When it comes to midsize luxury sedans, few pack the panache and reputation of the BMW 5 Series. It, along with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, have been the standards by which every other car of similar size and price — the Audi A6, Cadillac CTS and Lexus GS just the most notable among many — have been judged for decades.
So when a new one rolls out — even just a mid-life facelifted version — we take notice.
The 2021 BMW 5 Series doesn’t look drastically different from its predecessor, but it’s changed enough to be distinguishable from the pre-facelift version at a glance. The headlights and twin kidney grilles have been redesigned to be more similar to the current 3 Series; thankfully, the massive grille-ification that’s affected the current 7 Series and the upcoming 4 Series doesn’t seem to have affected the 5er. Surprisingly for a midlife update, the car has grown 1.2 inches (though the wheelbase appears to remain the same), giving it a sleeker profile.
Inside, the Live Cockpit Professional digital instrument panel now comes standard, as well as a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen display for the iDrive infotainment system. Apple CarPlay, blessedly, comes standard, as do navigation and Android Auto. For those who prefer to go without leather, new perforated SensaTec leatherette brings contrasting stitching for a bit more panache (though you can get leather upholstery if you want, of course).
The biggest changes, however, come under the hood, where added electric assistance comes to both the six-cylinder 540i models and the four-cylinder plug-in hybrid 530e sedans. The 540i has been upgraded to mild hybrid status, thanks to a new 48-volt electrical system connected to a starter-generator that can supplement the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with up to 11 horsepower; more importantly, though, it enables a more seamless stop/start system, which can kill the engine as the car decelerates at speeds of up to 9 mph. It also enables the gas engine to be turned off while coasting at speeds from 16 to 99 mph, both in Eco Pro and Comfort modes.
The 530e and 530e xDrive PHEVs, in turn, now combine a 181-hp turbocharged inline-four with an electric motor that’s integrated into the eight-speed automatic. A new feature called XtraBoost enables the electric motor to punch up an extra 40 hp above its sustained max of 107 hp for up to 10 seconds; so implemented, the 530e can summon up 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque for that ten-Mississippi burst.
In addition to the four-cylinder plug-in hybrid 530e and six-cylinder 540i, both of which come in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive forms, the 2021 5 Series also offers a twin-turbo V8-powred M550i, which only comes in AWD xDrive form. (We’ll have to wait for another day for updates to the M5.) Sadly, we still don’t get many of the versions available in other markets, like the 5 Series Touring station wagon body style or the 340-hp 540d turbodiesel inline-six version. But short of starting a revolution in favor of getting Americans to love diesel-powered station wagons, we’ll just have to be happy with what we have.
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