2018 BMW 5 Series Review

With a nameplate that started back in the 1970s, the BMW 5 Series has a long history and has been the standard for executive-sized sport sedans.

With the seventh-generation model, the BMW 5 Series is facing stiffer competition than ever before with new entries in the field from Korean automakers and updated longtime rivals from Germany and Japan.

Calling the 5 Series a sport sedan, however, might seem a bit far fetched. Underneath, the new generation model has much of the same bones you’d find in the brand’s flagship (practically a limo) 7 Series. In addition to the structural make-up being borrowed from the bigger and fancier 7 Series, the 5 gets much of the same luxury appointments and features.

Inspired By the Top Dogs

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t significantly impact the way the 5 Series drives. Under the hood of the 540i model we tested was an inline-six cylinder engine that’s turbocharged to make 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, both numbers increased from the last gen’s six-cylinder 5 series. Buyers can also opt for a four-cylinder 530i model or get a M550i model that packs a V8 engine. The bump in power means that this car can hit highway speeds in under 5 seconds, which helps convince buyers of its sporting credentials.

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The engines are paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and buyers can choose between rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. The 5 Series’ transmission is quite clever and borrows a trick from Rolls Royce: it uses navigation data to read topographical information of the routes it is driving on and will shift gears in anticipation of upcoming ascents and descents. This can also help improve fuel economy, leading to the vehicle’s EPA tested numbers of 24 mpg combined. BMW also put its 5 Series on a diet to cut up to 137 lbs from the vehicle’s weight. As a result, the vehicle tips the scale at a reasonable (for a large all-wheel-drive luxury sedan) 4,019 lbs.

Still Drives Like a King

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The fancy transmission and weight loss also have more benefits other than fuel economy. Versatility is the name of the game thanks to a number of drive modes, including two Sport modes and a reactive Adaptive setting on select vehicles that tries to sense what kind of driving style you’re going for and reacts accordingly. Thanks to the available dynamic dampers, the adaptive mode will adjust powertrain responsiveness and chassis characteristics between sporty and more comfort-oriented to suit your driving style. Those drive modes also change the vehicle’s character. In the comfort mode, for example, the car feels like it elegantly whooshes in terms of acceleration, but drive in sport mode, and the car feels much more urgent and excitable.

Those dynamic dampers utilize electric swivel motors to adjust the anti-roll bars instead of hydraulics, which makes the new system lighter and quicker to react. As a result, the car is very well behaved on the road, even if you’re swapping between sport and comfort modes. For added style, our model was equipped with blue M-Sport brakes with high-performance pads, although they are just 4-piston calipers up front and 2-piston units in the rear. 

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Steering has been a sore spot for BMW recently, and the 5 Series certainly lacks the feedback and engagement that the brand was known for, but the tiller works as advertised and has a nice hefty feel to it. Dimensionally speaking, the wheel is quite thick and robust, and the car never feels that large when operating in tight quarters.

Interior Wow

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Inside the cabin, though, the car feels cavernous. There’s plenty of space for passengers, especially in the rear, and the trunk is extremely practical with more than 18 cubic feet of storage. The materials and build quality are top notch, which is to be expected from the brand, although the wood trim used in our tester came across as a little too old school and cliche for the class. Fortunately, there are many options for buyers to customize the interior when picking out a 5 Series for themselves, and that feature list can be quite inclusive.

That’s because the 5 Series borrows a lot of technology and convenience features from its big brother 7 Series. You can get this vehicle with soft-close doors, quilted stitched Nappa leather, four-zone automatic climate control, a fragrance dispenser, window shades, a heated steering wheel, seats that can be heated and ventilated, and the cabin can be outfitted with ceramic-coated controls. The massaging front seats are also a huge bonus on long drives. Business types who love to have a mobile office on the go will appreciate the available mobile hotspot and wireless charging features, not to mention the USB ports for charging. Apple iPhone users can add on CarPlay, and BMW is boasting that it’s the first automaker to support wireless Apple CarPlay support. Audiophiles can also pick from two upgraded sound-systems. Our model had the 600-watt Harmon/Kardon system, while serious sound nuts can opt for the $4,200 Bowers and Wilkins stereo that boasts an output of 1,400 watts.

Minority Report Meets James Bond

It also seems like BMW cleared out the shelves at Best Buy. That infotainment system is both touchscreen and controller operated, and the screen is clear, vibrant, and responsive. It never feels busy, although the new iDrive system takes some getting used to after being so acclimatized to the old one. Like the fancy sci-fi movie Minority Report, certain functions can also be triggered via 3D gesture controls, meaning you can twirl your fingers in the air to adjust the volume, swipe the air to dismiss a notification, or poke the air with two fingers for a custom command like changing radio stations. That last one was triggered inadvertently a few times while holding hands with my passenger, meaning the BMW had us choose between human touch or fancy 3D gestures.

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There’s also a fantastic high-tech head-up display, which is one of the highlights of the vehicle. It displays a bevy of information and was never distracting. The car is loaded with all kinds of technology, and even things you didn’t know existed, like the Display Key, which is a large touchscreen keyfob that can display information like fuel level, can be used to set up climate control preconditioning, and even help you remotely park the car like James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies (a movie where the special agent was equipped with a similarly featured BMW).

That latter feature sounds equal parts amazing and gimmicky, as it can help you exit the vehicle before moving it straight forward or backward into tight parking spots. It seems a bit limited, and you need to be close to the vehicle in order to operate it. It also might seem annoying to have to plug the keyfob in to charge, but the 5 Series we tested has a wireless charging pad that can be used for this very purpose so you never have to worry about plugging it in — you can just charge your key as you drive.

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In addition to all these (possibly gimmicky) high-tech features, the car can also be configured with all the usual high-end safety and driver assistance features. The car can center itself in a lane, follow traffic with no issues, and will warn you of potential hazards in your blind spot. There’s forward collision warning with automatic braking and self-parking systems that also include a wide array of fancy cameras that can visualize the car in 3D on the infotainment screen like it’s an object in a video game. You can then rotate the perspective to see the surroundings of the car, which is really cool until you realize that you can see what’s around the vehicle by just looking out of the window.

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The Verdict: 2018 BMW 5 Series Review

It’s impossible to say I wasn’t impressed with the new 5 Series and all its features and technology, but some of these functions weren’t really necessary or very useful. As tested with all the fancy features, our tester costs more than $70,000 (over $90,000 in Canada), which is a far cry from the vehicle’s starting price of $52,195 for the four-cylinder model. But you can’t knock the automaker for offering buyers new features, so if those items interest you enough to pay for them, why should BMW deny you?

Thanks to the trickle-down effect from the flagship 7 Series, the smaller 5 Series is still a handy player in this executive sport sedan segment. The drive experience is versatile and comfortable, but drivers can also be bogged down by the overwhelming amount of technology. Nerd out with this big sedan, however, and you won’t regret it.

  • fabrice002

    Marketers always say the 5 series started in the 70s, but anyone who ever had a 2500/2800/3.0 Bavaria in the garage alongside an E23 7 knows the five series really started in the 60s.

    Design and mechanicals are virtually alike.