2017 BMW 5-Series first drive review: Playing the middle

BMW’s middle child has always had identity issues.

Iterations of the 5er have had their moments, but it’s always worn hand-me-downs from the 7-Series and, quite frankly, we would’ve rather played with the 3-Series on a Saturday afternoon.

You can imagine how hard this 2017 BMW 5-Series will need to shout to get attention.

The lead

Its first task will be to convince mid-size luxury buyers that it’s up to the high (tech) expectations of others.

The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S90 are technological warships, banks of self-driving tech and touchscreens wrapped around an engine and four wheels—five if you count the steering wheel, for now.

For that nerd duty, the BMW 5-Series comes to the table armed to the teeth.

The 5-Series’ infotainment system features no fewer than five different methods for input, including touchscreen, voice control, rotary knob, touch input, and Gesture Control, which was borrowed from the 7-Series. The team of sensors in the latter watch for fingers to change radio stations, turn up the volume, or skip tracks by waving, wagging, dragging or winding fingers near the touchscreen.

(It’s normal for people give me crazy looks while I’m seemingly talking to the windshield while talking on a Bluetooth-connected phone. The looks while I’m apparently waving home a runner from third for no real reason pale in comparison.)

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Far more useful is the 10.2-inch touchscreen buried into the dash that displays navigation, media, car settings, and Apple CarPlay, if connected. BMW’s capitulation that its iDrive touchpuck needs additional help makes a world of difference, and the touchscreen is sharp, responsive, and the only way to run Apple CarPlay—Audi, we’re looking at you. Coincidentally, the 5-Series also is one of the first cars to run CarPlay wirelessly, which sets it apart from other systems in ease of use. However, BMW doesn’t let the interface use all the screen’s real estate; there’s dead screen space to the right.

Beyond what’s at hand, the 5-Series upgraded its head-up display to be 75 percent larger than the last version; apps are integrated into the infotainment system far better than any other automaker’s efforts so far; and active lane control will keep the 5er in line for more than 30 seconds hands off (closer to 45 seconds, really) before chiding you back into attention.

Despite all that, we’d prefer that you drive the 5er instead.

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