Prototype Drive: The future looks bright for BMW’s upcoming i5

The 5 Series enters into an electric era with the new i5. Jack Evans gets behind the wheel of an early prototype.

The BMW 5 Series has proven to be a remarkably popular car for the brand. As well as becoming a household name, more than 10 million examples have been sold worldwide since 1972, spanning seven generations in the process. Throughout that time the 5 Series has established a reputation for delivering both sportiness and comfort, which is a tricky cocktail to mix.

Now, we’re onto the new eighth-generation 5 Series. As well as traditional petrol and diesel versions, this latest incarnation will see the arrival of a very special 5 Series – the electric i5. We’ve been behind the wheel of a prototype version to see what we might find when it arrives in full production form later this year.

As you can see from the images, the cars we were given were clad in heavy camouflage, so we can’t comment on the exterior design of the new 5 Series. However, we were told that the cars were near production-ready in terms of dynamics and driving styles, so there’s a good deal to dig into with this new i5.

Photos: PA Media

It’s a car which is set to debut with some clever new features, too. A highlight is a new Automated Lane Change which, in conjunction with Level 2 autonomous capability, allows you to drive with your hands away from the wheel and even change lanes simply by looking into the side mirrors following a prompt on the dash. We’re told that BMW is awaiting approval for its use in Germany, but it’s expected that this function could be rolled out on all i5 models soon.

The i5 uses a wholeheartedly clever architecture. The ‘regular’ eDrive40 which we drove – alongside a short test of the performance M60 XDrive version – is rear-wheel-drive as you might expect a BMW to be, with a healthy 321bhp being sent to the wheels. Underneath we’ve got clever active roll stabilisation which helps the car to remain flat in the bends, while air suspension on the rear axle enables it to bring a comfortable ride too.

Clever tyres with foam insulation which helps to reduce in-cabin noise are fitted too, while production versions of the i5 will get Air Performance wheels which help to reduce drag. The all-important range? BMW states that the i5 should manage up to 361 miles, while it also says that it should be able to charge at over 200kW – super speedy, then.

Though the outside might be fully covered and the interior mostly shrouded in black coverings to stop us from seeing the basic design of the cabin, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that this was a prototype through the way it drives. The i5 steers, corners and accelerates in superb fashion, with great agility despite its relatively large size. There’s some real performance here, too, and to use the i5 feels as-quick as a usual 3.0-litre straight-six petrol version.

What really impresses, however, is the ride. Electric cars sometimes struggle to dial out their extra weight (brought on as a result of the batteries) but there’s none of that here. The only time the i5 felt remotely unsettled was over some seriously potholed sections, but for all other areas it remains really comfortable yet without being overly-soft at the detriment of the body control. It’s going to prove very easy to get along with over long distances, that’s for sure.

Of course, we can’t comment much on the way the i5 looks. However, it does incorporate plenty of range-boosting measures to make sure it gets the last out of very kWh, so there’s active vent control which opens and closes areas of the bodywork depending on the driving situation while the wheels, which we’ve touched upon, help to ‘smooth’ out the car and make the whole exterior as slippery as possible.

And estate fans, fear not, there’s going to be Touring version of the i5 too, so if you’re after a more practical version then you’re in luck.

Much the same as the exterior, the majority of this prototype’s exterior was shrouded to prevent us from seeing too much. There was, however, a decent amount of both leg- and headroom inside, though a transmission hump remains in the rear since this car will still be offered with usual petrol and diesel engines.

There’s a good boot, too, which is square but easy to access. We can’t state an exact figure for the boot size, but it appeared to be pretty much line with the load area you’d get in the previous-generation 5 Series.

BMW hasn’t announced specifications or trims for the 5 Series just yet, but we know that it’ll run the firm’s newest Operating System 8.5, which will bring a broader variety of functions and systems than the previous setup. It also comes with a huge number of assistance systems, too, such as the aforementioned Automated Lane Change and highway assist, as well as active cruise control with traffic light recognition.

It has also been engineered to meet 2023 Euro NCAP safety regulations, with an on-board system which is better at recognising scooters and motorcycles. It’s also able to autonomous apply the emergency brakes when reversing – something many of the latest cars only do when travelling forwards.

The i5 feels like it’s already on its way to big things. The key factor here is that it feels like a BMW first and foremost and then an electric car afterwards. It’s not just a battery attached to a car for the sake of it; it still rides and steers just as you’d expect a BMW to do.

Providing BMW delivers on the cabin front – and with the exterior design, too – we’re quite sure that the i5 will go on to be a hugely popular EV and one which perfectly lines up with the 5 Series models which preceded it.

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