For BMW the i5 is the big one. Why? It's simple – the 5 Series is the most important car the Bavarian carmaker builds. It has churned out more than 10 million of them over 50 years, and is very much its all-rounder – the BMW that has to cover all bases and exemplify exactly what the BMW brand is all about.
Just like the i4, the i5 isn't a bespoke, ground-up electric car. Instead, BMW prefers to build one platform and use it for combustion engined models, hybrids and pure-electrics. BMW's way of doing things is very different from Audi’s or Mercedes’ as these brands tend to build a separate, bespoke electric version of a model; think Mercedes E-Class and the EQE and you'll understand what we mean.
BMW hasn't confirmed the i5’s battery size, hinting only that it will "less than 90kWh". So, judging by the fact the i4's battery is 83.9kWh, it's possible the i5 will pinch its smaller brother's battery pack. From launch (in October 2023) there will be two versions – a rear-wheel drive eDrive40 with 335bhp, and a sportier M60 with 590bhp and twin electric motors. Expect a driving range of between 320 and 362 miles depending on model, and 200kW maximum charging.
BMW i5 interior and technology
We need to own up to something here – BMW invited us to drive the i5 at its challenging Miramas test track in France, and the cars were very early prototypes covered in lots of unflattering black plastic as the car hasn't been revealed in its entirety yet.
The interior was similarly hidden with plenty of black felt covering the dashboard, but we had a peak when the BMW security guards weren't looking and found there's the usual high-quality materials and a focus on technology. The design up-front is similar to the larger i7's, with a large screen which comprises the digital display and infotainment system. It's powered by BMW's latest operating system and has 5G connectivity. BMW is also keen to point out the i5 will be one of its most technically advanced cars with it using a lot of the new i7's advanced safety systems with a host of cameras and radars.
Space in the back seats seems class-leading with plenty of head and knee room on offer, and those who loathe electric SUVs will be pleased to hear the i5 will come in Touring (estate car) guise which is sure to offer plenty of practicality for families.
BMW i5 range and charging
BMW is being coy about what the i5 is powered by, saying that the battery pack is "less than 90kWh". But, knowing that the i4's battery pack is 83.9kWh, it's more than likely the same pack will be used in the i5. It's also estimated the maximum charging speed will be around 200kW, if not more, meaning a 10 to 80% charge will be easily completed in 30 minutes.
Just like the i4, two versions will initially be available. A 'normal' eDrive40 using a single, rear-mounted electric motor will be the long range model with a claimed driving range of up to 362 miles. For those after more performance, there’s the M60 which is tuned by BMW's M motorsport division. This model's extra power will drop the range to around 320 miles.
BMW i5 performance and driving
A test track is never the best place to see what a new car is like in the real world, but BMW's twisting Miramas circuit does reveal some interesting early impressions. BMW has fitted rear-wheel steering to the i5 with the wheels turning by 2.5 degrees, thereby making parking easier and aiding handling. The 5 Series has always been at the top of the tree when it comes to the balance between comfort and driver involvement, and this new model impresses even further.
In reality, apart from the M60's extra grunt, there's little to differentiate the way the eDrive40 and M60 drive on the road; both are agile – helped by the rear-wheel steering – but also feel incredibly stable and secure. Active-roll control (which tries to prevent the body rolling through corners) is also available on the M60, boosting high speed stability further.
All i5s feature air suspension on the rear axle, and the car delivers a supple and very smooth ride when just pottering around. Selecting 'Sport' on the adaptive dampers firms things up noticeably, but despite the 20-inch wheels fitted to our M60 test car the ride wasn't uncomfortable. There's also superb refinement with very little wind or tyre noise, hinting that the i5 will also be a fantastic cruiser.
BMW i5 verdict
Early prototype drives often leave us feeling a little underwhelmed and make us look forward to trying the car out on UK roads. The latter is true with the i5; however, in this instance, it's only because this early drive was so revealing. It's clear BMW knows the importance of getting its best-selling 5 Series right, and on first impressions it would seem as though the German firm's hard work has paid off. Just like the smaller i4, BMW has pulled off a masterstroke in making an electric executive saloon car involving to drive, while also ticking all the boxes concerning range and efficiency. We can't wait to get behind the wheel for a longer drive.