Like pretty much every major manufacturer out there, BMW is going big on electric. As combustion sale bans loom - including our own in the UK, which the government recently shifted back a bit - ranges are steadily being electrified, and that’s had a big impact on the new 5-series.
That’s why the first 5-series we find ourselves driving goes under a slightly different name - it’s the i5, because it’s the all-electric one. As will soon be the norm for BMW, a major new model is getting launched in EV form first, and although there will be a pure-combustion version coming to the UK, we’ll only get the one - the 520i.
Want more power? It’ll have to be one of two plug-in hybrids - the 530e or the 550e. Otherwise, it has to be an EV, and on that front, there are also two - the i5 40, or the i5 M60 we’re focusing on here.
To justify the use of the letter ‘M’ in the name, BMW has made this version of the i5 spectacularly powerful. It produces 593bhp - in other words, about the same as the last M5. Stuffing an 81.2kWh battery pack under the carpet makes for a heavy car, though at 2.3 tonnes, so it’s not quite as quick off the mark, but still fast by all accounts, dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in a mere 3.8 seconds.
The ‘Cluster Architecture’ of the car is the same as the combustion and PHEV 5ers - BMW hasn’t moved to a bespoke EV structure just yet, insisting spinning multiple powertrain types off one platform is the right way to go for now. And so, the body looks mostly the same as combustion 5-series models.
It gets blanked-off kidney grilles that are small by modern BMW standards but still frigging huge, some sharp creases down the sides plus ‘5’ logos in the classic Hoffmeister Kinks, and a rear that when looked at dead-on makes the 5er look narrower than it actually is. We wouldn’t call it ugly, but it’s not classically handsome like the old E39 5-series, either. Perhaps it’ll look better as it ages, like the E60.
The interior owes a lot to the bigger, more expensive i7. It doesn’t feel far off as plush and luxurious, either. BMW reckons the 5er blends the sporty nature of the 3-series and the swankiness of the 7 (we’re paraphrasing a touch), and on the latter front, it certainly nails the brief.
It’s not just a question of the material choice or the way everything’s screwed together. On the move, the i5 is supremely wafty, effortlessly gliding over the road surface and lowering your heart rate in the process. Refinement is properly sorted, too, which is no mean feat when there isn’t an engine to drown out road noise. We drove the i7 M70 on the same launch in Portugal, and the i5 didn’t suffer by comparison.
But how about when you want to pretend you’re in a 3-series? That’s where the i5 isn’t quite as successful. It certainly feels fast, of course, but as is often the case with EVs, there’s that big initial hit as the torque is deployed instantaneously, followed by a linear sensation of acceleration that dulls the impression of speed.
You can jazz things up with some help from Hans Zimmer. Yes, the same bloke that Christopher Nolan likes to use to soundtrack his films. BMW collaborated with the film composer on the ‘BMWIconicSounds’ throttle feedback noises used by both the i5 and the PHEV 5-series models when in electric-only mode. It really does make you feel like you’re in a sci-fi film with a fantastically complicated plot, difficult-to-hear dialogue and a token 10-minute appearance from Michael Cain.
Is that something you really want to hear when driving a car, though? I’m not so sure. There are several different modes to choose from, but it’s quite nice just to turn it off completely, and enjoy the serene nature of the i5.
If you’re driving somewhat less than serenely, the i5 does a good job at hiding its weight, but only up to a point. Start to push it harder, and the i5 feels a hefty thing. The steering is quick, but devoid in terms of feedback from the road surface, and its ‘Sport’ mode is worth avoiding, as it feels a touch too heavy set thusly.
M Sport suspension comes as standard on the M60, featuring a stiffer setup that’s lower by 8mm. You can also spec active anti-roll bars on the car. Further helping the i5 change direction quickly is an optional rear-wheel steering system, but that element means the car doesn’t always react quite how you’re expecting it to. Although it’s all-wheel drive, there’s a noticeable bias towards the rear when you really hoof it out of a corner, which is exactly how things should be in a BMW.
The i5 is competent enough on a twisty road, but in terms of pure driving thrills, it comes up a little too short. It’s hard to know how differently this might play out with the PHEV and combustion models - we’ll have to wait and see.
In this pure electric format, the 5 is definitely a lot closer to being a smaller 7 than a bigger 3, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Focus on the waft, and you’ll find the i5 is rather brilliant. You just might as well do so with the i5 40, which is priced well over £20,000 less than the £96,840 M60 we’ve tried here.