A brand new look inside the BMW 520d SE

A brand new look inside the BMW 520d SE

When the first 5 Series was launched, way back in 1972, it heralded the introduction of a naming system for BMW model designations that are still in use today. The BMW 520 was the successor to the BMW 2000 Neue Klasse model. Since then, the range has sold some 7.6 million models worldwide. Launched in the UK earlier this year, the latest and seventh-generation 5 Series model is, even more, high-tech, efficient and accommodating. A staple of the executive car class, this popular model competes against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E Class, Audi A6 and Volvo S90. Continuing QUBE/just-auto's review of interior design and technology trends, we take a closer look at the latest incarnation of the 5 Series.

The first indication that something special was about to happen was spotting that our test car had arrived in the back of a gleaming white truck. The second was when the delivery driver handed us a key fob, resembling a pocket-size tablet. This smart device is key to unlocking the car remotely, checking fuel levels, activating the air-con and even checking on the remaining driving range.

While such novelties are fun to play with, this Display Key (as BMW calls it) comes optional along with a list of other treats that can add thousands of pounds to the base price of around £30,000. Such delights include a head-up display, gesture control, four-zone climate control and a Bowers & Wilkins audio unit. 

Classy interior

Once seated with the engine purring, you immediately feel engaged. The cabin is cloaked with high grade, tactile materials borrowed from its big brother, the 7 Series. The cockpit glitters with crisp detail and instrumentation that changes according to the desired driving mode (Comfort, Sport and Adaptive).

The interior spaciousness is partly thanks to the lowered instrument panel and freestanding display, but also to the cabin's enlarged dimensions, particularly in terms of elbow and shoulder room. Tall rear passengers have more space to spread out, too, with a number of places to store stuff, including a central cubby hole, cup holders and sleek door bins. The generous sense of space flows into the boot, too. The loading lip has been lowered compared to its predecessor and provides some 530-litres of luggage capacity.

Gesture control

If you like the idea of talking to your car to operate various functions, the new 5 Series allows you to wave and take a swipe at it. Given that prodding and pinching at a touchscreen while driving can be distracting, using hand gestures and even eye movements to control climate and switch radio channels is seen as the next best thing.

Gesture recognition uses a camera and proximity sensors within the cabin that can recognise particular hand movements for pre-programmed adjustments and functions. For instance, rotating your finger clockwise at a screen could increase the radio volume or a deft hand gesture could answer or decline a phone call. 

Positioned centre stage of the 5 Series dash is a 10.25-inch (previously 6.5-inches) iDrive infotainment touchscreen, enabling the driver to control a variety of media, phone, navigation, connectivity and vehicle settings. By forking out an extra £160, drivers can enjoy gesture control (premiered on the 7 Series last year) that allows them to twiddle their fingers to control things like the radio and phone.

While the gesture control on our car didn't always react to the desired action, it did get a cheer and ripple of applause from the back seat occupants when it did behave. We still prefer using steering wheel mounted controls that are fast and intuitive.

One of the new touch button functions is a message centre, where all incoming SMS messages, emails and information about the car's operating state can be found. The head-up display projection area was a joy to peer through and is around 70 per cent larger than in the outgoing model.

Providing the driver with assistance when required

The driver assistance system takes the 5 Series a step further down the road to automated driving. Such assistance includes technologies such as dynamic cruise control and a speed limit info system. The latter can also take into account speed restrictions further along the driver's route, encouraging a more proactive driving style. The optional Driving Assistant Plus safety package includes the Lane Keeping Assistant, the Lane Departure Warning system and the Lane Change Warning. Moreover, Side Collision Warning alerts drivers by means of a visual signal or steering wheel vibration to another vehicle encroaching from the side.

Another new and noteworthy function contained in the Driving Assist Plus package is the Evasion Aid. If a swift lane change is required because an obstacle has suddenly appeared in the driver's path, the Evasion Aid – which operates at speeds of up to 99mph, perfect for the German Autobahn – supports the necessary evasive steering action. 

Mobile phones with inductive charging preparation can be supplied with power wirelessly. The options list also includes a WiFi hotspot offering a high-speed internet connection (LTE) for up to ten mobile devices. Apple CarPlay is also available in the new mode: integrating the smartphone into the vehicle's system environment allows the phone, together with any of its apps, to be operated via the screen in the car by means of the iDrive Controller or touch control. BMW is the first carmaker to integrate Apple CarPlay without needing any cables.

BMW Connected seamlessly integrates the vehicle into the user's digital life via multiple touchpoints, such as an iPhone, Apple Watch, Android smartphone or smartwatch. BMW is also the first carmaker to offer Microsoft Office 365 users a secure server connection for exchanging and editing emails, calendar entries and contact details thanks to the car's inbuilt Microsoft Exchange function. Addresses from appointments can be imported straight into the navigation system and telephone numbers can be dialled directly from a linked phone.

Size matters

Compared to its forebears, the latest 5 Series is slightly bigger, i.e. 36mm longer than the outgoing model (at 4,935mm), 6mm wider (1,868mm) and <drum roll> 2mm taller (1,466mm). Its wheelbase measures 2,975mm, an increase of 7mm.

Safety sells

Last April, Euro NCAP testing gave the BMW 5 Series a top five-star safety rating. The car showed good all-round performance in crash protection and avoidance tests thanks to its new platform, body and updated safety features.

Lightweighting

The new 5 Series is 100kg lighter than the previous model.

Using a material mix consisting of aluminium, high-tensile steels and magnesium, the new 5 Series is 100kg lighter than the previous model, while body strength and torsional stiffness have been increased.

A low centre of gravity, a balanced axle load ratio and a further reduction in unsprung masses has benefits for both dynamics and comfort.  More specifically, the 5 Series has a newly developed modular engine range featuring a thermodynamic, lightweight aluminium construction. It uses light-metal components to maintain the lowest possible unsprung mass. Light-metal components are also used in the new five-link rear suspension, which is lighter and stiffer than the previous model and provides wheel location and excellent tracking stability in all driving situations.

Further examples of BMW's attention to detail are the cast magnesium instrument panel support, which is up to 2kg lighter than the steel version used on the previous model, the boot lid, which for the first time is made entirely from aluminium – saving 4.2kg. The lightweight doors weigh just 6kg each, and 9kg has been saved across the wheel/tyre/brake assemblies.

Constellium is supplying the aluminium automotive body sheets and crash management systems.

Constellium is supplying the aluminium automotive body sheets and crash management systems for the 5 Series, including its hybrid and touring models. Constellium also supplies the coils used for the inner and outer applications such as doors, roofs, fenders, deck lids and structural parts. In addition, Constellium designed and produces the rear Crash Management System, including an integrated holder for the exhaust system.

On the road

Despite the bad press around diesel-powered cars, demand for such vehicles remains high amongst fleet drivers. The variant we took out for a spin was the 520d SE EfficientDynamics which turned out to be the perfect companion for some long and leisurely journeys.

The 2.0 litre, four cylinder turbodiesel engine comes from the automaker's new generation family of TwinPower Turbo units that contribute to fuel consumption and emission reductions. Left to its own devices, the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission performed well. While the range lacks a manual gearbox, this signals a change in consumer tastes albeit at the luxury end of the market.

For a diesel, the 5 Series is surprisingly quiet thanks to Syntak.

For a diesel, the 5 Series is surprisingly quiet thanks to something the automaker calls Syntak (Synergy Thermoacoustic Capsule). The lightweight soundproofing materials encapsulating the engine and transmission team up with a series of inventive touches to lower volume levels, while also producing weight and fuel savings. Syntak also improves the powertrain's heat retention, which in turn leads to reduced fuel consumption. While our drive insulated us from the outside world, it also felt cossetted and poised at every turn providing a great experience.

Down the road

Earlier this month, BMW exceeded analyst forecasts with a 13.6% year-on-year increase to second quarter earnings, helped by strong sales of its latest 5 Series model. Net profit was up 13.6% to EUR2,214m, while EBIT was up 7.5% to EUR2,929m. Second quarter revenues were booked at EUR25,799m, 3.1% ahead of last year's figure. "Our customers are excited by the new 5 Series model. Since its market launch and throughout the second quarter it continues to achieve considerable market success. We are confident that the BMW Group, with its three premium brands, will set a new record for deliveries to customers in 2017 and remain the foremost provider of premium mobility," said BMW CEO Harald Krüger. "Together with the success of our products, our strategy of focusing on profitable growth in the USA is also paying dividends."

Last June, a top BMW executive explained that it will offer fewer variants of its models in a bid to streamline manufacturing and offset high research and development (R&D) spending to the end of 2019. The German carmaker's finance chief Nicolas Peter told Reuters the automaker would spend between 5.5% and 6% of revenue on R&D in the next three years versus 5.5% in 2016. The group is developing electric, autonomous and connected cars as well as vehicles with combustion engines to meet more stringent emissions tests. He told Reuters that BMW would drop manual gearshift variants of the BMW 2 series coupe in the US to reduce the cost of certifying components in each market and it has dropped manual shift options from entry level versions of the new 5 series diesel. It would also minimise the number of engine variants. Peter added: "In the [just redesigned] 5 series we have four diesel engines on offer. I would not bet on there being four diesel engines on offer in the next generation vehicle."

See also Global light vehicle instrumentation and cockpits market - forecasts to 2032