I’ve been driving the new 7-series lately. Now if you read up on the technology of the 7-series, and ask a couple of the right questions of BMW engineers, then you arrive at pretty well all you need to know about the 2011 5-series.
See, BMW doesn’t talk about ‘platforms’ any more, but ‘backbones’. The next 5-series will share its backbone with the brand-new 7. A backbone amounts to the floor, the bulkhead, crash structure, suspension and electronics.
So here’s what we can say about the next 5-series. We’ll see it in late 2010 and it’ll hit the market in 2011. BMW will be busy with big launches in 2009, with the new Z4 (Geneva show) and the progressive activity sedan (PAS) about which I’ve blogged before here.
It will have most of the technical innovations of the new 7-series.
For the chassis that means double-wishbone front suspension where previous BMWs have all used struts. Adaptive damping on top versions ought to help the driving too. There’ll also be the option of electronically controlled four-wheel steering.
The old revvy BMW engines will go, in favour of the new more torquey and crucially economical turbo and twin-turbo jobs, both petrol and diesel. Look at the current 730d (it’s a brand-new six-cylinder engine), 740i six-cylinder and 750i V8 for technical details, and for smaller engines the 123d shows the way.
And there’ll be at least two hybrids, full and mild.
A comfort/normal/sport/sport+ switch on the console will let you choose between settings for the adaptive suspension, DSC thresholds, throttle response and steering setup.
The options list will be techy enough for anyone. It’ll include iDrive with full live internet – though only when you’re not driving. And radar cruise control with automatic brake to stop. Also night vision with pedestrian recognition – that’s recogition of the presence of a pedestrian as in ‘there’s a pedestrian over there you’d better avoid’ rather than recognition of the individual as in ‘there’s a pedestrian and it’s definitely Ant or maybe Dec so do you want to run him over?’.
Much of the outer panelwork will be aluminium to save weight. And the design will have fuller, more curvy surfaces like the new seven.
Inside, again you can look to the 7-series for the way the iDrive and switchgear will evolve. In fact about the only thing iDrive has in common now with the ghastly early versions is the name.
By the way, we’ll learn more about how this backbone works as a smaller car next year, when the PAS arrives. That has the footprint of a 5-series, but it’s a bit taller. About half-way between a five-series and an X6 in height in fact. Blimey BMW is cutting the market into smaller slices these days.
So in all there are four cars with this backbone: 7, the next 5, the next 6 and the PAS (confession: I implied before, wrongly, that the PAS was on the current 5 underpinnings). The lovely CS would have been too big to fit this new backbone, which is why it was too expensive for the current climate and has been canned.
So much for the technical details. What does it mean? More of an emphasis on relaxed performance rather than pure driving, I suspect. BMW’s chief engineer Klaus Draeger told me, ‘Freude am Fahren [BMW’s German slogan that translates literally as Joy of Driving but Anglophone BMW advertisers adopt as The Ultimate Driving Machine] has changed over the years. It was about power, brakes, lightness. In a new 7-series, pleasure is about elegance, equipment, low consumption, comfort…’
I’m not at all sure I like the sound of that. All a bit Benz isn’t it?