MIRAMAS, France – The BMW i5 – the electric-powered version of the German automaker's upcoming eighth-generation 5-Series – is nearing the end of a three-year development program, with an unveiling planned for May.
It is still at a final prototype stage of engineering, but Wards can confirm the 4-door aims to challenge the Mercedes-Benz EQE sedan and Porsche Taycan with a choice of either a headlining 590-hp dual-motor all-wheel-drive or 355-hp rear-wheel-drive powertrain.
All 5-Series models, gas and electric, will be revealed in May and will go on sale in September in North America. But it is the electric-powered i5 that BMW chooses to give us for our first drive of the crucial midrange model at its test track here.
It is BMW’s eighth electric-powered model, following the i3 hatchback, iX3, iX, i4, Chinese-market i3 sedan, iX1 and i7.
BMW is withholding the i5’s dimensions. But expect a car that is longer, wider and higher than the outgoing seventh-generation 5-Series. It also rides on a longer wheelbase and adopts wider tracks both front and rear, says the i5’s project leader, Andreas Holzinger.
Inside, the i5 adopts a dashboard layout similar to the i7, with a freestanding curved digital panel housing the instrument and infotainment displays and a thick-rim, multifunction steering wheel among the key interfaces.
It also receives iDrive 8.5, the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive control and operating system. Based on Linux software code, it supports a new menu layout, including a home screen designed to simplify operation through the use of widgets. It also provides for greater customization and reconfiguring of various digital functions. A smartphone can be linked either via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
As a claimed world first, the i5 and its 5-Series sibling will come with an optional Automated Lane Change function. Part of an updated Highway Assist system (pictured, below), it allows hands-free lane changes triggered by the driver looking into the side mirrors.
The i5 is based on a modified version of the Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform that underpins BMW’s other eighth-generation ICE 5-Series models as well as the X3 and iX3, 3-Series and i3 sedan, 4-Series and i4, X5 and iX and the i7 and 7-Series, giving BMW valuable economies of scale and production flexibility across a wide range of models.
The steel and aluminum structure houses an 81-kWh lithium-ion battery that operates at 400V, providing the i5 with a significantly more rigid bodyshell than the 5-Series, BMW says.
There will be two i5 models from the start of sales later this year. Included is the performance-oriented all-wheel-drive i5 M60 and the altogether milder i5 eDrive40. The former uses two synchronous electric motors, one on each axle, for a combined output of 590 hp, with the latter’s single rear-mounted motor making 335 hp.
Each has different driving characteristics. However, it is the i5 M60 that steals the show, with the sort of performance and dynamic qualities to challenge the best of the electric-powered sedan competition.
There is explosive acceleration on a loaded throttle. The initial pickup is very intense. There are notably muscular qualities to the midrange, where the BMW gathers speed with great zeal and offers huge overtaking potential.
BMW is yet to provide official performance figures but expect the i5 M60 to hit 62 mph (100 km/h) in under 4.0 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 140 mph (225 km/h).
The handling balance is terrifically neutral in Sport mode and the standard dynamic stability control setting, with strong levels of front-end grip and a low center of gravity providing it with very agile properties. A combination of heavy damping and highly effective roll stabilization suppresses pitch and roll. There is a firm feel to the ride, but excellent shock absorption means the BMW rarely needs one compression and rebound stroke to dispatch bumps and potholes.
As convincing as the i5 M60 is, though, it’s the i5 eDrive40 that is likely to find favor with a greater majority of buyers. With 335 hp, there is still plenty of performance, but it is more restrained in character. Without a front electric motor, it steers with added precision. The rear-wheel-drive layout also provides it with greater efficiency and more range.
BMW quotes a range of between 271 and 321 miles (436 and 517 km) for the i5 M60, with the i5 eDrive40 offering between 290 and 362 miles (467 and 583 km) on the WLTP test procedure. Charging of the battery can be achieved at 11 kW on an AC system, and at up to 200 kW on a DC charger.
BMW’s electric models have taken large strides in recent years. The i5 sedan builds solidly on the foundations laid by other CLAR-based models to offer a level of completeness that, even in prototype form, looks set to place it at the leading edge of the BEV ranks.