IThis new series kicks off this Sunday at Brands Hatch in the
UK with, I believe, around 25 countries represented. This just could be the on
track action we have been waiting for. 25 identical motor cars, representing 25
countries with 25 hot-shoes in the driver’s seats. No tyre wars and other such
rubbish. Just some good old fashioned motor racing. Let us hope so. The series
will be televised on Star Sports and (I think) will be shown at 6.30 p.m.,
because the race starts at 12.30 p.m. - but check this! I will be at Jameson’s
and may as well take my bed and wait for the Grand Prix from Brazil at midnight.
After a week of having the new 5 Series BMW in my driveway,
only now do I feel I am able to do justice to this, in many ways, very advanced
motor car. The simple fact is that the more technically advanced and more
complex any vehicle is, the longer it takes to appreciate just what that vehicle
can do. Even on the last day, I was still learning more and discovering more
features. As a couple of small examples, it was not till it began to rain that I
found that the wiper speed was determined by road speed. Stop at the lights and
the wipers slowed and even stopped if the rain was light. Take off again and the
full sweep of the wipers began once more. Like wise, as I drove through the
hospital multi-storey car park, the lights automatically came on, turning
themselves off as I drove outside. Small things, but ones that show attention to
The BMW 5
Driving the 5 Series was an exercise in appreciation of
superb vehicle dynamics. The designers and engineers in Germany show a great
understanding of what a motor car could do, and knew how to make it happen. The
initial feeling from behind the wheel is one of solidarity, security and safety.
It gives you the impression that no matter what you do, this BMW will get you to
your destination, swiftly and safely. There are no corners on the motorways any
more. The 5 Series just sails through, without body roll, without protests from
the tyres, and totally without fuss. It is difficult not to feel a little smug
as you leave the lesser mortals lurching along in your wake.
of the superiority of the 5 Series lies in the application of electronics to the
dynamics. All the movements and forces at the wheels are measured by
microprocessors, which are then analyzed by the central computers. In turn,
corrective influences occur, without the need for human (driver) intervention.
BMW’s microprocessors are understanding what is going on, much faster than any
driver, no matter how sensitive the driver is in the ‘seat of the pants’
area. Believe me.
One example of this is what BMW call their ‘dynamic
steering’. Like the windscreen wipers, the sensitivity in the steering is
linked to road speed. At very low speed, the steering movements at the road
wheels are very rapid, compared to steering wheel movements, but at speed, the
amount of road wheel movement relative to steering wheel input is much less.
This makes low speed maneuvering easy and high speed touring safer.
There is no doubt about the sporting nature of this large
saloon. Almost 5 meters long and 1.8 meters wide, it weighs in at 1.5 tonnes.
This is actually lighter than you would imagine, as BMW have used aluminium
extensively in the construction of the body and several suspension items. The
end result of all this is a car 75 kg lighter than the previous model and a
weight distribution of 49:51 percent. And with close to 200 horsepower on tap,
it gives you a good push in the back when you floor the accelerator.
The transmission is interesting - a six speed ZF automatic
with manual over-ride. The torque is such that the top two ratios would normally
be considered as overdrives at 0.87 for 5th and 0.69 for 6th, these making for
effortless relaxed cruising with the 3.73 fairly tall differential ratio. 120
kays is around 2,400 RPM. This tall gearing is easily accepted by the engine.
However, the response from the kick-down is almost instantaneous, dropping down
two or three gears to give instant punch when needed.
Another electronic aid to driving, and one that I will sorely
miss when I get back into my more humble personal chariot was the IR reversing
system. Pop it into reverse and the on-board display becomes a mini-radar,
showing clearances front and rear, as well as an audible warning, which gets
increasingly frenetic as you get closer to another object.
Much has been said and written about the i-Drive system in
the newer BMW series, which gives the driver control over many functions of the
car, modifying certain characteristics to personal taste. It was labeled as
“impossibly complicated” in the 7 Series, but it has been simplified (or
made more user-friendly) in the new 5 Series. Being someone who has problems
with the remote on my TV set, I was a little wary of the i-Drive at first, but
honestly it was not that fearsome at all. In fact, one of my computer literate
friends, John Seymour, hopped in, said, “Wow!” and in 30 seconds was
navigating all its features.
The interface between wheel, seat, and pedals is good,
allowing left foot or right foot braking very easily. The window control buttons
are not ergonomic in the fact that you push the button forward to lower the
window and pull it back to raise. Soon adjusted to, but certainly goes contrary
to what my brain expected.
Driver’s seat excellent and the range of settings for both
squab and back seem endless, and I loved the way the sides of the seat wrapped
themselves comfortingly around me. Likewise, the rear seat passenger space is
The sound system made the car a wonderful mobile auditorium,
but showed just how bad the local radio stations are if you cannot understand
Thai. Those who can understand the language tell me that it makes listening even
worse. Fortunately Mr Beethoven came to my rescue with concerto’s on CD!
And getting down to the mundane, it does have a cavernous
boot, so perhaps Mr Bangle’s disliked bottom has some practical reasons. The
elastic netting on one side to hold small objects was also appreciated after a
trip to the market.
However, there is no car yet made that does not have some
flaws. For me it was the interior - the plastic petrified zebra skin fascia and
door panel trims were quite horrible. Also, the silver bezels around the
instruments reflect passing street lights and this produces distractions.
My biggest gripe was the lack of usable cubby holes.
Capacious glove boxes on the passenger’s side are no good for the solo driver.
Even the door pockets are not large. The central console has a lidded container,
with yet another inside, like a set of those annoying Russian dolls inside
dolls, inside dolls. A small space beneath the i-Drive binnacle will take the
mobile phone, but which allows ejection with any reasonable amount of right
foot. My Nokia spent the week in a state of concussion.
In summary, a great car for the passengers, wonderful dynamics for the
driver, disappointing interior appointments and keep your mobile phone in your