BMW GB expects its new 5-series saloon, officially on sale here in the UK on Saturday (20 March), to at least maintain its lead and possibly grow its share in a hot-fought ‘executive car’ sector seen largely remaining static at about 115,000 units in 2010.

Five and 6 series product manager Michelle Roberts is pitching her new, and very stylish line at a very picky, mostly corporate clientele who will also cast their eyes along the flanks (and over the data sheets) of formidable competitors such as the Jaguar XF, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class before they, or the finance chief, signs on the dotted.

Roberts and her marketeer colleagues have set the bar high. BMW GB has dropped the ‘base’ specification offered to other markets and is fielding an SE-based model line, dominated by I4 and I6 diesel engines, that has Dakota leather standard range-wide plus a juicy list of standard equipment items that, not so long ago, would have all been on the options list.

Not that options are not still available. The demo cars for last week’s UK media press launch in southern France had between GBP10,000 and GBP14,000’s worth of extra-cost equipment on top of their GBP30,000-£37,000 base prices but a lot of that was stuff that, though desirable, one could struggle by without.

If the director of sales (over 70% of UK-bound 5 sedans are sold to fleets) demands fancy adjustable electronic suspension, wide-screen sat-nav with state-of-the-art graphics (the clouds in the sky and realistic Pyrenees mountain contours were a special treat), a glass sunroof, and other such goodies on his 535i, the fleet manager will be able to have a customised car built quickly to order, as is common in the UK, but the regional manager won’t feel too hard done by with what comes with his off-the-peg 520d, either – diesels now account for over 90% of sales in this country.

Meanwhile, the finance director, who has to pay for it all, will be pleased with that entry-level diesel model that slides into the sub-160g/km CO2 emissions category, minimising the cost of a new ‘showroom tax’, annual excise duty hikes and various ‘benefit in kind’ tax gouges that all kick in for UK car owners, especially those with the temerity to drive a company car, from 1 April. The FD will also like residual values forecast as high as 42% (at three years and 60,000 miles) for the I4 520d compared with 33-38% for rivals.

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Looking much like a scaled-down new 7-series (and making the current 3 suddenly look a bit dated), the new 5 has much improved rear legroom thanks to an 80mm wheelbase stretch and gets some of its sleek new look from shorter overhangs. The new car drips with clever new technology, much of it from bigger brother and optional, such as the eight-speed ZF gearbox (which shifts imperceptibly), selectable (normal, sport, comfort)) suspension and drivetrain management systems, four-wheel steering, side, rear and aerial view cameras, lane departure warning, head-up display and a standard audio system (MP3 and personal audio system compatible) that won’t distort no matter how much drum ‘n’ bass you throw at it.

With the caveat that I’m not familiar with the current competition, the new 5 is a delight to drive, with powerful, quiet and very refined engines and excellent ride and handling. There could be a little more ‘feel’ in the new electric power steering and the ride seemed fractionally more compliant with the full optional electronic driving dynamics package and 19-inch wheels of the 535i compared with the 530d’s standard setup on 18-inch wheels. Picky, moi?

When all models are on sale, there will be a wide choice of I4 and I6 diesels, I6 petrols, manual and automatic gearboxes. Touring (wagon) models follow in September.