It’s been only two months since the new F10 5-Series was unveiled and I must say it has quite a huge responsibility to carry. After all, there is a new E-Class in Malaysia now that it must face to continue the fight to try to overtake the E’s dominance in its segment in Malaysia.

The previous E60 5-Series did really well for BMW and is so far the most successful 5-Series to date, although it is its predecessor the E39 that is fondly referred to by some as ‘Car Of The Year Forever’. The E60’s design is a love it or hate it affair. It got even worse when you got inside – the dash design was quite bland. And then there was also that 1st generation iDrive! Just bad! But you gotta give it to the chassis engineers – it did very well in the drive and comfort departments. It’s not just about doing well in both departments but the fact that they could make the car do both well at the same time.

And now we have the all-new 5 which drops the ‘E’ designation in its code name and is now called the F10 (which sounds a lot like the designations used to identify fighter jets). It’s built on a common platform as the F01/F02 7-Series and even the 5-Series GT. We have covered all the latest updates regarding the new 5, right from the launch report to an article that talked specifically about how it was designed.

Now we finally have the all-important test drive report to share with you as we flew all the way to Portugal to have a go in it both on roads and the Estoril circuit!

Read more after the jump.

The Design

When I found out that the new 5 was about to be launched, my fingers were crossed for BMW to come up with something that looked better than the model it was going to replace, because the company did just that when it rolled out the new flagship 7-Series. After seeing the images of the new 5 following its launch at the ‘mothership’ (which is Munich, Germany for those who are unfamiliar), I did not exactly jump out of my seat. It was nice, but something felt missing. Just like the E60, the design just didn’t hit the spot unlike how the E39 did, so I was a little disappointed.

Paul was then invited to a BMW event in Munich earlier this year to take a look at the model in the flesh. I remembered his words: “Photos don’t do justice to the car” and “It looks really good in real life”. So when I arrived in Portugal for the test drive event and looked at the new 5-er for myself, I knew what Paul meant. Trust me, it really looks much better in real life. It looks a hybrid between the new 7 and the facelifted 3-Series. Just like the simple mathematical equation – Seven plus Three divided by two is the new Five.

The taillights are nice to look at night, thanks to the way it glows up, although the actual shape (outline) of it kinda misses the spot. Nevertheless, everything about the exterior design looked just about right. But why it didn’t look as good in the photos? My guess is that the new 5-er has just too many design lines that require us to look at it in the flesh, especially the lines on the hood and on the sides of the car. You can’t really see that in photos so it ends up looking a little bland. The proportions are perfectly sized making it look aggressive yet graceful at the same time.

When designing the new 5-er, the designers had to work around stringent crash, aerodynamic as well as other engineering-based requirements and to be able to come up with this final product. I was also told that the designers had to go over quite a few things to enable the car to carry the Hoffmeister kink in the shape that the designers wanted it.

The Interior

BMW made the right choice to have an interior that is inspired by the new 7-Series. If you don’t pay attention to the details you might just mistake it for the interior of an F01. They’re both differently sized slices cut from the same cake, and it’s a good thing that the cake’s recipe is good in the first place

I really appreciate BMW bringing back the driver-focused centre dash. Switch and control tactility is just perfect. It’s a much better place to be in compared to the E60 that it replaces.

The seats offer very good support from almost every angle as well. The window controls are placed where they should be (unlike the pre-facelift E60, thank God!) and I must also say that the thickness of the steering wheel feels right as well. The steering wheel is something that connects you to the car, so it plays an important role in giving the driver the right feel behind the wheel. There is good support for your hands during normal driving and gives a sporty feel as well, which is good for those spirited weekend drives.

Both leg and head room are good in the front cabin and its the same thing in the rear as well. There are also enough storage compartments in the car. Cup holders in the centre console (instead of popping out of the dash like the E60), a reasonably sized glove box, front seats with pockets behind the backrest and a centre arm rest on the rear seat’s backrest on top of the other compartments on the door cards and so on make up for a practical enough interior. Although the boot isn’t all that deep, but its long.

The Driving

Just like most test drive events, we were given routes that were made up by a combination of curves as well as highway straights. Before we hit those roads we had to spend some time in city roads. In this part of Lisbon the 5-Series behaved well. City driving was a breeze. Just like how I feel that the new 7-Series feels like the 5 when you are maneuvering around town, the 5-Series now feels like a little like the 3. You don’t feel like you are behind the wheel of a big car. Portugal is a left-hand drive market and even with that driving in traffic jams and getting in and out of tight spaces isn’t a problem with the 5.

The model that I drove was the 535i and it was fitted with BMW’s optional Integral Active Steering which means the rear wheels can change their angle, depending on the driving situation. Thanks to this, making U-Turns was easier than ever as it allows for a tighter turning radius.

The 5 can also be equipped with Parking Assistant which works just like the versions found in certain Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz cars. The 5 will be the first car to get this – not sure why BMW took so long when its competitors have had this system for a long time. The system will detect if a potential side parking spot has enough space to accommodate the vehicle. The car can then maneuver itself into the spot by turning the steering wheel itself, leaving just the braking and accelerating to the driver.

You can also use a ‘surround view’ system to see a bird’s eye view of the car. This uses various cameras placed on the car. The new 5 also has the option for a reverse camera, which is no biggie anymore at this point of time – alot of premium cars at this level are starting to have it.

The Brake Energy Regeneration feature of the EfficientDynamics system now has an indicator to show you what it is doing. Before this, it worked in the background and didn’t really provide the visual satisfaction that eco-freaks desired. For some reason they don’t exactly want to just save the environment, they want to be constantly reminded that they’re doing it and praised for it. Beside the fuel consumption indicator on the instrument panel you can see a battery logo and the word EfficientDynamics written below. This area is illuminated in sky blue. This simply shows you what the Brake Energy Regeneration system is doing. Whenever I hit the brakes and whenever I lift of the accelerator, the indicator moves, showing that the energy is being collected under braking and during coasting.

The road surface is very very smooth compared what we have to live with back home. The 5 was rather quiet while cruising on the highway and it really felt composed and planted even at high speeds of up to 190 km/h. There’s only one big question mark right now which I feel foreign drives like this don’t really answer for local markets – as European roads are generally better than the rubbish we get here in Malaysia, will the new 5’s ride (with its low profile hard sidewall runflat tyres and whatnot) feel as good on KL roads as it does in Portugal?

The model I drove was also fitted with a Lane Departure Warning system which monitors the lane markings on the road using a camera. It will then vibrate the steering wheel if veer off your lane. It vibrates just enough to let you know that you are not keeping the car in your lane. It feels much like how your steering would normally behave when one of your car’s wheels go over really thick and rough lane marker paint on the highway, and that kinda paint can be found everywhere in Europe so I suppose it feels natural to them.

The system really helps, especially when you are a Malaysian driving in the left-hand drive country! If you ask me, all cars in Malaysia should be fitted with this system and the steering wheel should vibrate even more and perhaps be configured even automatically give the driver a little static shock the next time he touches his door handle to get into the car to punish him if he veers out of his lane a little too often during a drive. That’ll teach those idiots!

A yellow triangular light fitted in the wing mirror housing will also blink if it thinks that the driver is making a dangerous lane change. I decided to try it out when I noticed there was a car on the right lane cruising at the same speed about one car’s length behind. The light blinked as expected and it blinked in a place that I could clearly see. This system is what BMW calls the Lane Change Warning system.

The 535i has a turbocharged, direct injected 3.0 litre 6-cylinder engine that is capable of 306hp and 400Nm of torque. Throttle response is quick and sensitive but not too jerky at the same time. The floor-mounted accelerator paddle (which I think should be standard in all cars!) feels well-weighted as well. Power delivery overall is very smooth and even while cruising on the highway at say 90 km/h and trying to overtake, it proved effortless.

If this engine is already so powerful, thinking of the 4.4 litre turbo-charged V8 in the 550i is really quite mind boggling! The upcoming M5 would be out of this world! The engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to this, gears can even change at below 2,000 revs during normal city driving, and this works throughout all the gears. As a result, when driven sedatedly the car is actually quite silent because the engine doesn’t really get very much over its idle speed. This probably helps with fuel consumption as well.

The model I had a go in featured variable dampers under the Dynamic Drive Package. These dampers adjust according to driving conditions. There are also four modes to choose from including Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. A number of automakers these days can probably just decide not to spend much time on fine tuning the chassis just by using these variable dampers. Chassis engineers might just end up being ‘lazy’ because of this.

But for the F10, even in Normal mode, the car still felt good over bumps and yet still performed well on the twisty roads. That’s a mark of a really tight chassis and the differences in drive enjoyment between Normal and Sport are really not that obvious because of this. Comfort gave a softer ride while Sport stiffened the dampers up. Different modes also offer different throttle and steering responses as well as different gear shift patterns on the transmission.

Estoril Race Track Experience

Unfortunately for us, a rather dull looking sky a day before worsened into showers on the circuit experience day, making it an all-wet affair. It was just my bad luck as I really wanted to push the 5 on the track and see how it performs although I was already given positive hints about it when I was in the mountains.

A wet track meant that we couldn’t turn off the traction control and had to be very careful on track. Even a Formula 1 car will have to slow down tremendously when the weather isn’t friendly. Nevertheless, it gave me the opportunity to find out how the 5 works its way around in such a condition.

The circuit was made up by a couple of short to medium length straights and slow to medium speed corners. I engaged the Sport mode and started my way around of the circuit. I just had to make sure that I don’t brake too late and accelerate too early mid corner.

The wet surface proved to be a nuisance and I had to make sure that the tires didn’t touch the slippery kerbs. The car behaved well through the corners though. Oversteer could be easily corrected by counter-steering and when it was understeer can be tackled by lifting off the gas and hitting the brakes a little to bring the balance back. Most of the time the ESP did it for me by cutting power and performing selecting braking. The 5-er is very balanced, predictable and forgiving under hard driving and it’s almost ridiculous to be using such words to describe a big sedan like the 5-er but that’s just how good the chassis boys at BMW are.

When you are in the market for a premium mid-sized sedan – apart from a more attractive price package – you will most likely look for something that looks good, aggressive and elegant at the same time, something that offers a luxury feel on the inside, something that drives like a dream and something that you take your family with for those weekend ‘balik kampung’ trips.

The BMW F10 5-Series could be the one that fits the bill perfectly, but given that the model we tested was a high spec 535i (not something your average Malaysian will be able to buy here) and we drove it on foreign roads, we’ll reserve our final judgment for when we try the 5-er out in more ‘affordable’ typical Malaysian specs, on Malaysian roads.

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