Executive Express: Driving the BMW G30 540i

Has it been that long already? With the keys to a brand new G30 in my hand, i tried my best to recall the last time i drove the previous generation 5-Series on its debut and realised 7 quick years have already gone by. If anything, i think it speaks volumes of BMW’s designers for penning a car that while looking rather “safe” on launch, still appears modern by today’s standards. Enough reminiscing, it’s time to move on.

The last we drove a G30, it was just a couple of months ago on our visit to Germany and we were mighty impressed with its autobahn storming abilities even in 530i trim. Our test car for today is not a 530i but a rather well specced out 540i with BMW’s glorious and award winning TwinPower Turbo Straight 6 under the hood.

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Aesthetically, most critics have pointed out how “safe” BMW designers have once again gone when reworking one of their most important products, i know this because i was one of those critics when i first saw photos of the car with one of the key complaints being how similar the new car looked with its predecessor. In the flesh though, it’s a different story. I managed to park our 540i next to an F10 and though the basic silhouette might share a number of similarities, there is no mistaking the new car from it’s older brother with the new car appearing much sportier.

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Of particular interest is the double shoulder line we first saw on the G11/G12 7 Series, playing with light and shadows to give it a very dynamic forward-facing side profile, all the while avoiding current automotive design trends of horrifically disjointed body surfaces.

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Until the launch of the M5, and unless you don’t mind special ordering a 550i, the 540i remains the flagship 5 in Singapore’s stable and as such, comes standard with M Sport goodies.

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This means sculpted bumpers with larger intakes, sideskirts, shadow line trim and handsome 20″ shoes enveloping a set of blue calipered M Sport brakes. Giving this car a much more aggressive attitude and stance when compared with the standard car. Visually it’s ace and i highly recommend checking the M Sport Exterior Package for anyone ordering a brand new 5 Series.

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Our test car also came in a brilliant Bluestone Metallic hue, i would have preferred Alpine White but this comes a very close second.

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Inside, it’s once again typical BMW ergonomics paired with beautiful materials and a high level of build quality. Our press car came with Dakota leather and wood trim but all local customers will instead receive Nappa leather and aluminium interior trim. While we do love Nappa, i’m guessing there might be some customers who would (haha), prefer wooden trim. So do speak to your sales representative if you so choose.

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One common complaint i’ve been hearing with regards to BMW’s interior design is how uninspired they look, especially when put next to their rivals. While i do agree that some of their competition have more interesting looking interiors, i challenge anyone to close their eyes and find specific controls in any of those cars and then do the same in a BMW.

I dare say the ergonomics in BMWs are second to none and in an interior cabin, their philosophy of form following function pays dividends when it comes to the driving experience.

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Our G30 also comes with BMW’s latest I-Drive system and looks to be even newer than the system we tested in Germany just a few months ago and it is a peach to use. Once again, i challenge anyone to find a better automotive infotainment system on the market right now.

As a user-experience and user-interface designer, i love how much thought went into creating this system and it is really beautifully designed and extremely user friendly. On our ConnectedDrive equipped car, the I-Drive is able to bring up various real-time related information, from traffic to weather and even news which you can get the car to read out to you with rather confusing and sometimes hilarious effect.

With virtually zero lag when scrolling through the various menus, this is a really lovely and intuitive infotainment system to use. The best part about it? The thought that future cars down the line will have such a system.

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Our car also comes equipped with remote control parking, we’ve seen this on the various 7s we’ve tested and it’s basically the same setup. If you so fancy, you can walk your car as a party trick if you choose to but it will auto stop after a set distance. What is new though is Remote 3D View, which projects an augmented exterior view of your car which you can access on your mobile via an app. Just in case you forget where you parked it. Unfortunately if your car is parked deep within the caverns of a subterranean carpark, you might be out of luck as the system requires a mobile phone network to function.

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Another new feature which we first tested in Germany is a suite of very impressive driving assistant systems aptly named CoPilot Driver Assistance. Included in this system is the Active Cruise Control, Steering and Lane Control Assistance, Lane Keeping Assistance and finally, Lane Departure and Lane Change Warning.

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While the Lane Departure and Lane Change Warning systems are rather self explanatory, the more interesting assistant features are the Active Cruise Control and the Steering and Lane Control Assistance.

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With all the systems turned on, you can pretty much let the car do almost all the driving, with the car keeping your speed and safe following distances in check and at the same time performs minute steering inputs to keep the in the middle of your lane even on bends and coming to full stops when required. Yes we tried, yes it works, yes it’s amazing. Unfortunately this is a (S$13,800) optional spec for local cars but if you have the means, we highly recommend it.

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So now we’ve covered how high-tech this new 5er is, it’s time to get to the single most important part of every BMW. How does it drive and does all that tech get in the way of driver involvement?

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When we first drove the previous generation 535i, it was a fantastic leap in performance from the naturally aspirated cars that came before it and while the same leap in performance cannot be said for this new iteration, this car does feel lighter on its feet and is able to hustle very quickly when pushed. With 340 horses and 450Nm of torque available with a flex of your right foot, it is very easy to reach socially unacceptable levels of speed when required. With more power and less weight (up to 100kg less) to carry around, the century mark comes up in a rather brisk 5.1 seconds and will no doubt pull like a freight train up to its limited 250km/h top speed. We’re guessing if the limiter could be bypassed, 300km/h can be easily reached and breached.

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Outright speed and power are of course fine and dandy, but BMWs are really not just about straight line performance, they have to handle as well and while i have no complaints about the chassis and rather excellent dynamics, it does fall short once again on absolute steering feel. Turn in though sharp remains somewhat vague on feel, you sort of turn the car in trusting in what you know it can do rather than feeling for it, if you know what i mean. Of course steering weight can be augmented with the Driving Experience Controls but does not improve feel by much.

Overall, while we know and acknowledge that it’ll sit at the top of its class when it come to driving dynamics, if you were to ask us for a single sentence to sum up the driving experience, it’d be this. It’s not a car you’d wake up early on a weekend to bring out for drives, but it IS a car you’d happily take a longer route to go home with.

So now having driven both the 530i and 540i, which would we recommend? It will have to be the 530i. It provides just as much thrills through the corners (maybe slightly more with less weight up front), gives enough oomph to power through most traffic situations and to us at least, represents the best value proposition saving you over S$70,000 excluding future tax and fuel savings.

While the new 540i is a great car, the 530i is overall the better package. Do remember to spec the M Sport exterior trim and CoPilot Driver Assistance.

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