The new all-electric BMW i5 boasts a long range and outstanding cruising comfort
4.5 out of 5
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The BMW i5 is the most complete electric saloon on sale, and rivals can’t match its comfort, refinement, infotainment or driving dynamics. In its transition to a full EV, the 5 Series has lost a little of its charm and dynamic ability. But the i5 nails exactly what it needs to. It’s still a great BMW executive saloon.
Every evolution of the BMW 5 Series has represented a major step for the German firm. But the latest car is arguably one of the biggest leaps in the company’s history. BMW has sold more than 10 million examples over more than half a century, but now, in its eighth generation, the 5 Series has gone all electric.
Petrol and plug-in hybrid models will still be available, but in Europe BMW expects around 50 per cent of orders to be swallowed up by the i5, which comes in two flavours from launch.
We’ve tried both – the rear-drive eDrive40 and four-wheel-drive M60 xDrive M Performance. The first of the pair will be the bigger seller, because it should hit the spot with the traditional 5 Series customer base in the UK: company-car drivers.
The eDrive40 has an 81.2kWh battery delivering up to 361 miles of range. But while we’re on the subject of statistics, it’s worth pointing out that this cheapest electric 5 Series starts from £74,105. The i5 is pricey, although the BiK benefits of zero-emissions motoring will soften the blow for many user choosers.
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Indeed, such is the hefty list price of the i5 that Mercedes’ EQE actually manages to undercut it a little in 300 AMG Line trim. But it’s a premium that looks well worth paying, because the i5 outclasses its German rival in nearly every respect.
The eDrive40 features one electric motor on its rear axle producing 335bhp. It delivers adequate performance, with a six-second 0-62mph time and a level of grunt that feels equivalent to a punchy petrol-engined executive saloon. However, while the previous-generation 5 Series wasn’t exactly lacking when it came to refinement, this new i5 is simply superb; it feels more like a 7 Series because it’s so quiet on the move.
The ride is also smooth and controlled, thanks to stroke-dependent dampers, even over badly broken roads.
These rougher sections mean you can feel the electric saloon’s weight; it tips the scales at more than 2.2 tonnes, so the suspension sometimes struggles to contain the bobbly wheel movement, and the stiffness of the springs needed to control the car’s mass becomes apparent. But it’s never truly uncomfortable or harsh.
However, the 5 Series’s trick has always been to combine refinement with dynamic ability, and while BMW has definitely succeeded with the former here, in the car’s transition to a full EV it has lost some of its trademark driver engagement and agility.
The steering is light but precise and you can drive the car quickly through bends, with a good level of grip and confidence-inspiring handling. However, the undercurrent of lethargy due to its big battery – and how the i5 behaves when you increase the pace – means it doesn’t offer the last degree of enjoyment or capability. We suspect this won’t matter to many buyers, though, with the improvements in refinement being a bigger draw.
The mass is obviously set low in the i5, and the M60 we tested further fights it thanks to an upgraded suspension set-up that reduces the ride height by 8mm compared with the standard car. There’s also Active Roll Stabilisation and rear-axle steering available to help boost agility. The jury’s out on whether its dynamic ability can truly be called fun, but it’s very effective.
As ever, BMW’s infotainment is beyond criticism, with the firm improving the set-up once again for the i5. The car features the now-familiar curved screen for the digital dash and infotainment, with a new Quick Select menu function that offers shortcuts to your favourite areas of the system all on one ‘level’, so you don’t have to dive into sub-menus. It makes it even easier and faster to use, with all of the tech and connectivity on offer that you’d expect from BMW’s latest EV.
Space inside is excellent, too. There’s loads of rear legroom, good headroom and a 490-litre boot. But then that’s no surprise, given that the i5 is more than five metres long. It feels larger when manoeuvring (rear-axle steering helps reduce the turning circle) so those links to the i7 are genuine. In fact it’s less than four centimetres shorter than the previous-generation 7 Series.
Strong practicality extends to charging, too. While the i5 M60’s range drops to 320 miles, both cars accept 205kW, so a 10-80 per cent top-up of the battery will take half an hour in both models. New charging software that holds maximum power for longer at the start of a charge means the i5 should add an effective amount of range even when plugged into a DC station for short periods.
If you’re running low on the road, you can select a Max Range function, which limits top speed and adjusts the climate control to conserve energy and add an extra 15 miles of range in emergencies. Select a chargepoint in the nav and the car will also pre-condition the battery for maximum charging performance once you reach it.
|Model:||BMW i5 eDrive40|
|Powertrain:||81.2kWh battery, 1x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|
|Max charging:||205kW DC (10-80% 30 mins)|
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