2024 BMW i5 First Drive Review: 5 Series goes electric with aplomb

LISBON, Portugal — Ah, the BMW 5 Series, the ubiquitous Bavarian business saloon. Slightly larger and perhaps more stodgy-looking than its predecessor, the 5 Series nevertheless heads into its eighth generation with BMW’s latest and greatest roster of technology, premium interior trimmings and, for the first time, a fully electric drivetrain. The 2024 i5 brings the long-serving 5er into the modern EV age.

It does so without needing to look like a melted bar of soap or space-age concept, either; the i5 is quite literally just an electric 5 Series. BMW’s approach to electrification is to develop one platform that can support a multitude of powertrains, so there’s no major visual differentiation between this EV and its gasoline counterpart, like there is between, say, a Mercedes-Benz EQE and its more staid E-Class sedan.

Ditto the interior, though the i5 comes standard with a new Veganza upholstery that – in addition to sounding like a forgotten Daewoo – is completely vegan. You’ll find this soft-touch textile on the dashboard, doors and seats, and it doesn’t preclude the i5’s chairs from being heated or cooled. I personally think it makes the i5 more interesting and comfortable. But if you simply must have leather, BMW offers a number of appealingly dyed hides.

Glass controls reinforce great attention to detail, and generally speaking, the i5’s whole vibe is that of a cleanly styled, modern sedan. The backlit pieces of trim can offer calming glows of oranges and reds, or light up like a Miami nightclub with purples and blues – whatever suits your mood. A large wireless charging pad ahead of the two individually carved-out cupholders can support two devices, with a divider down the middle, so you can match iPhone with Big Gulp. Back seat riders won’t have much to complain about, either, with lots of head- and legroom. The specs say there is an ample 17.3 cubic feet of space in the trunk, though BMW cargo specs aren’t always the most representative of the actual available space.

BMW’s updated iDrive 8.5 infotainment tech powers a 14.9-inch central touchscreen, itself housed in a large, curved display that incorporates a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. The tech works just like the unloved iDrive 8.0, but the home screen is cleaner and there’s a fixed row of hot buttons along the bottom making it easier to find the most commonly used functions. Overall, iDrive 8.5 continues to be a quick-acting and easy-to-learn system, though, my god, that main menu page continues to be an overwhelming array of little icons.

There’s a new gee-whiz feature baked into iDrive 8.5 called AirConsole, where you can scan a QR code on your phone and play all sorts of off-brand video games while the i5 is stopped. BMW says this will help people pass the time while the i5 is parked at a charging station, which is sort of the company’s way of admitting that having to sit and charge is a pain in the butt. Up to seven phones can connect and play together, not that you should ever shoehorn that many people in an i5, of course. What that really means is that AirConsole will eventually spread across BMW’s entire iDrive 8.5-powered lineup, including the seven-passenger X7.

The other major tech enhancement for the new i5 is BMW’s updated Highway Assistant – the carmaker’s answer to Ford’s BlueCruise or General Motors’ Super Cruise. Highway Assistant can now activate automated lane changes at the blink of an eye. No, literally – when the system suggests a lane change, all you have to do is glance at the right or left mirrors. It’s really quite slick.

When you’re off the highway and firmly keeping your hands on the wheel, hey hey, the i5 is pretty stinkin’ good to drive. Every i5 is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack with 81.2 kilowatt-hours of usable energy, and it can either power a single, rear-mounted motor in the i5 eDrive40, or a pair of electric drive units in the all-wheel-drive i5 M60.

There are a few chassis setups available, including an M Sport-tuned suspension with optional electronically controlled dampers. The high-performance i5 M60 also comes with 48-volt active anti-roll technology – something you can’t get on the base i5 eDrive40 – which smooths out body motions while cornering, giving this midsize sedan a bit more verve.

In the i5 eDrive40 with the M Sport setup (pictured here), there’s no issue with uncouth body motions or unnecessary pitch or dive under acceleration and braking. Off the line, the rear-wheel-drive i5 can hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, its 335 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque trying its hardest to hustle this 4,916-pound sedan. Quick steering and a thickly rimmed wheel make the i5 entertaining to toss around on narrow Portuguese roads, but I have to recommend turning off the adaptive regenerative braking, as it’ll vary the amount of energy recuperation based on GPS data, and doesn’t always match the force with which you’ll want to brake before entering a turn.

Goes without saying, but the i5 M60 is a heck of a lot more fun – and why wouldn’t it be, with 593 hp and 586 lb-ft of torque? The added prowess of all-wheel drive certainly helps this even heftier i5 (5,247 pounds – yeesh) cut a rug, and it’ll scoot to 60 mph 2 seconds quicker than the eDrive40. All the while, even on large 21-inch wheels, the M60’s ride quality remains comfortable and composed. Thanks, electronic dampers.

Range for the eDrive40 is estimated by BMW to be 295 miles, while the M60 xDrive falls to 256. Both assume the smallest wheels available – opt for something larger and your mileage will fall. So, even if the ride quality doesn’t suffer too much because of 21s, the range will, by as much as 25 miles. The max charging rate is 205 kilowatts allowing for a 10-80% recharge in about 30 minutes should you manage to find a functioning 350 kilowatt-hour charger. All of the above are above-average specs for today’s luxury EVs.

The 2024 BMW i5 M60 xDrive starts at $85,095, including a $995 destination charge, putting it well behind its chief rival, the slightly more powerful Mercedes-AMG EQE sedan, which costs $108,050. Yeah, the EQE’s interior is flashier, but the i5’s has better overall quality. And, honestly, the i5 is better to drive. Meanwhile, the i5 eDrive40 comes in at $67,795 including destination, and a nicely spec’d one like my test car arrives right around $75,000, which is where the Mercedes-Benz EQE 350+ starts.

Driving the i5 gives us a lot to look forward to with BMW’s other 5 Series models; the gas-fed 530i, 530i xDrive and 540i xDrive arrive later this year. Following that, we’ll have a full-fat M5 to look forward to, powered by the same plug-in hybrid V8 powertrain as the XM SUV. But honestly, given how solid and serene the i5 M60 is, I’m ready for the fully electric version of BMW’s ubiquitous hi-po business saloon, too.

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