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BMW 520i (G60): Hitting the reset button

Munich’s latest midsize sedan breaks the mold

The latest 5-Series is quite a departure from the old formula. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

As much as we all like to yank on BMW‘s chain for its questionable design choices, there’s real logic behind why it does so. It has to push the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable to find the bleeding edge and stay there. It’s a delicate balance—one that, on occasion, ends with results that overstep the limit.

And we’ve seen this happen before with the 5-Series in particular. The E39 is widely regarded as the most handsome of the 5er family tree, but was followed by the Bangle-butted E60 (a car whose design induced plenty of pearl-clutching during its debut).

From there, BMW dialed it back a few notches, which is why I’m certain no one remembers what the F10 even looks like. The last G30 generation fell in line with the E39, and got it just right—often mentioned as the most elegant execution of BMW’s design language at the time.

Its design strikes a middle ground in between its controversial and conservatively styled siblings. PHOTOS BY SIMONN ANG

And that leads us to this current 5-Series, the G60. And I think this car is at the same point in the cycle as the E60 was. The E60 wasn’t particularly easy on the eye, but it was a revolution in both design and technology. A reset button of sorts.

It was a complete overhaul of the 5-Series design language. It saw the first appearance of the iDrive in this model, the start of the next-generation N-series engines, the debut of the electronic shifter, and many other advancements that we still see today.

And I’d like to argue that the G60 is the same.

The 5-Series has always been the Goldilocks of the lineup. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

This new car may not be overtly handsome like the model it replaces, but it is a striking departure from the previous generation’s aesthetics.

It retains the 5-Series’ signature twin-pod headlight design, albeit ditching the round Celis DRLs of yore and replacing it with these angular, fang-like strips of LED light.

The grille is still far larger than it needs to be, but it does blend well into the vehicle’s stylistic form. The rear end is quite plain, with the long taillights being the only break from its slab-like structure.

We're talking about a sedan as long as an old 7-Series. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

The G60 is a very big boy—even larger than the E65 7er with the standard wheelbase. The flank is long yet chiseled, with silver 19-inch Style 933s standing as the centerpieces. And this brings me to the first philosophical change BMW made to the G60.

This one now feels like a slightly smaller 7-Series rather than a bigger 3.

In the past, the 5-Series felt like a bigger, milder-mannered 3-Series. The three is the sprightlier light-on-its-feet fighter, while the 5 is the heavyweight boxer. It packs a bit more mass and weight, but with a more powerful punch to suit.

The G60 still has some of that, but it’s a much more insulated car now. Couple that with the bigger size, and this new 5er clearly leans more toward luxury and refinement.

This is pretty much all the buttons you get inside the new 5er. PHOTOS BY SIMONN ANG

The driving experience reflects this, too. Contrary to popular belief, regular 5-Series models are usually pretty cushy, but now the G60 is a lot softer.

Certainly more so than its predecessor. The steering is ultralight, even a little vague on center. There’s plenty of intervention from the electronic nannies, too, making the steering feel extremely synthetic overall.

It’s difficult to feel road texture and undulation from inside the cabin because this is such a well-insulated vehicle.

Left photo shows normal driver's view. Right photo shows a button hidden from the driver's line of sight.
Yet another obstructed item. Left photo shows what you might see from the driver's seat. Right photo shows what you wouldn’t see unless you looked from overhead (dual USB-C ports).
Even the rotary dial for the lights has been replaced by capacitive buttons. PHOTOS BY SIMONN ANG

The interior design is also a departure from the typical BMW fare. Previous iterations of the 5-Series interior have always been functional, no-nonsense spaces that build up on the previous car’s design.

The G60, however, ditches all the signature BMW elements: the typical three-spoke steering wheel, the orange backlighting, the BC button on the turn-signal stalk, and the tall electronic shifter. There’s basically no center console. The air-conditioning louvres are slits that hide below the large, lush lightbars streaking across the dash.

Despite literally growing one full segment, the G60’s rear legroom remains limited, with more space allocated to the front passengers. The trunk is long and capable of storing plenty of cargo, but because this base model does not get run-flat tires, trunk space is compromised by a higher cargo floor that makes way for a spare tire.

Despite the size bump, the 5-Series is not as roomy as a 7-Series. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

It is a stunningly impressive space, for sure, but one that is best to interact with when stationary. As minimalist as the aesthetics may seem, the ergonomics are quite the opposite.

The aircon vents, for example, are controlled by a multidirectional nubbin located below the slits. Not much travel is built into the controller, so directing the wind precisely to your face but not up to your eyeballs requires delicate and precise inputs—something that is very difficult to do while the car is in motion.

Some physical buttons have been switched out for capacitive ones, too, such as the door lock and unlock buttons. There’s some latency in its response, and it’s hard to tell if you’ve actually pressed it. Depending on your vantage point, there’s also a lot of depth and dimension within the space that can sometimes obstruct certain buttons.

Is this an attractive shape for a steering wheel? PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

The 520 is not the most sophisticated in terms of driver aids as it only carries basic active safety features, but a 12.3-inch gauge cluster screen and another 14.9-inch widescreen infotainment display mounted side-by-side control most of the functions of this vehicle.

There’s a smattering of buttons around the shifter to control the radio, but that’s it. The infotainment system runs on BMW’s iDrive 8.5 system that will feel familiar to longtime BMW customers. It can be operated via touch or the signature iDrive dial.

The G60 can connect to the My BMW app to provide real-time status updates on the vehicle. SCREENSHOTS FROM BMW

All G60s will come standard with BMW ConnectedDrive, a system that allows the car to pair to a smartphone where you can control basic functions such as locking and unlocking the doors, cooling the cabin predeparture, and tracking the vehicle’s location.

This futuristic philosophy within the interior and its amenities hints at BMW’s intentions of building this car as an EV.

The 208hp and the 330Nm from the 2.0-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder mild-hybrid B48 is not a lot of power for this large barge, but it is ample for a base 520. BMW likes to pump fake engine noise into the cabin, which makes the engine sound great at first.

Turn the piped noise off, though, and the absence of a six-cylinder is instantly apparent. There’s no heft, no brevity. You lose the mechanical bellow of the old six-pot, as well as its torquey response.

In contrast, the i5 feels like a more cohesive product than the 520 does. The smoothness and the power delivery of the electric motor fit much better with the rest of the car’s characteristics. In some ways, the 520 feels sandbagged compared to its electric counterpart.

The 5-Series has changed quite a bit over the years. At least the Hofmeister kink is still around. PHOTO BY SIMONN ANG

I must admit that I have my biases when it comes to the 5-Series.

Owning a few examples of the E39 and the E60 fulfilled a boyhood dream for me, and although I’m not in love with the G60, I don’t hate it as most so-called purists do.

The fact is that the G60 is a step forward for BMW’s midsize sedan. It challenges the status quo, and thinks outside the box. Sure, it’s not perfect as it is now, but the good old days will never come back.

All we can do now is take comfort in what history has taught us. If the past is any indication, we know for sure that the 5-Series will only get better from here.

BMW 520i (G60)

Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline with 48V mild-hybrid system
Transmission8-speed automatic
Power208hp @ 4,400-6,500rpm
Torque330Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm
Dimensions5,060mm x 1,900mm x 1,505mm
Drive layoutRWD
UpsideLarge, comfortable, and futuristic.
DownsideIt’s a little too futuristic, making it ergonomically difficult to interact with.

Simonn Ang

Simonn is just a regular guy who happens to love cars and motorcycles. He also loves writing about them, too.