2024 BMW i5 EV Prototype Review: The Electric 5 Series Hints at a Sporty Return to Form
With a more normal face hidden under the camouflage, the i5 might just hold the flag for the BMWs of the past.
There is truly nothing cooler in life than being ushered into a secret, maximum-security automaker test track. While I wish I could’ve snapped pictures of secret stuff hidden at BMW’s Autodrome de Miramas in France, I got something even better: a drive in the next-generation BMW 5 Series electric sedan. Meet the 2024 BMW i5.
Immediately, I can bring two articles of good news back from my drive: the new 5 Series has a normal, horizontally-arranged kidney grille hidden under the prototype camouflage, and the 5 Series is genuinely trying to make a sport sedan comeback in our SUV-dominated world.
2024 BMW i5 Prototype Specs
- Base price: TBD
- Horsepower: 335 to 590
- Seating capacity: 5
- Manufacturer estimated range:
- eDrive40: 295 miles (EPA) | 362 miles (WLTP)
- M60 xDrive: 320 miles (WLTP)
- Quick take: A comfortable, quiet, straightforward luxury sedan with a sprinkle of sport.
- Score: 8/10
Once I got security checked and had small stickers applied to my phone’s cameras, I got to poke around the i5 (known internally as G60) a fair bit. The three examples BMW had available, two dual-motor M60 xDrive models and a single-motor eDrive40, were all bona fide prototypes, complete with telemetry gear and engineering computers in the cabin. The fun nerd stuff was turned off, though, and most of the interior surfaces were covered by flaps of black vinyl.
It’s far from BMWs first rodeo with EVs, with the i7, i4, and iX preceding this i5. Thus, the technology is relatively mature and the punch that BMW is throwing with this car is quite strong. It uses the same shared-construction philosophy as the i7 and i4, where the internal combustion-powered cars and EVs are made on the same production line with minor changes to the chassis of each. This makes the cars easier to produce and engineer but has some compromises in packaging for the i5.
The dual wishbone front and five-link rear suspension layout from the current 5 Series is carried over. The i5 gets a host of changes to compensate for the as-of-yet-unknown weight differences, namely rear air springs for more precise ride and handling control, and rear axle steering that runs off of a steering rack. The dampers are active, as are the sway bars on the M60 xDrive.
Most interestingly, the aluminum battery pack is a stressed member in the i5, meaning that it contributes a huge amount of body rigidity. Both the front and rear subframes are bolted to the battery pack via reinforcements to unify the skeleton of the car, and the engine bay has a triangulated reinforcement to tie the strut towers to the firewall. BMW says it recalibrated the steering feel and feedback for the new 5 Series as a whole, addressing complaints from the current generation, but it did add an acoustic decoupling to the steering column that reduces cabin noise and should (by my calculation) reduce genuine road feedback.
There’s no word yet on the capacity of the battery pack, but some simple math can give folks a rough estimate. BMW says the eDrive40 will land at around 295 miles of EPA range, and have an efficiency ranging from 3.15 miles per kWh to 3.8 miles per kWh. It’s a very inexact science, but my mental calculation says around 90 kWh. BMW uses a variety of battery sizes for its cars, so it’s tough to say if the i5 shares a pack with any other model. It also boasts a seriously low drag coefficient of 0.23. Though other EVs have gotten lower, namely the Hyundai Ioniq 6 at 0.22, the Mercedes EQE at 0.22, and the Mercedes EQS at 0.20.
The other big selling point will be a suite of advanced driver’s assistance tech, which BMW is calling Level 2+. It is largely like the suite in the i7 that includes hands-off driving in certain situations and automatic lane changes with the turn signal stalk but adds eye-tracking lane changes to the mix. Then there’s a new version of iDrive, now on iteration 8.5 that boasts a redesigned interface projected from a curved infotainment screen. I’ll explain more about that later, but the tech overall is extremely impressive and beautifully refined.
Quiet, Comfortable, Easy
BMW prepared for us three driving situations: a highway where we could exercise the ADAS tech, countryside backroads in the eDrive40, and track driving on the BMW handling courses at Miramas with the M60. My first stop was the leisurely highway drive.
What is immediately obvious about the i5 is how easy it is to drive. That’s to say there are no jagged edges in the experience, from ride quality, steering effort, throttle calibration, and braking input. It's refined and isolated, with lightly weighted controls and one of the quietest cabins I’ve been in recently. At highway speeds, it is supremely quiet. At full-on track speeds of 100-plus mph, the whisper-level ambient noise remained. Neither tire nor wind noise dominated the cabin, and the ride quality was superb, well-controlled, and never jarring.
But at the insistence of the engineer riding shotgun, I activated the ADAS. Normally, this causes a spike of cortisol as I have to immediately manage the stupidity of the car, but I found the i5 instantly comfortable and transparent in its logic. Once the engineer enabled the hands-free mode on the busy highway, I was actually blown away. It would trace the lane carefully, with no weaving or drama, and would detect and identify cars and motorcycles easily and relay that information to the head-up display.
The biggest party trick is the eye-tracking lane change. While you can use the turn signal stalk at any time to request an automatic lane change, the i5 will suggest a lane change if it senses an overtaking opportunity or if you’re holding up faster traffic, a good feature for the blood pressure of the general commuting public. All you need to do when the prompt arrives is look in the mirror of the direction you want to change lanes for at least a full second. After a moment, the car will execute the change perfectly. Granted, this drive route was pre-planned and vetted by BMW, and the lane markings were very clear, so this experience will vary depending on road quality. But for a clearly marked highway, it is impressive stuff.
But It Does Indeed Mob
But the more exciting driving lay in the countryside behind the wheel of the i5 eDrive40, and test track time with the higher-po M60 xDrive. It was no dynamic revelation, but on the backroads and towns surrounding Miramas, the hefty and wide sedan was accurate and easy to place. Steering is improved from the previous generation—much less vague thanks to what feels like a quicker ratio—but still not great on the road. The steering is still artificially light and borderline overboosted, but instead of feeling completely disconnected, it’s now tossable. Mid-corner is where the steering fails to communicate any sensation of grip, and weight buildup still leaves my fingertips wanting.
This feeling changes on the narrow, cambered curves of BMW’s test track driving the M60 xDrive. Though the steering is still light, track driving places more emphasis on the genuinely amazing suspension tuning and cornering attitude of the i5. Of the EVs I’ve driven, plenty have on-the-limit handling with grip that falls off abruptly once physics catches up. The i5 pulls off a trick that BMW has been well-trained for in the era of 4,000-plus pound M5s. It’s progressive and benign at the outer edges of traction but maintains rotation and composure even when challenged. High-speed slaloms are gorgeously dispatched, with the car feeling like it is delicately dancing over the pavement while it is almost surely beating physics into submission. Exiting those corners, the M60’s 590 horsepower was unhinged and shocking. But that’s a given in an EV.
The i5 also seems to manipulate the rules in its own way, with active sway bars, active dampers, rear air springs, and plenty of brake vectoring all tuned to enhance the natural soft and rolling driving feel of a big sedan rather than mute it. No, it’s not the most direct, connected, or precise car, but it does listen to inputs readily and change directions like a much lighter vehicle, no doubt helped by the naturally low center of gravity and highly rigid body.
Making all of that technology feel natural is no easy feat, and the damping characteristics in particular were impressive. The i5 has a lot of suspension travel and generally soft damping and springs but always dispatches bumps and borderline jumps in one motion. Nothing could upset the car, and sport damping was soft but just communicative enough to have lots of fun on the track. It’s both graceful and engaging.
The trouble with prototype drives is that the cars are nearly complete but not quite done. Things can change between what I experienced and the final product. But if this is almost done, then the i5 has a real shot at winning some mid-size sport sedan glory back for BMW. For the last two generations, it’s been a real shame that the 5 Series—outside of the unobtanium that is the glorious F90 M5 CS—lost its enthusiast edge that made it so beloved. While still not as communicative as those original 5ers, this brings back sport in a real way.
But the things that matter most to buyers are yet to be determined. Official EV driving range will be announced soon, but the near-300-mile estimated number is on good authority. And unless the i5 body under the camouflage was also a trick, it will also look relatively normal for a BMW. iDrive 8.5 is a solid system, and the ADAS is downright incredible.
Best of all, I have suspicions that this will the beginning of a return to form for the sporting 5 Series. It’s not yet guaranteed, but there are course corrections here that my enthusiast heart welcomes. So far, so good. I hope it keeps going that way.
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