For the first time breaching the five metre length barrier, the eighth generation BMW 5-Series launches in South Africa with two models – diesel and electric – and boasts a welcome return to a ‘normalised’ signature kidney grille to set off its extremely elegant lines.

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The two variants comprise the 520d that has an inline 4-cylinder diesel engine with 48 Volt mild hybrid technology and an 8-speed Steptronic transmission. It produces 145 kW at 4 000 r/min and 400 Nm of torque from 1 500 r/min, while the electric motor adds 8 kW and 25 Nm.

The electric motor serves as an aid under initial acceleration and the result felt on the launch drive was a far smoother power take-up and a more rapid response to that initial throttle input, making for an overall smoother drive.

The second model is the i5 eDrive 40 with 230 kW and 400 Nm to power it along in quite rapid style for a big car – zero to 100 km/h coming up in six seconds and top speed stated at 193 km/h with the WLTP claimed range between 487 km and 582 km.

While the launch route did not allow us to test that, the 200 or so kilometres driven – including some hard acceleration – seemed to indicate this would be quite easily achievable in normal driving conditions.

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It is quite hard to accept seven generations of the executive sedan have preceded these latest models but, in the way of things automotive things continue to grow and evolve over time and, compared to the predecessor model, the new edition has grown in length by 97 millimetres to 5 060 millimetres, in width by 32 millimetres to 1 900 millimetres and in height by 36 millimetres to 1 515 millimetres. Its wheelbase was lengthened by 20 millimetres to 2 995 millimetres – yet, in all of that the new 5 does not feel big or cumbersone on the road, rather opposite and it retains much of the sporty look and character that made it instantly identifiable in the early days.

The front view of the new BMW 5 Series Sedan has a modernised interpretation of the twin headlights and BMW kidney grille. LED elements arranged almost vertically serve as turn indicators and daytime driving lights. The BMW kidney grille, which projects far forward, features a wide surround and optional BMW Iconic Glow contour lighting.

The larger overall dimensions translate into more passenger space inside the car where engineers paid plenty of attention to keeping out unwanted sounds and the 520d impressed with its silent operation on the road, lack of wind and road noise but yet, with just enough from the engine to bring a smile when doing a bit of rapid motoring.

The all-electric version comes with an engineered engine sound (and just as much silence from external elements) to break that eerie silence that is a hallmark of electric cars.

The cockpit of the new BMW 5 Series has a significantly reduced number of buttons and controls compared to the predecessor model, achieved by digitalising functions – and, perhaps the one element I did dislike.

Although there is a rotary knob for volume control, air-conditiong has to be set and changed via the toufhscreen which, I feel tends to occupy too much by the driver with eyes off the road (although the accuracy of the lane-keeping assist and autonomous braking operation do somewhat discount that).

The fully digital display system consists of a 12,3-inch Information Display and a 14,9-inch Control Display. The steering wheel has also been redesigned with a flattened lower section and haptic feedback on the control panels.

Newly designed sports seats are standard equipment. The optional comfort seats offer a wide range of electrically operated adjustment options this is the brand's first model to feature a fully vegan interior as standard.

This includes the surfaces of the seats, the dashboard and the door panels, as well as the steering wheel.

Watch this space for full Road Reviews of the two models.

Colin Windell