Last week I had the chance to take the new 2017 BMW 5-Series for a quick first impressions drive thanks to Abe BMW in Shinagawa, Tokyo. It was a bit of an unexpected drive as it was organised last minute by a BMW-crazy friend of mine.

Despite being exhausted and a bit light-headed after the McLaren 720S launch, I couldn’t turn down the chance to try out a new BMW. We were supposed to take a 540i out with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six out but only the entry-level 523d (known as the 520d in New Zealand) was available at the time. It’s a handsome looking car, if a bit predictably conservative in terms of styling.

While I wish I got to try the 340hp 540i, the 523d would be the one most people will buy being the least expensive and most economical in the range. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 190hp/140KW and 400NM of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed ZF auto. 0-100 km/h is done in 7.5 seconds and it’ll return a claimed 4.3L/100km. Respectable numbers but nothing to brag about to your mates at the pub.

If you want to impress them, let them feel the smooth powertrain. The diesel engine is a tad rattly but most of that can be subdued by the stop/start at idle. On the go, the torquey engine pull from as low as 1500rpm. I’m not suggesting for a minute it’s got neck-breaking performance but more than adequate for everyday use.

Behind the wheel, the new G30 5-Series disguises its size even better than its predecessor did. It feels like a much smaller car. It feels like there’s less car surrounding you, unlike in the new Mercedes E-Class for example which just feels hulking. The driving position, as you’d expect from a Bimmer, is spot on. There’s decent visibility all round and the controls are where you’d expect them. The new iDrive system is as good as ever.

There are three driving modes to choose from; Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro. Thanks to having a digital instrument display, the dials also change when you change the drive modes. In comfort you get the traditional speedo and tach dials, in Sport you get a red screen with the speed readout in the middle of a central tach. It just felt a bit too try hard for a diesel executive car.

As it was only a short city drive I couldn’t actually explore the 5’s driving dynamics. It was easy to drive and for city driving you’re never lacking in oomph. Around corners body roll is well controlled, but the steering did feel a bit too light for my liking.

The test car was equipped with the optional M-Sport Package which brings with it sportier bumper design, larger alloys, and some sporty trim inside. It also included a heads-up display which I’m always a fan of.

Some initial negatives are few. The interior is a bit too similar to current BMWs, I’d say the E-Class looks more special inside. The quality of the interior is top-notch though. The materials felt expensive and consistent. It’s also rather spacious, I was able to sit behind my own driving position with headroom and legroom to spare. The boot is also huge.

Like other BMWs the options list is also a great and tempting way to part with your cash. Things like auto park function via the key, Gesture Control, and Night Vision are all options costing thousands of dollars.

It’s also interesting BMW have the entry and mid-level cars as diesel powered and the only petrol variant (540i) is the top-spec car. Hopefully BMW will add a smaller powered petrol engine into the range in the near future.

Overall I liked the new 5-Series. It’s an evolution rather than revolution over the F10 5-Series but there’s more than enough to make it a contemporary contender in its class. It’s a shame BMW missed out on moving the game on forwards by miles. More than anything though, I learnt it’ll be a fantastic base car for the upcoming performance variants from BMW’s M Division and Alpina. I’ll definitely have to do a longer test with those cars.

Prices for the new 2017 5-Series range in New Zealand start from $99,900 for the 520d, $133,900 for the 530d, and $142,900 for the 540i.

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