It’s easy to drone on about how the 5 Series is one of the most important BMW models for various reasons, both historical in context and current, but if you want the short version of it, look no further than BMW’s sales—the venerable 5 Series has remained a volume seller for decades. The latest generation of the 5 Series is clearly among the best, and the latest round of reviews covering the 2021 facelift for it and M5 have been making the rounds. The summary is something BMW seems like it would hope to achieve with every facelift or life cycle impulse (LCI): better than before in all the ways that count.
Road & Track describes the the 540i as a, “smaller 7 Series.” CNET’s Roadshow says the 2021 M5’s retuned suspension components make it a “much more comfortable daily driver”—more on that later. Autoblog says the M550i “has wicked acceleration and is just plain fun to drive.”
BMW’s tradition of updating its models roughly halfway through their production lifespan stretches back decades and often brought about substantial revisions and changes, sometimes including new engines. While the massaged visuals are always compelling, (usually prompting the question of why didn’t they do that the first time?) it’s the under-hood and in this case underbody refinements that are really important. Even with as much time, money, and effort that automakers put into testing and developing their cars before they hit the market, there’s still no replicating the reality of tens of thousands of customers driving millions of miles in terms of its ability to weed out problems and shortcomings.
The updated G30 5 Series adds a 48-volt mild hybrid system to the 530i, 540i, and M550i. The system places an electric motor between the engine and transmission which can both recover energy and supply an 11-horsepower boost, in a addition to starting the engine. Road & Track’s Chris Perkins says, “I suppose there was a chance that added complication would compromise this already excellent engine-transmission combo, but it only makes things smoother and more efficient. It’s so smooth, you might not notice any difference between this and the old 540i.”
BMW isn’t the only automaker selling an inline-six engine paired with a mild hybrid system these days, as both Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover have similar offerings with comparable output. According to Perkins though, there’s a distinct difference between the BMW engine and the others, and you might be familiar with it: “The B58 is, as ever, a marvel, torquey and responsive down low, yet energetic enough to rip to the 7,000-rpm redline without feeling breathless. That’s the main difference between this straight-six and other new competitors—the Mercedes and JLR sixes are great, but lifeless beyond 6000 rpm.”
We’ve praised the M550i here on BimmerLife before, and the reasons are simple: it’s an exceptionally capable sedan with blistering speed that doesn’t come with the inherent downsides of the M5, preeminently cost, comfort, and ride quality. It also comes standard with xDrive, which means it has no difficulty using all of its 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, the latter being the same figure as the M5 and M8. The M550i isn’t as fast or as sharp as the M5, but that’s perfectly acceptable. It costs roughly $27,000 less in terms of its starting MSRP and packs performance that’s on par with the previous M5, but with all of today’s tech.
When Road & Track reviewed the updated M550i back in January, it was effectively summarized as being “slightly slower and softer, but far more communicative and engaging,” and “the more likable M car.” We’ve all likely heard about the joys of driving a slow car fast, but the same can actually be true of a car that’s merely slower, with 523 horsepower as opposed to the M5’s 600 and the competition derivative’s 617. Autoblog praised the M550i’s multifaceted personality, with its ability to transform in terms of feel thanks to switching modes and settings at the touch of a button, and that it, “talks when the M5 doesn’t,” further calling it a hot choice for the best mid-size German performance car. It’s the same reason why we called the Alpina B8 Gran Coupé an antidote to the M8 and M8 Competition.
The M5 is still top of the heap in terms of the 5 Series lineup, and the upcoming M5 CS is going to be the fastest and most powerful production model. The M5 can hit 60 mph from a dead stop in as much as a full second less than the M550i, and rips off the quarter-mile with an even greater margin. Up until the F90 LCI, all of that performance came at a cost in the form of an incredibly stiff suspension designed to maximize traction. The M5 Competition was harsh enough to draw criticism from the automotive press, but it seems like fine-tuning its suspension as part of the model’s facelift has addressed at least some of the problem.
Roadshow‘s Steven Ewing said the, “The M5 Competition gets new suspension hardware that make it eminently more comfortable without sacrificing sharpness.” He also explained that, “Rolling over highway expansion joints no longer unsettles the entire chassis and you won’t gnash your teeth encountering a rogue pothole. Even with the Competition’s upsized 20-inch wheels and summer tires (the standard M5 gets nineteens), the ride quality is so much better than before,” and added that none of the changes, which come courtesy of new shocks and a recalibrated control system, detract from poise, sharpness, or performance.
Steering and feedback remained a universal shortcoming cited amongst various reviews, whether the car in question was a six-cylinder 540i or an M5 Competition, and it’s a complaint we’ve been hearing about ever since BMW switched from hydraulic to electric power steering roughly a decade ago—something that was inevitable. Steering gripes aside, it seems BMW has managed to improve upon one of its best products, making the case for the 5 Series all the more enticing.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]