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BMW i5 first drive: The BMW 5 series goes fully electric (and we go hands-on)

Familiar form factor and a new electric drivetrain

BMW i5 front view
Dave McQuilling / The Manual

As with many other manufacturers, BMW feels the future is electric and is in the process of electrifying its entire offering. Following on from the i3 and the i7, the latest Bimmer to get the EV treatment is the highly popular BMW 5 series. And everything has gone pretty much as you would expect.

The rear-wheel drive i5 is a quick and punchy vehicle. Unlike previous gas-powered 5 series models, the phenomenal amount of torque generated by the i5’s electric motor keeps the sedan pinned to the road at almost any speed. If the standard vehicle and its sub-6 second 0-60 times aren’t enough for you, you can even opt for an M-package right out of the gate, adding a second motor, boosting power, and bringing all-wheel drive (“xDrive” in BMW parlance) into the mix. The M version has been named the M60 xDrive, nodding toward its four-wheel capability, while the basic electric model is the eDrive40.

Beyond the power train, BMW has added a lot to its new 5 series. A redesigned infotainment system keeps you on track, its upholstery has the potential to ease your conscience, and you’ll have an easy time keeping it charged.

BMW i5 on the Roadside
Dave McQuilling / The Manual

BMW i5 performance: No alarms, and no surprises

The motor in the i5 eDrive40 produces 335 horsepower and can get the car from 0-60 in as little as 5.7 seconds. The more powerful, all-wheel drive “M” version cranks out just shy of 600 horsepower and can hit 60 from a dead stop in 3.7 seconds.

Despite the pace, where you’ll really notice the difference is in the hills. There’s no waiting around for the power to kick in; the electric 5-series shoots off like it’s on a flat piece of road, no matter what the gradient. Torque comes in at 295 and 596 lb-ft, respectively. If you really want to open the taps, you’ll find a boost tab behind the steering wheel. Hit that, and the i5 will give you everything its motor (or motors in the case of the M60 xDrive) has for around 10 seconds; it’s essentially slipping the car into “sport mode” for a short amount of time. This is more than enough to hit top speed relatively quickly on a clear, and hopefully straight, stretch of road.


In terms of handling, the all-wheel drive M60 xDrive inspires more confidence, but the torque available to the eDrive40 means it is far more stable than you would expect a rear-wheel drive vehicle to be. Even when driven hard, it offers no suggestion that the grip may run out at some point, at least not on dry roads anyway. So if you’re debating the upgrade based on drive type, then the conditions you’ll be using the vehicle in should factor into the decision more than the raw performance aspect.

Sport steering with a variable ratio is now standard on the 5 Series, and contributes greatly to the vehicle’s all-round drivability and performance. The test drives we took part in involved plenty of cornering on winding Portuguese country roads and navigating the tight, blind corners you often see in many European villages built long before cars were dreamt up. The i5 handled everything thrown at it impeccably.


The performance aspect is also present at the charging station. With a Level 3 charger, you can go from 10% to 80% in around half an hour. The eDrive40 will go for 309 to 361 miles before its charge is depleted, though to hit the top end of this, you may have to drop it into the new, and quite uncomfortable, “MAX RANGE” mode. This disables a lot of the comfort features like climate control and heated seats; it also caps the vehicle’s top speed at 56 mph. However, it may help you limp to a charging station if you make a miscalculation on a long trip. The M60 xDrive has a similar system available, though its range sits between 282 and 320 miles on a full charge.

iDrive 8.5
Dave McQuilling / The Manual

BMW 5 series: New features stand out

Although it’s an optional extra and part of the “Driving Assistance Professional Package,” BMW’s new highway assistant is arguably the standout comfort feature of the new 5 Series. It allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel as the vehicle cruises along at up to 85 mph. If the road user in front is traveling a little slower than the speed limit, overtaking with Highway Assistant is as simple as looking in the relevant side mirror, provided the car has deemed that overtaking is safe. This system is legal throughout the U.S. and our hands-on (or hands-off, to be specific) time with it left us convinced that it may be one of the best systems you can get until full self-driving becomes a thing.

The infotainment system

Beyond the premium driving features is the upgraded infotainment system. The i5 we drove uses iDrive 8.5 on its 14.9-inch curved central display. The biggest change here is the addition of maps and navigation to the home screen. Users also have a sidebar that can be loaded with their favorite apps. So navigating the menus while continuing to head in the right direction has never been easier.

There are plenty of entertainment options when you’re not driving

When parked, there are a good number of entertainment options in the vehicle. AirConsole, YouTube, TiVo, and the Bundesliga are all among the app offerings. AirConsole, in particular, offers a good array of games and can help whittle away the time at a charging station. While you can’t play AAA titles on it, there are a good few gaming options. One of them looks a bit like Mario Kart if you want to keep driving while parked.

Then there are the usual comfort features, like heated or cooled seats and a heated steering wheel. These aren’t included as standard but may be worth the extra cash if you live in a particularly warm or cold climate.

BMW i5 Rear
Dave McQuilling / The Manual

The BMW 5 series has the right look

Despite the new drivetrain and arguably smaller carbon footprint, you can still tell this is a 5-Series. It has that executive car feel while also looking pretty aggressive. The overall profile risks sliding into muscle car territory while maintaining that European performance feel. The iconic kidney grille, which is technically as redundant as tailpipes on an EV, appears and can be lit up if that’s your thing. For some reason, BMW has chosen to emboss the number five close to the rear windows. Probably to remind everyone it’s a 5-Series.

Rims range from 19 to 21 inches, and you’ll need to keep a pair of high-performance tires on them if you don’t want to dent the 0-60 times. The styling of the rims fits the overall vehicle well (image at the top of this article) — again, it’s quite aggressive. The narrow taillights (above) set it all off, and the new i5 looks just as great from the back as it does from the front.

On the interior, you’ll encounter a new, high-tech steering wheel. It has a good array of buttons and makes navigating through the car’s more basic functions easier. Haptic feedback offers confirmation without forcing the driver to take their eyes off the road. Vital information, like speed and mileage, is conveyed on a 12.3-inch driver’s display. A 14.9-inch curved central display gives the driver’s seat a cockpit-like feel and is used for everything else.

That said, if touchscreens and menus aren’t your thing, BMW’s iconic dial on the i5’s center console can be used to navigate the screen to set and adjust the car’s features.

BMW i5 Interior
Dave McQuilling / The Manual

It’s green, inside and out

In a previous life, BMW developed a reputation as a company that will help you power through a gas tank in record time. Its cars weren’t inefficient, per se, but they often housed very large engines, and its customers were often found driving said cars in a less-than-economical manner. Now the German automotive manufacturer is attempting to shed that image and become known as one of the most eco-friendly vehicle producers on earth — without going as far as to tell its customers to ease off on the accelerator.

That’s the logic behind electrification in gneral, and it’s the thinking behind one of the i5’s interior options. Drivers can now choose to have the interior of their vehicle clad entirely in “vegan leather,” which BMW claims has a fraction of the carbon footprint of its animal-based counterparts.

Beyond the upholstery, “sport” seats come as standard, with customers needing to opt into the “comfort” versions. There may be no need, though, as the sports options are very comfortable on their own, especially when paired with the suspension BMW has added to its i5. Even in “sport” mode, long-distance cruising on relatively well-maintained roads is an absolute breeze.

The new 5 series is exactly what you picture when someone tells you they’ve electrified an i5. It’s a more fun, more drivable version of the i7, just as the gas version has always been a sportier version of the 7 Series, while maintaining some of its formality. The M package is also worth the upgrade as it brings a lot of performance to the table. BMW’s i5 eDrive40 starts at $66,800, and the basic M60 xDrive begins at $84,100. Both vehicles carry a $995 destination and handling fee.

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