FIRST DRIVE: 2017 BMW 5 Series

While Audi’s A6 sits idly by, its competitors are getting younger. First, it was the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which debuted early last year and brings S-Class levels of luxury and technology to the midsize luxury segment. But most recently, BMW launched its sixth-generation of 5 Series and it poses a bit threat to the Audi A6.

BMW invited us to the usually-beautiful San Francisco to test the new 5 Series. We drove on some highways, all the way north to the beautifully scenic twisty roads of Napa Valley. It was a great mix of driving that really helped us get an idea of what this new 5 Series is like. The best car in the current 5 Series lineup, and the one that poses the biggest threat to the Audi A6, is the BMW 540i M Sport.

There is a BMW 530i that acts as the 5 Series’ entry-level option in North America and it will compete with the Audi A6 2.0T. However, both of those cars are just lease specials to appease customers who want nothing more than a premium badge and smooth ride. The Audi A6 3.0T is the most popular A6 variant and deservedly so. The supercharged 3.0 liter V6 in the A6 3.0T is a gem of a motor with 333 hp. But now it’s going to have to contend with the new BMW 540i and its 340 hp 3.0 liter turbocharged I6.

From the outside, the new BMW 5 Series is significantly improved over the model it replaces. While the old car is still quite handsome, it’s definitely getting old. This new car looks much better, with new headlights that meet the signature BMW Kidney Grilles and taillights that are a lo prettier than the old car’s. It also looks more muscular and aggressive than the old car. Which is good.

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On the inside, BMW gave the 5 Series an interior that’s incredibly similar to the flagship 7 Series, except we thing it’s better from the driver’s seat. There’s something about the slightly tighter cabin in the 5 Series that gives this interior design a better look. It also feels fantastic. The build quality is superb and every bit as good as a car wearing a six-figure price tag. BMW really nailed it with this interior.

Then there’s the technology inside of it. With BMW’s latest iDrive system, the 5 Series boasts the best infotainment system on the planet. We love Audi’s MMI and Virtual Cockpit, but the 5er has Audi beat at the moment. iDrive is incredibly easy to use, with multiple redundant ways to control it. You can use the typical rotary controller, the new touchscreen capability, steering wheel controls and even Gesture Control, which allows the front passengers to control the infotainment system with hand gestures in front of the screen. So you can make clockwise or counter-clockwise swirls to change the volume, do a two-finger stab that has a customizable function or swipe away incoming phone calls. It all works really well and the only thing that Audi has on this new BMW system is the brilliant Virtual Cockpit.

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But it really all comes down to the way it drives. With light, delicate and precise steering, the new 5 Series probably has the best steering feel in the segment. While we love the A6, its steering is far too numb and that’s probably our biggest complaint with it. The new 5 Series admittedly has much better steering than the current A6. Its chassis is superb as well, as it handles fast left/right changes in direction with ease and excitement.

However, the best part of the new BMW 540i is its engine. That 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 is a sweetheart. We’ve driven BMW’s B58 engine before and it’s brilliant. It’s as smooth as a turbine, makes a great growly noise and pulls like a freight train. Audi might have to start getting nervous. The new BMW 540i can get from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, according to BMW, but we suspect it could be quicker than that, especially with xDrive all-wheel drive.

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We’d have to get the new 540i back-to-back with an Audi A6 3.0T to see which is better but we’re thinking the 5er will likely take the win. Not that the Audi A6 is a bad car, far from it, but it’s just far too old to take on the brand-spankin-new BMW 5 Series.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.