B MW flew me out to Portugal to drive the new 5 Series and made such a song and dance about its Autonomous Drive technology, you’d think it had reinvented the self-steering wheel. Frankly, I hated it.
Yes, the 5 Series will drive itself for 30 seconds at a time on straight roads, and will even change lane itself if you give it plenty of prewarning. But it’s like paying Marcus Wareing to cook for you, then watching someone else eat it.
Grab that steering wheel back: this new executive express is ludicrously good. BMW makes shedloads of cash from the 5 Series, its longest-running model line, so the entire company rallies around to make sure every new one is as good as can be.
Don’t worry about the styling. It looks more distinctive in the metal than it appears in these pictures, a cross between a perfected version of the old 5 Series, and the posh new 7 Series. A more coupe-like roofline helps set it apart from the more staid Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The headlights are glass, not plastic, crystal-clear for the complex LED lightshow within.
The opulent interior is more trade-down 7 Series than upscaled 3 Series, and glass features there, too. The central infotainment display is now touchscreen, responding as precisely as an iPhone. You can get it with gesture control, but that’s a bit rubbish, so put the money towards Apple CarPlay integration instead (really, BMW, how can you charge extra for this now-obligatory feature?).
There’s barely a single aspect of car-making this car doesn’t master. The six-cylinder turbodiesel engine is powerful and smooth, sounds nice, and is economical. The xDrive all-wheel drive means traction is absolute. Handling is like a 3 Series should be and the ride quality is freakishly good.
BMWs have always handled well, but at the expense of ride comfort. I swear the mid-2000s 5 Series had concrete tyres. This one is Mercedes-like. The lush compliance in town is astounding, as is the lack of soggy jostle on twisty roads – the bane of other comfy cars – that makes the kids feel sick.
Then there’s the steering. On the motorway you tweak the wheel and the car responds instantly. Feedback is absolute, and feels great. Unless you’ve left the autonomous drive stuff switched on, in which case the car will fight you, try to take over. It thinks it knows better than you, but it doesn’t.
Teslas drive themselves, too, but have far greater ‘hands off’ ability. Purposefully so, says BMW. Tesla can do its own thing but BMW demands millions of miles of testing to validate tech like this – and after millions of miles, this is as far as it’s got. Autonomous cars are still decades away, believe me. BMW’s head of vehicle dynamics says he’ll be long retired by the time autonomous tech develops enough to meet the company’s standards. I’m two decades behind him and hope I can say the same, too.
This new BMW 5 Series is the new undisputed executive car class-leader. The only self-driving you’ll want to do in it is driving yourself.