If things keep progressing in this direction, it won’t be long before BMW needs a new slogan. “The Ultimate Driving Machine” only makes sense when the ultimate vehicular achievement is a car tailored solely for driving enjoyment. These days, BMW is just as focused as any other automaker on building cars packed with technology to take control away from the driver, putting it into the hands of high-tech computers, sensors, and software code.
But the industry currently only has one foot into the autonomobile revolution pool. For now, all those fancy self-driving aids still have buttons, which means the driver must choose to turn them on (or at can at least turn them off). The challenge for car companies, then, is to be at the forefront of technological advancement while still building cars that appeal to driving enthusiasts. In many ways and with varying degrees of success, BMW’s latest 5 Series sedan walks a fine line between engagement and, for lack of a better term, disengagement.
BMW didn’t make this seventh-generation 5 Series any larger than the model it replaces. It’s also up to (depending on trim) 137 pounds lighter than the sixth-generation car, thanks to the use of magnesium and aluminum in the structure. That chassis is covered in bodywork that makes the 5 Series look like a slightly shrunken 7 Series, except that the 5er’s deeply creased shoulders attract our eyes up and away from the lower hockey stick, which is a good thing. The head- and taillights are discreetly designed, with eye-catching LED lighting elements.From the driver’s seat, the 2017 5 Series follows BMW’s tradition of restraint. Simple round dials sit front and center. The inner quarter of those dials is part of an LCD cluster that mostly mimics the look of traditional gauges. Everything is canted slightly toward the driver, from the 10.25-inch screen atop the center stack to the buttons and dials that make up the climate and audio control interface. One demerit: all those buttons and dials are tiny and difficult to distinguish with a quick glance. Of course, the latest version of iDrive means anything you can do with a physical button can also be done using the car’s electronic interface.
This sixth generation of iDrive is pretty straightforward in operation. Touchscreen controls trickle down from the 7 Series, offering pinch-to-zoom and swiping functionality in addition to the well-known circular control knob on the center console. BMW’s latest head-up display and gesture control also filter from the 7 to the 5 for 2017. The HUD is useful, large, full color, and high-definition. The gesture controls are less so, allowing drivers to accept or reject phone calls with a flick of the wrist or adjust the audio volume by twirling a finger in the air. Apple CarPlay is a $300 option, but Android Auto isn’t available. Check out the video below for a quick demonstration of iDrive 6.0, and stick around for virtual walkarounds of the 530i and 540i models.
We prefer to drive ourselves, anyway, and it might not be fair to give BMW too big a demerit for a lackluster semi-autonomous driving experience because a BMW is supposed to be about the interaction between the driver and the car. But this is 2017, and a large swath of luxury car buyers are going to expect their brand-new premium sedan to offer driver-assistance aids, for better or for worse. And that’s especially true when it doesn’t come cheap – a fully loaded 5 Series with all the luxury and assistance packages can cost up near $100,000.
Here’s hoping BMW can perfect its self-driving tech by 2021, which is when the German automaker plans to launch its first fully autonomous vehicle. But we also hope that all this gadgetry doesn’t spoil the actual driving experience of mainstream models like the 5 Series. Because “The Ultimate Self-Driving Machine” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, and, at least for now, the 5 Series still lives up to the brand’s original tagline.