The executive sedan segment in Malaysia is getting ready for a second coming. In June last year, Mercedes-Benz made a grand entrance with the introduction of the W213 E-Class, which trades outright dynamic capability for a more luxurious approach. The car’s curvaceous exterior hides a plush, futuristic and exceedingly glitzy interior, while a supple, whisper-quiet ride cossets and soothes.

Initially, the high prices of the fully-imported models meant that take-up was slow, but there’s been an increasing amount of these things on the road these days, suggesting that the three-pointed star’s change of tack has struck a chord with the buying public. The lower prices that local assembly – slated for later this year – will bring will only help the new E-Class’ cause even further.

But the market has really been waiting for another big contender to enter the scene, before the tussle for supremacy can begin in earnest. Even nearing the end of its life, the F10 BMW 5 Series had been ably scrapping with its newer rivals, with a compelling balance of performance, handling and comfort that made it a true all-rounder in the segment. It’s no wonder it was the king of the hill for so long.

That’s a tall order for any replacement, but the new G30 5 Series – which will be launched in Malaysia on Wednesday – will do its best to carry the torch from where its predecessor left off. The seventh-generation of Munich’s bread-and-butter model is much more technologically advanced, but will it move the game on quite enough to see off the competition? We drive it on the beautiful snaking roads out of Lisbon to find out.

Unveiled in October last year, the G30 is as all-new a 5er as it has ever been – it’s built on a new modular Cluster Architecture (CLAR) derived from the G12 7 Series, and hence shares plenty of components and tech, particularly in terms of semi-autonomous driving features. It’s also larger, yet lighter than before, and promises to be both better to drive and more comfortable.

It’s a shame then, that the exterior styling doesn’t go far enough to portray this newness visually. Look at the new G30 closely and you’ll find a nice crispness to the lines and tauter surfacing that makes it appear leaner than the F10 that came before it, but it all gets lost because the design itself is so milquetoast.

At the front, the car wears BMW’s latest corporate face, with headlights that flow into the double kidney grille – but there’s none of the steely, purposeful gaze of the F30 3 Series. Instead, there’s a more homogenous look that is perhaps more elegant than its smaller sister, but also less distinctive.

Moving towards the side, you’ll find Air Breather vents aft of the front wheels that reduce pressure in the wheel arch – working with the turbulence-cutting front Air Curtain intakes to improve aerodynamics – along with the only real innovative styling cue throughout the whole car.

Above the usual shoulder line is another line that stretches from the top of the front wheel arch before wrapping around the C-pillar Hofmeister kink. The resulting surface underneath it starts in the shadows, then twists to catch the light, providing just a hint of visual drama on an otherwise staid design.

The rear is easily the most conservative part of the car, with typical BMW L-shaped tail lights barely discernible from the outgoing model’s. Overall, the styling is not quite the game changer that the rest of the car promises to be, and is barely lifted up by the M Sport appearance package, black 19-inch alloy wheels and blue M Sport brakes that you see here.

The apparent blandness aside, however, the greater precision in the car’s lines and more nuanced forms do help mask what is a considerable size increase over its already massive predecessor. Measuring 4,936 mm long, 1,868 mm wide and 1,479 mm tall, the new car is 37 mm longer, eight mm wider and 17 mm taller than the F10; its wheelbase is also seven mm longer at 2,975 mm.

Even with the increased dimensions, the new G30 is up to 100 kg lighter, spec-for-spec, than before. This is despite the car lacking of the 7 Series’ Carbon Core construction, relying on aluminium, high-tensile steel and magnesium to keep the weight down. Body strength and torsional rigidity have also increased.

Inside, the designers have had more success shaking up the formula. The great edifice of a dashboard on the F10 has been banished for a slimmer, swooping unit, no doubt helped by the new freestanding iDrive centre display that’s now the rage these days. On top of that is the cool multicoloured (though not quite featuring the 64 colours of the E-Class) ambient lighting, as well as the 16-speaker, 1,400 watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system, complete with drilled stainless steel grilles and illuminated diamond tweeters.

Unsurprisingly, given the E-Class’ newfound stylistic exuberance, BMW has worked hard to up the 5 Series’ interior ambience with more adventurous trim and leather finishes, incorporating lessons learnt from the 7 Series. The richly-coloured tan leather on the test car looks and feels fantastic, and goes well with the aluminium dashboard decor and dark ceramic controls.

However, the interior still does feel a bit like a very complex three-dimensional plastic jigsaw puzzle, albeit one that’s been beautifully finished and solidly screwed together. The spaceship-like E-Class just about edges it in terms of feeling like a proper luxury product, this writer believes. No complaints about the straightforward ergonomics and switchgear logic, though, as is usual for a BMW.

As expected, the front seats get plenty of adjustment, enabling drivers of different statures to get the perfect driving position. On the comfort seats on this test unit, there’s even a separate controller that adjusts the angle of the upper back rest, tailoring its shape to the driver’s back.

But the larger body really pays dividends at the rear of the car, with an abundance of head- and legroom; the increased width and reshaped seats also means that the centre rear seat is marginally less of a penalty box to sit in. One downside is the boot – it’s now 10 litres larger at 530 litres, but while the opening remains wide, the load floor is uneven, making it more difficult to insert larger items.

The new exterior and interior is just the start – there’s also a smorgasbord of new technologies to match the redesigned suit. Firstly, the G30 introduces a new version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, one that’s derived from the latest 7 Series but developed further for a more intuitive user experience.

As with its larger sibling, the system can be controlled via gestures, natural voice inputs or a touchscreen measuring as large as 10.25 inches. But while the smartphone-like six-tile interface has been retained, they have been made larger to incorporate snippets of live information; as a result, they now spill over two pages. The tiles can also be rearranged – yes, just like a smartphone or a tablet.

Like the 7 Series, the 5 Series gains a Qi wireless charging pad hidden ahead of the cupholders, but the smaller model also benefits from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, now over wireless connection – an industry first. Elsewhere, there’s a WiFi hotspot for up to 10 devices, as well as a full-colour head-up display that’s 70% larger than before.

There are plenty of other features taken from the 7, such as the driverless Remote Parking system, controlled via the Display Key. The Surround View 3D system that projects the cars surroundings around a 3D model of the car on the centre display is available as well, but this can also now be viewed remotely on a smartphone via the BMW Connected app, a feature called Remote View 3D.

That’s not all – the G30 gets semi-autonomous driving features for the first time on the 5 Series, as part of the optional Driving Assistant Plus package. At the forefront is the active cruise control system, which can be activated from standstill to speeds of up to 210 km/h – it can now sense up to two cars in front to make for smoother driving, and takes into account highway exits and roundabouts.

The suite also comes with the steering and lane control assistant that keeps the car in its own lane. This enables the car to accelerate, brake and steer itself even in stop-start traffic, and allows up to 30 seconds of hands-free driving on highways before an alert will sound for you to put your hands back on the wheel.

So far, so 7 Series – but the G30 also adds an E-Class-style lane change assistant. Hold the indicator in the first position for a few seconds and the car will change lanes all by itself, using the blind spot sensors to detect passing cars before making the switch.

One small change this has brought is that for the first time since the E60 5 Series, the indicator stalk will stay down or up if it is pressed fully, instead of returning to its original position. This is likely in order to provide a more discernible difference in haptic feedback, important when using this feature.

Another new feature is Cross Traffic Alert, which warns the driver visually and acoustically if it detects they have misjudged the right of way at a junction, and primes the brakes to keep braking distances to a minimum. Other additions include evasion aid that provides steering support during emergency lane changes, along with Lane Change Warning and Side Collision Warning, which steer the car out of trouble.

Under the skin, the new G30 makes use of front double wishbone suspension and a five-link rear axle setup, lighter and more sophisticated than before, improving stability and agility and reducing roll without sacrificing comfort. The large mounting and supporting system also helps with acoustic isolation.

As before, the Adaptive Drive option adds Dynamic Damper Control and Dynamic Roll active roll stabilisation, but the latter now uses electric motors rather than hydraulics to actuate the anti-roll bars. This makes the system quicker, more precise and more energy efficient, providing greater handling precision and agility. The rear axle Integral Active Steering can also now be specified with the xDrive all-wheel drive system.

The Driving Experience Control, which adapts the engine, drivetrain and chassis to suit driving conditions, now gains an Adaptive mode to complement the existing Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport settings. In this mode, everything is adjusted automatically depending on the driving style and also the route ahead, using accelerator and steering inputs, gear selector position and navigation data.

Meanwhile, the automatic engine start/stop system has been made significantly more refined in its operation, even though it still hardly the last word in smoothness. It’s also been made smarter, using the navigation system, stereo camera and radar sensor to detect if the car is approaching a roundabout or a junction, and disabling itself in these situations to make it easier and safer to merge into traffic.

Nestled under the bonnet of this 540i is a B58 3.0 litre turbocharged petrol straight-six, producing 340 hp from 5,500 to 6,500 rpm and a healthy 450 Nm of torque between 1,380 rpm and 5,200 rpm; mated to a standard-fit eight-speed automatic transmission, it flings itself from zero to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. Combined fuel consumption is rated at 6.9 litres per 100 km, and it emits 159 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

Below that sits the B48 2.0 litre turbo petrol four-pot in the 530i, which churns out 252 hp and 350 Nm – the key figures are a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 6.2 seconds, fuel consumption of 5.5 litres per 100 km combined and CO2 emissions of 126 grams per kilometre.

On the diesel side, there’s the 520d – the only one with a six-speed manual option – with a B47 2.0 litre turbodiesel that makes 190 hp and 400 Nm, delivering a combined fuel consumption figure as low as 3.9 litres per 100 km and CO2 emissions of just 102 grams per kilometre. At the top of the oil burner range is the 530d, with a B57 3.0 litre turbo straight-six pushing out 265 hp and a stout 620 Nm.

Further down the line, there will be a range-topping (at least until the full-fat M5 comes along) M550i xDrive, powered by a 4.4 litre twin-turbocharged V8. That one kicks out 462 hp and a whopping 650 Nm, and together with a standard-fit xDrive all-wheel drive system, it enables the big brute to blitz the zero to 100 km/h benchmark in four seconds flat – nearly half a second quicker than the current F10 M5.

A more sedate, eco-friendly option is the 530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, which mates a 184 hp/320 Nm version of the 530i’s 2.0 litre turbo petrol engine with a 95 hp/250 Nm electric motor; the latter is sandwiched between the engine and the eight-speed auto. Total system output is 252 hp and 420 Nm, providing the car with enough juice to go from zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds.

On the other end of the spectrum, the 530e is able to sip fuel at just 2.0 litres per 100 km, and produces 46 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Its claimed electric-only range is 10 km up on the smaller 330e at 45 km, and it will also run in EV mode at speeds of up to 140 km/h, 20 km/h faster than the 330e.

The Malaysian market should get the 520d and the 530i models when the G30 launches this Wednesday, with the possible addition of the 540i as a limited-run range-topping variant. Also expect a lower-powered 520i when the inevitable locally-assembled (CKD) models arrive – propelled by a detuned 2.0 litre mill – as well as the 530e to take advantage of tax breaks for CKD hybrids and electric vehicles.

Alright, back to the 540i that you see here. The vast majority of BMWs nowadays might be powered by humdrum turbocharged four-cylinder mills, but don’t believe for a second that Munich has lost the ability to build a great straight-six. The characteristic Bavarian six-pot attributes are all present and accounted for – not least of which being the silky smooth way the engine spins to the 7,000 rpm redline.

This pleasing linearity is mirrored in the power delivery, with nary a hint of turbo lag and plenty of latent punch at your disposal, whether you’re ambling around in town or wringing out every last rev before shifting up. There’s also a deliciously rorty engine note when you really get cracking, although even with the exhaust valves open in Sport mode, it’s still a bit too quiet for our taste.

Let’s be quite honest here – BMW engines and ZF’s fantastic automatic gearboxes go together like cheese and wine, and it’s no different here. Shifts from the eight-speeder are whipcrack fast – especially in Sport mode – and yet buttery smooth, whether you’re changing gear yourself with the paddle shifters or leaving the very responsive ‘box to its own devices.

We might have some reservations about the straight-six’s slightly introverted engine note, but at least that means it will quieten down at a cruise, and this goes hand-in-hand with the level of refinement everywhere else. You’ll find very little road and wind noise, even at higher speeds, making the new 5 Series a very comfortable car in which to eat the miles.

The same is true with the ride, although it’s not quite perfect. Riding on 19-inch wheels, the 5 Series tends to crash over potholes and sharper bumps, despite the test car being fitted with the optional adaptive suspension. But the secondary ride is excellent, and as speeds increase the car stays level and composed, even over rough tarmac.

So, the new 5 Series is a very cosseting place to be, which is definitely a good thing – unless this newfound level of comfort has been achieved at the expense of the car’s typical handling prowess. Thankfully, a drive through the challenging coastal roads on the outskirts of Lisbon shows that the G30 is still one of the most dynamic steers in its class.

The standout here is the steering, which is not only pinpoint accurate and has consistent weighting throughout the rack, but also lets a surprising amount of road texture through to the rim for what is a complicated variable-ratio electric power steering system. It makes this big, heavy Bimmer a rather engaging car to drive, and sets the tone for the rest of the driving experience.

Funnily enough, despite the test car being fitted with rear-wheel steering, the G30’s agility isn’t the first thing that strikes your mind – although it certainly feels very wieldy for its size, you still don’t quite get the feeling that it pivots around you, like a 3 Series would. No, the thing that really impresses when you up the pace on challenging roads is just how unflappable it is.

No matter how you pitch it into a corner, the 5 Series remains composed, particularly in Sport mode. There’s very little body roll to speak of, and the car maintains its poise and a neutral handling balance throughout the bend, something that is satisfying and very confidence-inspiring.

This is aided by a level of grip that is so high, it seems almost criminal to test the car’s limits, because you’d be going at a very, very fast clip when you do. Thank goodness for the optional M Sport brakes on the test car, which have prodigious stopping power and predictable pedal feel, allowing us to rein in this large sedan from high speeds with ease.

Does the new G30 BMW 5 Series move the executive game on then? The short answer is yes. This is a big sedan that both rides and handles as well as the best out there, improving on its predecessor’s already broad repertoire. That it does so while nearly managing to close the gap in terms of interior ambience compared to the very plush E-Class is astounding – enough to almost make us forget the drab exterior.

Of course, its success over here depends on specifications and pricing. The first fully-imported units will undoubtedly be very pricey – the E-Class is no different, mind – but we expect prices to be very competitive once local assembly begins, if the outgoing model is any indication.

Even then, however, the BMW won’t have everything its own way. Yes, the Mercedes might be a slightly woolier steer, but its extroverted styling will likely turn more heads – and in this image-conscious market, that could just be enough to sway things the other way. But while a more thorough local evaluation beckons to see which one stacks on top, at first blush it’s clear that this is one outstanding effort from Munich.

The new G30 BMW 5 Series has been launched in Malaysia in sole 530i M Sport form, priced at RM398,800 on-the-road without insurance. Included is a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, a five-year free service package and a two-year tyre warranty. Browse full specifications and equipment, and get the best deals on a new car, on CarBase.my.