The fully electric variant of the 8th generation BMW 5 series has arrived in NZ and it’s a cracker. It leans on the heritage and roots of the groundbreaking 1972 original E12 and yet embraces all the modernity, finesse and sustainability that the brand has to offer. We headed to the stunning and picturesque Millbrook Resort near Queenstown to say hi to the electric 5.
1972 was a big year, both inside and outside of the Beemer camp. Nixon defeated Democratic Senator George McGovern (however, we all know how that turned out), NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially launched, Flares were all the rage and the 20th Olympic games were hosted by Munich.
With Munich in the spotlight, BMW took the initiative to open their ultra-modern headquarters (now commonly known as the BMW four cylinder building) and commence their all new era which included the space age, the E25. BMW turbo, the creation of the BMW M GmbH. (aka BMW M division) and of course, the first BMW 5 was rolled off the production line in Dingolfing and with it, ‘model series naming’ – the 5 Series – phew. (alright the last part was 1973 but the plant opened in ‘72 so there).
Anyway, fast forward 50+ years (and seven generations of the 5 Series) and I find myself looking at the latest giant leap for their popular executive sedan, it sports the M preface and what’s more, it’s electric.
As it turns out, BMW are no strangers to EVs, and in fact, their first BEV was also unveiled in 1972 (told you it was a busy year). The 1602 was the all-electric lead car for the Olympic marathon and boasted a 12.6 kWh battery, a 32kW single motor and ‘raced’ from zero to 100km/h in 8 seconds. Alas it only had a range of 30 km and not much of a top speed, but perfect for transporting guests around the Olympic village. The i5 M60 is a different story altogether.
When it comes to the all-new i5 BMW NZ are launching with just one model, but don’t worry, it’s the top of the tree M60 xDrive, combining NZ’s love of EV’s and M Sport in one special sedan. Let’s get the powertrain out of the way up front. It comes with an 84kWh battery that’s good for 516km (WLTP). This in turn powers two electric motors that combined offer 442kW, 820Nm and a zero to 100km/h time of just 3.8 seconds – amazing what 50+ years of progress makes.
For those that want/need to know, the battery is kinda special too, made up of prismatic cells packed into modules, meaning that the cells use a certain amount of secondary materials which are produced using only green electricity.
When it comes to aerodynamic efficiency, the i5 has an almost completely flat undercarriage, and strategically placed air vents which create air curtains to optimise its aerodynamics. Together they’ve been able to achieve a coefficient drag of 0.23 which is pretty remarkable.
In terms of design, there is a much larger kidney grille than its predecessor and for the first time on a 5 Series it has been given an iconic glow, as seen in the 7 series. This, combined with a new double-signature headlight design (that mimics the corners of the kidney grille) gives off a very distinctive BMW illuminated face.
The i5’s profile offers up BMW’s classic sedan style, with the added bonus of the Hofmeister kink having an embossed 5 in it, while the rear features ultra-wide tail lights, a wafer thin boot lid spoiler and a large rear diffuser, it’s all very sporty.
Inside of the i5 reflects the latest in BMW interior design, it’s clean, it’s modern, It’s luxurious and it’s got a lot of tech. For those of you who have stepped inside the i7 you’ll recognize some interior elements including the expansive ‘interaction bar’, and the very large curved display. However, on the i5, both of these are much more driver orientated, which is definitely a design hallmark of 5 series.
Some of the highlights of the interior include the panoramic glass sunroof fitted as standard, which really fills the cabin with light and other luxury features such as the Swarovski glass application crafted clarity dials as well. The new BMW M steering wheel has a flat bottom design and also the red 12 o’clock marker to give it a more sporty feel. Bowers and Wilkins supply the sounds and there are two new upholstery options, BMW individual Merino leather (as standard) or a new vegan option.
Being futuristic means that the i5 is fully loaded with driving assistance systems. It has over 40 external sensors and cameras, including an eight megapixel camera and a high precision long range radar. Of course it has the usual, active cruise control, lane change warning, lane departure warning, active lane keeping cross traffic functions, emergency braking, but now the navigation has augmented reality so you’ll never get lost (well maybe some still will). And for those that find parking a chore, the i5 has their parking system professional package, which will remember your favourite parking space, and park there, plus has a reversing memory of up to 200 metres. And you can also now do Remote Parking using your BMW app.
While on the matter of tech, the i5 has the 8.5 operating system, which aside from eliminating excess buttons, it has quick select menus, YouTube streaming (so you can watch the Tarmac Life Channel from your sedan), and offers access to about 10 different games ranging from car driving games to trivia, for which up to five people can play – so you can take the whole family on a trip to the fast charger! The games will be free for a certain period and then require a subscription.
Lastly, although the i5 M60 comes with a serious amount of kit as standard (including BMWs intelligent all wheel drive system xDrive, adaptive suspension, active roll stabilisation and integral active steering – aka all wheel steer), there are two optional equipment packages, Comfort package which gives you heated steering, sunblinds, comfort seats and seat and M Sport Pro, that gives you a range of sportier highlights such as red brake callipers, darkened or tinted headlights, extended high gloss shadowline, carbon fibre spoiler, carbon fibre mirror caps as well as a diffuser. Since our launch drive vehicles had both fitted, it was time to test them out.
Our drive route took us on a circuit over the Crown Ranges, across to Cromwell and back to Millbrook, in a follow the leader fashion. However, with racing driver (and BMW driving ambassador) Mike Eady at the front, it was bound to include some challenging and enthusiastic driving.
Seat comfort, visibility and information is there on a platter in the new i5, and although it’s obviously as modern as it comes, there is a sense of familiarity about the sedan. It may be subtle but the screens are aimed more towards the driver and there’s plenty of shoulder space so as not to get too cosy with anyone riding shotgun.
Start/stop and drive selection are both done with a touch of crystalline elegance while the red strip on the steering wheel and carbon fibre across the dash give you a sense of what is to come – then you plant your right foot down and all hell breaks loose.
The off the mark thrust is gut wrenching and the power continues to give, way into licence losing territory, it’s both thrilling and terrifying. Traction holds firm with burnouts being something of yesteryear. What you do get under heavy acceleration though, is a performance soundtrack developed by Hans Zimmer, and it’s very dramatic.
Being an M, the need to keep pushing the throttle seldom left me and as an added bonus, there’s a ‘boost’ paddle behind the steering wheel that automatically defaults to 10 seconds of max acceleration, ideal for when overtaking or just for additional fun.
Of course, overuse of the boost paddle (I don’t think you can though) will result in the i5 not hitting its range targets, and evidently the BMW engineers have thought about this. Not only do they have a screen that offers an efficiency trainer (an intelligent coach that will basically encourage and reward you for the most efficient use of the accelerator pedal) but there’s also a function in the efficiency mode called ‘max range’ where the speed of the i5 is limited to 90 km and some of the secondary functions of the car such as climate control or interior lighting are reduced, this in turn will maximise the range of the battery (in some conditions by as much as 25%) and therefore get you home. I did test this out and it works well, but our route was more designed for thrill rather than chill.
With its stoic chassis, active suspension, AWD and all-wheel steer, the i5 made light work of the range’s tight corners and we took some of them at speeds we probably shouldn’t have, either way, tyre squeal was barely audible (whether not there or because the cabin was too insulated) and I never once felt out of control. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the rear seats, regardless of how roomy they are.
The steering felt positive and despite the sedan’s obvious weight, it navigated the picturesque hillside with ease, and with very little complaints from the driving aids, which was a nice bonus.
When not being pushed, so when behind some obvious tourists, the i5 happily gobbles up the miles with grand tourer ease, the ride is firm but not jarring when in comfort and as previously mentioned, very quiet inside. Something of note is that in our formation, the i5 monitors the vehicle in front and slows when it does, even when not in adaptive cruise, like I said before, this is one smart sedan. I didn’t test out the stereo system as Han’s soundtrack was well received, however, I’m sure it would be just fine.
With lunch, several stops and a couple of side jaunts, the round trip took up a few hours and a couple of hundred kms, yet we arrived back at the resort with around 30% charge left and that’s without enabling the max range. Not bad considering the amount of boost times used.
This may be the first all-electric 5 series but it still comes under the 8th model generation, meaning that the i5 has 50+ years of big shoes to fill. What’s more, it dons the M badge too just to add to the pressure. Thankfully it’s taken this all in its stride and then some, it’s a confident, prestigious ride that will leave most performance cars in its rear view mirror – and it’s sustainable too. I give it a high five!