BMW i5 M60 xDrive first drive: great EV, but is it a great 5 Series?

David Linklater
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BMW milestones and the 5 Series just go together. It’s 51 years old believe it or not, launched back in 1972 – the same year that BMW built its now-iconic “four cylinder” head office in Munich and the same year BMW Motorsport was born.

BMW i5 M60 xDrive.
Eighth-gen 5 Series is bigger, but the profile is still very familiar.

As a relevant aside, ’72 was also a landmark year for BMW EVs: the Olympic Games were held in Munich just across the road from that new HQ and the company developed the 1602e Elecktro-Antrieb, a pure-electric version of its popular small-car to ferry VIPs around.

Throw that lot together, shake it up a bit and this might pop out: the new eighth-generation BMW 5 Series, being launched in New Zealand only with a pure-electric powertrain and only in high-performance M60 specification. It’s the first-ever pure-electric Five.

Let’s answer the two most obvious questions first. Yes, there are combustion-engine versions in Europe and even a PHEV on the way, but BMW reckons battery electric vehicle (BEV) power is the best choice for the Kiwi market right now. And no, it’s not a full M-car; this is an M Performance machine, fettled by the Motorsport division but sans the full tri-colour credentials. It has the tri-colour badge, of course; that’s a very visible and valuable marketing opportunity.

BMW i5 M60 xDrive.
There are still ICE 5 Series models in Europe, but ours is electric only.

It looks quite 5-Series-traditional, which we rather like. You still get the wide kidney grille, although it’s blanked off in the i5 and you get the obligatory premium-BEV illuminated border.

Yank the Boost paddle and you get max-attack power for 10sec - and some extra Hans Zimmer noise to go with it.

It’s an M60 so it’s crazy fast: the 84kWh battery feeds dual electric motors that give a total of 442kW/820Nm and 0-100km/h in just 3.8sec, although to access that you need to be in the right mode. Or simply yank the Boost paddle, which gives you max-attack for 10sec and some extra Hans Zimmer noise to go with it. The i5 M60 is still still not quite as fast as the current (but technically now previous-gen) M5 Competition, which has 460kW and can do the sprint in 3.3sec. You have to have an M pecking order, after all

There’s Integral Active Steering (rear-steer in other words), active suspension with lightning-quick anti-roll function and M Sport brakes.

BMW i5 M6 xDrive.
Plenty of heritage in 5 Series, but i5 is also a showcase for BMW technology.

There’s everything in other words, including 40 exterior cameras/sensors and 40 individual pieces of driver assistance and/or active safety equipment. Want us to list them all? Thought not.

Much of the tech is bewildering on first acquaintance, but then ownership of a car like this is a whole different story and there’s time to learn it all. BMWs are supposed to be techy.

There’s YouTube video streaming available on that lovely big screen but the AirConsole platform now also allows gaming.

There are a few gems that jump out straight away though, like the new Parking Assistant Professional that expands significantly on the automated parking/Reverse Assistant we’re familiar with. For example, it can now remember up to 200m of your previous manoeuvre (50m in other BMWs) and repeat that route in reverse. Remote parking (like, you can stand outside the car) can now be activated on your mobile phone; previously you needed a special key.

BMW i5 M60 xDrive.
Interior now offers video streaming and gaming. Oh, and a steering wheel and pedals and stuff.

Or how about in-car gaming? There’s YouTube video streaming available on that lovely big screen but the AirConsole platform now also allows gaming, using occupants’ mobile phones as controllers. This is still being finessed with the Personal eSIM required, so we didn’t get a look at it during the launch, but BMW NZ reckons it’ll be up and running for the first customers.

Sportiness is a big part of the heritage and expectation surrounding any Five, and that’s the challenge for a 2.4-tonne EV.

Some of the i5’s design and technology is familiar from the super-luxury i7, although this is a smaller, sportier car. Not a vastly cheaper one, though. Base price is $196,900, but it’s pretty easy to tip it over into the $200k bracket with the $4700 M Sport Plus package, which brings more exterior enhancement (red brake calipers, black-gloss trim, carbon elements). There’s also a $2300 Comfort package (heated steering wheel and rear seats, less aggressive front chairs, roller blinds).

The 5 Series has become bigger in this generation: 97mm longer, 32mm wider and riding on a 20mm-longer wheelbase. So some of the focus is on maximum presence and luxury.

BMW i5 M60 xDrive.
High tech means a high price: the i5 M60 starts at nearly $200k.

But sportiness is also a big part of the heritage and expectation surrounding any Five, and that’s the challenge for a 2.4-tonne EV.

In an M Performance context, it feels like BMW has nailed this one. There are plenty of premium BEVs that are insanely fast and AWD grippy, but after spending a day tripping all over Central Otago we’re pretty impressed with the car’s steering, power delivery and nuanced chassis. Put the brutal performance potential aside and this is still a real driver’s car.

Yep, we know what you’re going to say: a lot of that is achieved with software. And it is. But so what? That’s the future of performance cars, where electronics play as much of a part as old-school engineering (the i5 has that, too, though).

BMW i5 M60 xDrive.
Electric i5 still delivers everything expected of a 5 Series.

The i5 will be a niche player in NZ. BMW sold less than 50 previous-gen Fives last year, so this new one doesn’t have a lot of volume expectation to carry. But as a new generation for an iconic series and a high-end element of a BMW BEV portfolio that will number 12 individual models next year, it keeps a certain spirit alive while bringing an iconic model name into the space age. It’s a really impressive EV; but more importantly, a really impressive 5 Series.

BATTERY: 84kWh battery with dual electric motors
POWER: 442kW/820Nm
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 3.8sec
RANGE: 516km (WLTP), maximum charge rate 205kW
PRICE: $196,900

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