In the same way that Toyota was the poster child for hybrids, BMW is rapidly becoming the equivalent for electric vehicles (EVs) in the premium market. Tesla might grab attention around the world and Audi and Mercedes are doing their best, but BMW is really charging ahead.
The Neue Klasse revealed at the beginning of the year in concept form is on its way in 2025 and will produce a number of models, starting with a sports activity vehicle (SAV). There will be a 3 Series-sized version on the platform too, and while BMW won’t confirm that it will be called the i3, it’s a fairly easy guess.
Already, there are electric versions of the X1 and X3, the iX2 is on the way, and you can have an i4 or the boardroom electrician, the i7. It’s no surprise therefore, that with the advent of the new 8th-generation 5 Series, there is a pure battery-electric version in the form of the i5.
We recently drove the i5 eDrive 40 and the i5 M60 xDrive, but only the latter is heading to SA and will arrive in November 2023, priced from R2,190,000. The numbers are impressive, with 442kW and 795Nm of torque, 45Nm more than the current M5. It’s quick — phenomenally quick in fact — but we’ll come back to that.
BMW has been making some interesting and controversial calls when it comes to styling lately, but Bavarian Motor Works didn’t want to take any risks with its popular executive sedan. The exterior design of the new 5 Series is very much evolutionary with a bit of chiselling, a few more aerodynamic appendages and generally a look that keeps it fresh in the face of increasing competition.
Inside is a different story, with elements like the glitzy interactive bar across the middle of the dashboard and door panels, the same as in the new 7 Series. The latest BMW Operating System 8.5 features wide dual screens that make up the infotainment panel and the instrument cluster.
Sadly, the drive mode selector has gone and been replaced by a “My Modes” button with the choices now in the touchscreen. It’s not just comfort or sport anymore either; now there is a Calm mode, Expressive and even Digital Art. Each comes with its own sounds that vary depending on your acceleration or mood. In some cases, they just feel gimmicky, like the Expressive mode, which initially sounds like you haven’t seen a train coming at you with its horn going or a police car behind you. Others are less so, but most do actually alter the driving experience somewhat, and you can always programme a favourites button on the steering wheel for the one you use most often.
The interior space and comfort is superb, with loads of room in the back seats, and the boot space is good at 490l. Beneath a rather thin panel is further space for charging cables and other oddments. Speaking of thin, BMW has worked hard to keep the weight down to 2,380kg. This is most obvious in the indicator stalk, which lacks any BMW feeling of solidity and instead feels like a piece of hollow, lightweight plastic. There are other areas too, like the cover on the electric motor beneath the bonnet, which is so light and flimsy you can flex it like a cover on a paddling pool. Is it cost-cutting or is it weight reduction? Probably a bit of both.
Where BMW hasn’t cut back is on comfort or performance. The i5 M60 feels every bit the executive sedan, comfortable and relaxed on the commute or while enjoying a quiet drive through rural villages or in town. I’m not a fan of the thickness of the steering wheel, which feels like a circular swimming pool noodle, but engage the cruise control, keep both hands on the wheel and let the kilometres slip by. While you’re at it, try the Lane Change Assistant, because finally BMW seems to have got that right.
What it has really got right, though, is the devil inside the i5, which emerges when you push down on the accelerator, engage the sport mode, or hit the paddle marked “Boost” on the steering wheel. It will launch to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, five tenths slower than the M5, but it does it with superb confidence and without the feeling that you need to recover your face from the back seats. It can keep doing it too, the xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD) system providing impressive adhesion to the tarmac as you enter and exit each corner. BMW doesn’t make the i8 anymore, but it has engineered the same performance into an EV that can carry four passengers and their luggage and do so even quicker and with more confidence than its innovative supercar.
Is BMW planning an i5M? Perhaps, but the i5 M60 makes me wonder how the new M5 plug-in hybrid is going to be a better option, though we do love the theatre and emotion that goes with an internal combustion-engined performance car.
The i5 M60 redefines the cliché of an iron fist in a velvet glove with supercar performance wrapped up in a comfortable, executive suit. With all this and a driving range of up to 508km, it is the benchmark sedan for the future of electric performance.