Who knew a button could make so much difference? I’ll admit I was slightly underwhelmed by the 5 Series when it arrived.
Not for its looks or build quality or technical excellence, but for the way it drove.
I saw this behemoth of a vehicle with its 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport body kit and ‘get out my way’ intimidating stance and thought it would deliver a top-drawer driving experience.
Let’s not forget this is supposed to be the ultimate driving machine.
On the motorway it is perfect.
It wafts like a 7 Series, giving the driver complete isolation from the outside world.
The ride is as smooth as silk and it deposits you gracefully in a refreshed state, no matter how many miles you’ve clocked up.
When you get to the country lanes, however, things are less impressive.
The steering feels numb and the whole car rolls into corners in a less satisfying manner.
Not the experience I was expecting from such a high-value vehicle with performance intentions.
Next to the gear lever is a switch offering four options: Eco Pro, Comfort (default), Adaptive and Sport.
Usually I would disregard these settings as they are often little more than a gimmick on mainstream cars.
But our car is fitted with optional adaptive dampers (£985) and these settings make the world of difference.
In Sport, the whole car hunkers down, the steering weights up and the gearbox becomes more responsive.
The 5 Series transforms into the car I expected it to be. The body roll disappears and it feels like you are in something much smaller.
When you’ve had your fun, switch back to comfort and soak up the miles, or choose Adaptive and the car will adjust according to the road ahead. As for Eco Pro… more on this next time.
BMW says the seventh generation 5 Series is more refined than ever, but this is a car that has always been championed for its driving experience.
So is the 5 Series still the ‘ultimate driving machine’?
The new model has two trims: SE or M Sport. Both are well equipped but the latter adds lowered suspension, larger alloy wheels and more aggressive styling.
Around 60% of fleet customers are expected to make the £3,000 upgrade, so we’ve chosen this model for our 520d test car.
It does increase the 2.0-litre diesel engine’s CO2 emissions from 108g/km to 114g/km, which results in a £500 premium for the driver’s annual BIK tax (£3,804 per year for a 40% taxpayer).
But, crucially, its costs are almost perfectly aligned with the Mercedes-Benz E220d AMG line – its biggest rival.
Standard equipment includes digital instruments, a 10.2-inch infotainment screen with connected services and a leather interior.
Our car is fitted with the Technology Package (£1,495) which includes Display Key.
This smartphone-like device can show the remaining fuel range and activate the climate control system.
The pack also features Gesture Control, allowing operation of the infotainment system by simply waving your hands in front of it.
We’ve also got the Comfort Package (£1,995) which adds electric seats, reversing camera, keyless entry and folding door mirrors.
As the 5 Series promises to balance driver engagement with refinement, Variable Damper Control (£985) should give us the best chance of experiencing both characteristics.
The car also has sun protection glass (£345), folding rear seats (£335) and an advanced speaker package (£395), bringing the total price to £45,250 – enough to attract the higher rate VED.
One box which remained un-ticked was the Driver Assistance Plus package, which offers a semi-autonomous driving ability.
At £2,250, it’s expensive – considering similar technology is standard on the Volvo S90 – and we want to get to grips with the 5 Series without intervention.
Having only covered a few hundred miles in the car I’ll save my analysis for the next report.
First impressions are positive; the car has averaged just more than 40mpg so far and managed 60.4mpg on my first commute.