get each time you close either front door, but on the whole there really is a lot to like about the 5 series. Yet despite this I never find myself wanting to drive it, never found myself thinking, wow this is a fun and dynamic piece of kit here, it can really do it all. That is definitely a problem given its tagline of “Business Athlete”.
See this is the trick the 5 series always pulled off so well and why it garnered a cult following the world over in years gone by. In one motoring package you had most of the comfort, sophistication and refinement of the 7 series, mixed in with a healthy dose of 3 series handling and sportiness. Now that the game of keeping up with the Jones’ has changed we’ve just ended up with the refinement and very little sportiness.
So I find myself asking why would you take the 7 series over the 5? The 5 to me now feels more like a baby 7, especially considering you can virtually spec your 5 with all the kit of the 7 and while I feel that without a doubt the quality fit and finish of the 5 is off that of the 7, I cannot say that the gap is so far as to justify price difference. This I feel goes a long way to explaining my mixed feelings towards the new 5 series as I want it to be this all conquering saloon that is all things to all, yet the market is clearly asking for something completely different, something more comfortable and relaxing, something more business and less athlete.
The biggest problem I see with the new BMW 5 series is not that it feels like a baby 7, rather than it’s lost its identity to a certain extent and that blurs the lines between it and the rest of the competition. For many it used to be a no brainer choice and that’s just not the case now. Is it still a good car? Absolutely, it’s just not a stand out offering anymore.