Remember the last time you had to lift your body to get out of a car? Or the last time your car’s underbody scraped against the unapologetic speed breaker? It makes you wonder about the saloon segment in general. Who is still buying them? You can just jump out of an SUV as if it were a bar stool, but getting out on a saloon is equivalent to using a chabudai (Japanese table). And yet, newer versions are coming out to fight against the might of the SUV.
The latest one is the updated 5 Series. New lights, some new features and the same old 5 Series formula – best of both worlds. BMW hasn’t chased the E-Class by adding a long wheelbase on this one. Instead, it’s kept the 5 how fans liked it and unleashed the 6 Series behind the lengthy E. That means the once formidable rivalry has seen a shift and the closest competitor to the 5 Series now is the other German in the form of the Audi A6.
Let’s get the E-Class out of the way right now. The only reason you would consider these two is because the backseat isn’t that big of a deal to you, and the driving dynamics matter a tad more than the average sahib. Why isn’t the Jaguar XF on this? Because even though its driving dynamics are the best, the back seat space is the size of an actual Jaguar’s hind. And why no Volvo S90? Because as good as the seats and features are, it lacks duality when it comes to performance and comfort. However, don’t discount Audi just yet. It packs in a lot to keep the 5 from disappearing into the distance. So, what has changed on the famous 5?
This version of the 5 Series is the LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) which is BMWs terminology for a mid-life facelift. The first big change is the face, more specifically, the headlamps. The adaptive laser LED headlamps (M-Sport only) are now sleeker and flaunt their ‘laser’ cred in much more detail. You also have new L-shape DRLs that replace the fabled ‘corona rings’, albeit that isn’t the corona we wanted to get rid of. Also, this being the M-Sport version, it gets aggressive bumpers and an overall sporty design. Then is the famous grille, and thankfully, BMW has struck to the ‘normal’ size for the 5 Series. However, compared to its predecessor, it is taller, wider and more angular as well. At the rear, it gets sharper inserts for the LED taillamps and trapezoidal exhaust tips. All adds to the oomph that you feel when you look at it.
The Audi, on the other hand, is for a more grown-up and conservative audience. The kind of people who don’t know what M-Sport is, or even if they do, don’t care about it over the razor-sharp lines on the A6. The A6 might not excite like a 5 Series does, but it sure looks the part outside a glass-house corporate or a five-star lobby. It exudes class and luxury, and that is pretty much the perfect ingredients to impress the target audience. It, too, gets a large chrome-laden grille at the front with Matrix LED headlamps and oodles of flash. The profile is where the stately nature of the A6 shines through, thanks to the intricate alloys and the higher tyre profile, which gives you a hint of its focus on comfort. The A6 is also longer and wider, but the 5 trumps it in height and wheelbase. However, design is a subjective aspect, and while we enthusiasts can’t get over the aggressive and sporty BMW to the target audience, the A6 is just as, if not more appealing. That said, it is the interior that has the power to make a decision. And when it comes to the interior, the A6 has a lot to flaunt. The design in general, the materials and that plush feel expected of a luxury saloon are all very much there.
The dual touchscreens, brushed aluminum, wood inserts and the piano black all combine to make for a fitting interior. Then you have the seats that are broad and comfy in typical Audi fashion, and it isn’t too difficult to spend long hours in them after a long day at work. The rear occupants get plenty of space and the legroom, but the backrest is just a tad bit upright, so if you expect to be sunk into the back seat, that won’t happen. However, features are plenty, what with the four-zone climate control, sun-blinds and a decent view out the sunroof.
The 5, on the other hand, mimics its exterior on the inside. It looks and feels a lot more focused, and the overall impression is sporty and driver-centric as opposed to the A6, which is premium and luxurious. That said, quality is top-notch when it comes to the fit-finish. The switchgear, materials used, and the overall tech on offer is enough to justify the high price. However, it lacks that svelt and expensive touch of the Audi. The paddle-shifters are a good example of that. Wide and easily accessible but finished in hard plastic that spoils the feel.
Then you have the seats, which, again, are a lot more focussed and sporty. The way the bolsters hug your body and the posture is aimed at giving the owner a driver-centric position. Sure, the support is plenty, and you have memory functions just as on the A6, but on a long drive, you will miss the soft and supple cushioning of the A6. It is the same story in the rear, where space, thanks to the longer wheelbase, isn’t the problem, but the comfort and ingress-egress from the low-set seats will be an issue. Still, the 5 gets all the bells and whistles, and most importantly, the seat-back is a lot better for those naps from work to home.
What powers both these CEO-mobiles are 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engines, but with completely different characters. The A6 is the less powerful one with 241bhp and 370Nm mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Expectedly, it is quite relaxed, and power delivery, although not lethargic at all, is linear. Sure, you can fiddle around with the drive modes and select ‘Dynamic’, which is a lot better if you want some grunt, but the overall character remains that of a cruiser. The steering too, is light and very comfortable but offers little in terms of driver involvement. And as you would expect of a DSG, the gearbox is swift, but that too can be amped up by slotting it in ‘Sport’. However, where the A6 excels is the refinement and ride comfort. The engine is silent, and the cabin is hushed which again, goes a long way considering its audience. The ride quality, too, is superb as the suspension soaks up the bumps with ease.
But, if you are a keen driver, nothing can beat the sheer excitement of the 5 Series. The engine rated at 248bhp might not be too far from the A6, but the numbers are vastly misleading. The tuning and the way the 5 leaps off the line is almost hysterical. Of course, this is the M-Sport trim, which means you get launch control and adaptive dampers for the suspension, which comes into play on a lovely stretch of tarmac. Then there is the steering that is bustling with feel and heft. It is consistent and a lot more feelsome than the Audi. For someone who ranks driving highly, the 5 will tick all the right boxes. The 8-speed automatic gearbox, too, might not have the nerdy dual-clutch system, but it is mighty fast in terms of responses. And lastly, you have the sweet-sounding thrum from the engine, which sure adds to the driving experience. For all the glitches in the interior and comfort, the performance more than makes up for it. The ride too isn’t too far from the A6. You won’t get the cushioned cloud-like feel, but neither does it crash over broken patches of road.
Now coming to the price, the Audi has priced the A6 at Rs 61.81 lakh for the top-spec Technology trim, whereas the 5 Series is more expensive costing Rs 62.90 lakh. However, the 5 not only has to tackle the A6 but also some of its cousins. You see, BMW also has the 3 Series in Gran Limousine form, which means plenty of space in the back, and the same punchy engine for around Rs 9 lakh less. But, if you want the show and want to make a statement, there is also the 6 Series which is a lot bigger and costs Rs 5 lakh more. A small increment, given the amount of car you get.
But, if dimensions and satisfying proportions are what you want, these two are your only options. The new 5 Series isn’t as tech-laden or doesn’t feel as special on the inside, but drive it once, and those flaws will be easy to look over. For us enthusiasts, the Bimmer is the choice. However, the audience these cars are aimed at seldom find themselves in the driver’s seat and want their money’s worth when it comes to comfort and luxury. If you belong to that lot, the A6 will appeal to you a lot more. Either way, you will be part of that rare species that chooses a saloon over an SUV, and in turn, saving the segment from extinction.