BMW 5 Series VS Rolls-Royce Ghost
BMW 5 Series
- Engaging dynamics
- Top-notch interiors
- Clever technology across the range
- Price hikes on almost every model
- Six-cylinder engine reserved for most expensive models
- Apple CarPlay a cost option
- Unbelievable ride comfort
- Flawless quality
- Understated design
- Numb steering
- Vast turning circle
BMW 5 Series
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new BMW 5 Series 520d, 530i, 530d and 540i sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.
When we're all living under the cruel rule of our robot overlords, the few remaining human historians will track the genesis of our downfall to the technology explosion that occurred in 2017's new-car market.
Never before have car companies focused so hard on producing cars that can't just be driven, but that can drive themselves, negotiating corners, unexpected obstacles and changing traffic conditions without ever needing to consult the human actually sitting behind the steering wheel.
And BMW's all-new 5 Series sedan takes yet another a step forward, eliminating the need for said human to even be sitting in the car. Owners can instead move their 5 Series in and out of tight parking spaces simply by pressing a button on their key.
The Active Key function is admittedly a $1,600 cost option, but it proves the techno-focus applied to the seventh-generation of BMW's executive express, which will land in Australian dealerships this month. Every car is also fitted with what the German brand calls its personal co-pilot; a series of nifty cameras and radars that allow the car to be driven completely autonomously for spells of 30 seconds.
But the question is, has all this new technology come at the cost of regular, old-school driver enjoyment?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Rolls-Royce says its out-going Ghost is the most successful model in the company’s 116-year history.
No bad, when you consider the first ‘Goodwood’ Ghost has ‘only’ been around since 2009. And although the factory isn’t quoting specific numbers, that all-time best-seller claim means it’s surpassed the more than 30,000 Silver Shadows produced from 1965 all the way through to 1980.
Unlike the brand’s Phantom flagship, the Ghost is designed for owners who want to drive, as well as be driven. The aim is a less conspicuous, more engaging experience, and according to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, development of this new generation Ghost involved a lot of listening.
He says a team of “Luxury Intelligence Specialists” connected with Ghost owners around the globe to gain a clearer understanding of their likes and dislikes. And the result is this car.
While its predecessor’s engineering DNA included more than a few strands of BMW 7 Series (BMW owns Rolls-Royce), this all-new car stands alone on an all-RR alloy platform also underpinning the Cullinan SUV and Phantom flagship.
The factory claims the only parts carried over from the prior model are the ’Spirit of Ecstasy’ ornament on the nose, and the umbrellas slipped into the doors (the holders for them are heated, by the way).
We were offered the opportunity to slip behind the wheel for a day, and the experience was a revelation.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 5 Series7.9/10
Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.
Would a new 5 Series tempt you away from an E-Class or A6? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
You might see it as an obscene indulgence or a piece of engineering excellence, but there’s no denying the new Rolls-Royce Ghost is exceptional. Incredibly refined and capable, it’s arguably the most impressive ‘entry-level’ car in the world.
BMW 5 Series8/10
Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.
Its 8mm wider, 28mm longer and 2mm taller than the car it replaces, but it's also around 95kg lighter, thanks to its aluminium doors and boot and a clever magnesium frame for the instrument panel that saved another two kilograms. There's some other clever design elements, too. The kidney grille has active air flaps that open when extra cooling is required, closing when it isn't, reducing drag and helping accleration.
Inside, the 5 Series offers a beautifully crafted yet joyously understated cabin, with quality materials joining modern technology in a seamless way.
Rolls-Royce adopted what it calls a ‘post-opulent’ philosophy in development of the new Ghost’s design. Specifically, restraint, “rejecting superficial expressions of wealth.”
That’s because, as a rule, Ghost customers aren’t Phantom customers. They don’t want to make that big a statement, and prefer to drive the car as much as they might be chauffeured in it.
This Ghost is longer (+89mm) and wider (+30mm) than the outgoing model, yet it’s a superbly balanced shape, with minimalism the guiding design principle.
That said, the iconic ‘Pantheon Grille’ is bigger, and now downlit by 20 LEDs under the top of the radiator, with its individual slats polished even more carefully to subtly reflect the light.
The car’s broad surfaces are tightly wrapped and deceptively simple. For example, the rear guards, C-pillars and roof are fabricated as one panel, which makes sense of the absence of shutlines around the rear of the car (except for the boot outline, of course).
Rolls-Royce refers to the Ghost’s cabin as an ‘interior suite’ consisting of no less than 338 individual panels. But despite that number, the feeling inside is simple and serene.
In fact, Rolls says its acoustic engineers are experts in serenity. Sounds like Darryl Kerrigan needs a Ghost for the family road trip to Bonnie Doon.
A few details stand out. The open pore wood trim is a welcome, tactile change from highly finished veneers that often do their best to look like plastic.
The proper metal chromed trim elements around the cabin confidently say quality and solidity, and the steering wheel, as well as the buttons around the multimedia controllers are subtle throwbacks.
The wheel has a circular central pad, with ancillary buttons around its lower perimeter, which echoes the style of the 1920s and ‘30s. You half expect an ignition advance/retard lever to sprout from its centre.
And the buttons around the media controllers use a combination of shape, colour and typeface to conjure up thoughts of the same era. They could be made of Bakelite.
For those that way inclined, the signature ‘Starlight Headliner’, using untold LEDS to create a glittering night sky in the roof, now incorporates a shooting star effect. You can even option up the constellation of your choice.
BMW 5 Series8/10
This is a full-size sedan, and every seat feels spacious and airy. The sloping, slightly coupe-style roofline does cut into headroom in the back, but human-sized people will have little trouble, even sitting behind a tall driver.
Each trim offers two cupholders in the front, with another two housed in a pull-down divider that seperates the rear seat. And there's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The 5 Series' boot opens to rival a surprisingly sizeable storage space, offering 530 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats in place.
The new Rolls-Royce Ghost is over 5.5m long, more than 2.1m wide, and close to 1.6m tall. And within that substantial footprint sits a 3295mm wheelbase, so no surprise utility and practicality are exceptional.
First, there’s getting in. The ‘coach’ or ‘clamshell’ doors will be familiar to current Ghost owners, but their “effortless” operation is new, a gentle pull on the door handle bringing welcome electronic assistance.
Once inside the rear of the car, as on the previous model, the press of a C-pillar-mounted button will close the door.
But up front, easing onto the generous driver’s seat is a breeze thanks to the Ghost’s sheer scale and a large door aperture.
There’s plenty of space for people and things in a thoroughly considered layout. A large glove box, big centre storage box (containing every connectivity option known to humankind) a lined slot for your phone and twin cupholders under a sliding timber cover. The door pockets are generous, with a sculpted section for bottles.
Then the rear. Obviously designed for two, the back seat will seat three. The sumptuous full-leather seats are multi-way electronically-adjustable, and NBA players (almost certainly prospective owners) will be happy with the leg, head and shoulder room provided.
Need even more room in the back? Step this way to the ‘Extended’ long-wheelbase version of the Ghost, measuring 5716mm long (+170mm), with a 3465mm wheelbase (+170mm), and stepping up in price to $740,000 (+$112,000). That’s $659 per additional millimetre, but who’s counting?
But back to the rear of the standard wheelbase car. Fold the large centre armrest down and twin cupholders pop out the front. Then, a wood-trimmed lid on the top flips forward to reveal a rotary multimedia controller.
Behind that, a beautifully trimmed storage box offers generous space and 12V power, and behind door number three (a pull-down leather panel in the back of the armrest aperture) is a small fridge. What else?
The rear of the front centre console houses individual climate-control outlets as well as USB and HDMI sockets.
Touch a discreet chrome button and small desks (RR calls them picnic tables) fold down from the front seat backs, faced in the same open pore wood as the dash, console, steering wheel, and door trims, and finished off with flawless chrome.
The entire interior benefits from a ‘Micro-Environment Purification System’ (MEPS), and rather than bore you with the details, let’s just say it’s exceptionally efficient.
Boot volume is a solid 500 litres, with an electrically-assisted lid and plush carpet lining. Of course, the air suspension system can lower the car to make loading heavy or awkward objects that little bit easier.
Price and features
BMW 5 Series7/10
BMW's venerable 5 Series is now 45 years old, and this all-new model arrives in four distinct flavours, with a fifth - an incoming M5 performance sedan - still some way off.
For now, though, the range kicks off with the 520d, before stepping up what BMW hopes to be the big seller of the range, the 530i (replacing the outgoing 528i). Next up is biggest diesel, the 530d (replacing the the 535d), before the current range tops out with the petrol-powered 540i (replacing the old 535i).
Be warned though, there's been some pretty serious price increases right across the line up, ranging from $9,145 to a whopping $19,245. In fact, only the 530d has seen its price come down, now $3,755 cheaper than the outgoing 535d. BMW justifies the hikes by pointing to an increase in standard inclusions across the range.
The 520d kicks off from $93,900, and arrives predictably well equipped for your money. Expect 18-inch alloys, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker stereo. You'll also get a technology overhaul, with a bigger and upgraded Head Up display (it can now read street signs and beam that info onto the screen), a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a wireless (insert link to chi charger story) charging pad.
Step up to the 530i ($108,900) or 530d ($119,900) and you'll add 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers with dynamic mode (that reads both driver input and navigation data and tweak suspension, gear and steering settings automatically) a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and a crystal-clear 12.3 high-resolution digital display in the driver's binnacle. You'll also find heated front seats, a powered boot and sports seats in the front.
Finally, spring for the 540i ($136,900) and you'll get 20-inch alloys, a sunroof and electric blinds for the rear windows. You'll also find better Nappa leather on the seats, which now also offer a cooling function. Under the skin, you'll get an active anti-roll bar at each axle designed to keep the car from rolling side-to-side on the twisty stuff.
One quirk, however, is the fact that BMW's very cool wireless Apple CarPlay is a cost option on every trim level, and one that will set you back $479.
Good value is open to broad interpretation in this rarefied part of the new car market. On the surface, value could relate to standard equipment; the features that make life with a car safer, more comfortable, and efficient.
It might also have you lining up the competitors, to determine how much sheet metal, rubber and glass you’re getting for your money. Maybe a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, or Bentley Flying Spur?
But peel away those layers and you’re getting closer to the heart of the Rolls-Royce value equation.
A Rolls-Royce is a statement of wealth, confirmation of status, and indicator of success. And that will be enough for some. But it also delivers value to those who appreciate the last few percentage points of creativity and effort that deliver exceptional results.
Sounds like a bit of a gush. But once you dip into the background of this car’s development and experience it first-hand, it’s hard not to.
We could produce a separate story on the Ghost’s standard features, but here’s the highlights reel. Included are: LED and laser headlights, 21-inch twin-spoke (part-polished) alloy wheels, electrically-adjustable, ventilated and massaging seats (front and rear), an 18-speaker audio system, electrically-assisted ‘Effortless Doors’, a head-up display, full leather trim (it’s everywhere), multiple digital screens, active cruise control, adaptive air suspension, and there’s lots more.
But let’s pick a few of those out for closer inspection. The audio system is designed and produced in house, featuring a 1300W amp and 18-channels (one for each RR built speaker).
In fact, there’s a team dedicated to audio performance, and it’s made the entire car an acoustic instrument, calibrating resonance through its structure to optimise clarity. Not the work of five minutes, requiring complex collaboration with the design and engineering teams, not to mention the bean counters.
And yes, there’s leather everywhere, but it’s of the highest quality, analysed to (literally) a granular level to ensure it makes the cut for use in this car. Even the stitching is set to a particular (longer than typical) length to minimise visual noise.
How about RR personnel travelling the globe to measure rain drops to make sure the roof rain channels perform as well as they can (true story). Or the 850 LED ‘stars’ in the dash fascia, backed by a 2.0mm thick ‘light guide’ with 90,000 laser-etched dots to disperse light evenly, yet add a twinkle.
You get the idea. And as much as they say, ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’, the cost-of-entry for a 2021 Ghost, before any options or on-road costs, is $628,000.
Depending on your perspective, a stupendous sum that will by 42.7 entry-level Kia Picantos, a car every bit as capable of transporting you from A to B as the Ghost. Or alternately, brilliant value, in that it buys the ultimate attention to detail applied to this car’s design, development and execution. You be the judge, but for what it’s worth, I’m in the latter camp.
Engine & trans
BMW 5 Series8/10
The hunt for efficiency sees all but the most expensive 5 Series models equipped with four-cylinder engines, including the entry-level 520d, which is fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel unit that will produce 140kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm from 1,750rpm. That's enough to push the cheapest 5 Series to 100km/h in a not particularly inspiring 7.5 seconds, topping out at 235km/h.
The cheapest petrol, the 530i, arrives with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 185kW at 5,200rpm and 350Nm from 1,450rpm. That will see you clip 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.
The 530d introduces the first six-cylinder engine, a 3.0-litre unit that will produce 195kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 620Nm from 2,000rpm. That's enough to knock off the sprint in in 5.7 seconds and offers a top speed limited to 250km/h.
Finally, the top-spec petrol, the 540i, will produce 250kW at 5,500rpm and 450Nm from 1,380rpm from its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Those are healthy numbers, and enough to welcome 100km/h in a sprightly 5.1 seconds before topping out a limited 250km/h.
Every model is paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
The new Ghost is powered by an all-alloy, direct-injection, 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12 (also used in the Cullinan SUV) producing 420kW (563hp) at 5000rpm, and 850Nm at 1600rpm.
The ‘six-and-three-quarter-litre’ V12 has a distant link to BMW’s ‘N74’ engine, but Rolls-Royce is at pains to point out this unit stands on its own two feet, and that every piece of it bears a RR part number.
It runs a Ghost-specific engine map, and permanently drives all four wheels through a GPS-guided eight-speed automatic transmission.
That’s right, the GPS link will pre-select the most appropriate gear for upcoming bends and terrain with the aim of producing “a sense of one endless gear.” More on that later.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW quotes a combined 4.3 litres per hundred kilometres from the 520d, which will also spit out 114g per kilometre of C02. The 530d lifts that number to 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres (which seems a small price to pay for all that extra torque), with C02 pegged at 124g per kilometre. Both diesels get a slightly smaller tank, at 66 litres.
The 530i will sip a claimed/combined 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 emissions a claimed 132g per kilometre, while the big 540i requires 6.7 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 pegged at 154g per kilometre. Both petrol models get a 68-litre tank and require 95RON fuel.
Rolls is currently quoting European Regulation (NEDC) fuel consumption numbers for the new Ghost, which for the combined (urban/extra-urban) cycle is 15.0L/100km, the big V12 emitting 343g/km of CO2 in the process.
On the launch drive, covering around 100km of urban pottering, B-road cornering, and freeway cruising, we saw a dash-indicated figure of 18.4L/100km.
Premium 95 RON unleaded fuel is recommended, but if circumstances (presumably in the back-of-beyond) demand it, standard 91 unleaded is usable.
Whichever you choose, you’ll need no less than 82 litres of it to fill the tank, at our average fuel use, enough for a theoretical range of 445km.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW's pre-drive briefing was so technology focused we half expected the black turtle neck and dad jean-wearing ghost of Steve Jobs to emerge from behind a curtain clutching an iPad. Only a minuscule portion was dedicated to the cars' drivetrains, with BMW instead hammering home autonomy functions, technology upgrades and the fact that its car was a preview to "the future".
But once we'd slipped behind the wheel of the all-new 5 Series, it all started to make more sense. Having briefly sampled three models (the 530i, 530d and 540i), we can safely report there's nothing particularly revolutionary about their on-road behaviour. That's not necessarily a bad thing - they do everything you could ask of a car in this bracket. They're mostly smooth and always quiet, the new chassis has done nothing to dampen engagement when you start to ask a little more of it, and it's generally a luxurious experience. But then so was the old car.
But what's new is the technology poured into the 5 Series. Every car gets what BMW is calling its personal co-pilot, for example, which is a set of tricky systems (there's six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors scattered around the car) that work with the active cruise control and allow the car to be driven completely autonomous for 30-second intervals. Now, it's not quite as advanced as some of its competitor's systems - it can't change lanes for example - but if you're out on a country road or on a highway, it will stay within its lane, turn around corners and keep up with the traffic, even if they stop in front of you.
While the cheapest diesel model has historically been the best seller, BMW is hoping the new 530i will prove the most popular this time around. And while you couldn't describe it as fast, the power from its four-cylinder engine is ample for all that will likely be asked of it, and it feels sorted and composed on more challenging roads. It's a smooth and comfortable ride, too, even with the optional 20-inch alloys fitted, though that's undoubtedly thanks to the adaptive dampers and ever-changing dynamic ride function, both of which are fitted as standard. In fact, we're yet to drive a car without those options fitted, so we're forced to reserve judgement on the as-standard ride quality of the cheaper models.
Be warned though, none in the 5 Series range offer the disconnected and perfectly smooth conveyance you might find in some true luxury offerings, and you'll still know when you're diving into deep pockmarks in the road. But the trade off is a an engaging ride and steering set up that always feels planted, with enough feedback to ensure you feel connected to what's happening beneath the tyres. And that's a trade we're more than willing to make.
Step up to the 540i and things take a much sportier turn. The turbocharged six-cylinder feels right at home in a car this size, with acceleration effortless and freeway overtaking manoeuvres an absolute breeze. And while we didn't find roads quite brutal enough to really test the active anti-roll bars housed at each axle, there's a wonderful and stable flatness to the way the biggest petrol handles corners.
It's not cheap, but thanks to the bigger engine and sorted dynamics, the 540i feels most like a 5 Series probably should.
So, if this Rolls is designed to be driven, what’s it like behind the wheel? Well for a start, it’s plush. As in, the front seats are big and comfortable, but surprisingly supportive and endlessly adjustable.
The digital instrument cluster tips its hat to classic RR dials, and despite thick pillars (especially the bulky B-pillars) vision all around is good.
And if you’re thinking 2553kg is a lot of Ghost to get moving, you’re right. But there’s nothing like applying 420kW/850Nm of twin-turbo V12 muscle to the task.
Peak torque is available from just 1600rpm (600rpm above idle) and Rolls-Royce claims 0-100km/h in 4.8sec. Plant the right foot and this car will calmly have you at throw-away-the-key speeds in the blink of an eye, the eight-speed auto shifting imperceptibly all the way. And even at full throttle, engine noise is relatively subtle.
But aside from that prodigious thrust, the next eye-opener is unbelievable ride quality. Rolls calls it ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, and it’s no exaggeration.
The bumpy road surface disappearing under the front wheels just doesn’t compute with the unruffled, perfectly smooth progress you’re experiencing. It is unbelievable.
I’ve only had that sensation once before, behind the wheel of a Bentley Mulsanne, but this was possibly even more surreal.
Rolls-Royce’s ‘Planar’ suspension system refers to, “a geometric plane which is completely flat and level”, and it works.
The set-up is double wishbones at the front (incorporating a unique to RR upper wishbone damper) and a five-link arrangement at the rear. But it’s the air suspension and active damping that create the magic Rolls calls “flight on land.”
A ‘Flagbearer’ stereo camera system in the windscreen reads the road ahead to proactively adjust the suspension up to 100km/h. It’s name recalls the early days of ‘motoring’ where a person waving a red flag walked in front of cars to warn unwary pedestrians. This slightly more sophisticated approach is just as arresting.
This time around the Ghost is all-wheel drive (rather than RWD) and it puts its power down brilliantly well. We dared to push it fairly aggressively on a twisting B-road section and all four fat Pirelli P Zero tyres (255/40 x 21) kept things on track without so much as a squeal.
A 50/50 weight distribution and the stiffness of the car’s aluminium space-frame architecture help keep it balanced, planted and under control. But on the flip side, steering feel is almost completely MIA. Numb and overly light, it’s the missing link in the Ghost’s otherwise impressive dynamic performance.
Drop into a freeway cruise and you become aware of the impossibly low noise level. But it’s not as quiet as it could be. Rolls says it’s able to achieve near silence, but adds that becomes disorienting, so it introduced an ambient “whisper”... “a single, subtle note.”
To achieve this level of calm the bulkhead and floor have been double-skinned, interior components are tuned to a specific resonance frequency, and there’s 100kg worth of acoustic damping materials within nearly half the architecture of the car, in the doors, roof, double-glazed windows, even inside the tyres.
The four-wheel steering system helps with agility on the highway (where the front and rear axles steer in unison), but comes into its own at parking speeds (where they counter-steer), because even with numerous cameras and sensors, parking this 5.5m long, 2.5-tonne machine is quite an undertaking. Turning circle is still 13.0m, though, so beware. If all else fails, the car will park itself, anyway.
Beefy ventilated disc brakes front and rear wash off speed progressively and without a hint of drama.
Other highlights? The multimedia system is the only thing openly borrowed from BMW, but that’s not a problem because the interface is great. And that 1300W, 18-speaker 18-channel audio system absolutely cranks!
BMW 5 Series9/10
Expect plenty of clever safety gear, with every 5 Series sedan arriving with six airbags (dual front and full-length side airbags, along with head protection bags for front passengers). You'll also find a surround-view reversing camera and parking sensors.
But the high-tech stuff arrives courtesy of active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist and cross-road alerts.
Rolls-Royce doesn’t submit its cars for independent safety assessment, so no ANCAP rating for the new Ghost, unless, of course, the local testing authority chooses to purchase one. Enough said...
The previous Ghost was limited by its ageing 7 Series platform when it came to the latest active safety tech, But this version, sitting on a bespoke RR chassis, brings the entry-point Roller up to speed.
Included are AEB, incorporating ‘Vision Assist’ (day and night wildlife and pedestrian detection), active cruise control (with semi-autonomous driving mode), cross-traffic warning, lane-departure and lane-change warning, as well as an ‘Alertness Assistant.’
There’s also a four-camera system with panoramic and helicopter view, as well as a self-park function, and a hi-res head-up display
If all that’s not enough to avoid an impact, passive safety includes eight airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain, and front knee).
There are also top tethers and ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear seat positions for safely securing child restraints for kids fortunate enough to be travelling in this kind of style.
BMW 5 Series7/10
The BMW 5 Series is covered by a three year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires condition-based servicing (rather than a pre-defined service interval).
You can also prepay your maintenance costs for five years/80,000kms, with prices ranging from $1,640 for the basic package, and climbing to $4,600 for the all-inclusive option.
Rolls-Royce covers its Australian range with a four year/unlimited km warranty, but that's just the tip of the ownership iceberg.
The mysterious ‘Whispers’ owners portal, a “world beyond”, is claimed to offer the opportunity, “to gain access to the inaccessible, to discover rare finds, to connect with like-minds.”
Plug your car’s VIN into the app and you’ll be on the receiving end of curated content, event invitations, news and offers, as well as access to your own ‘Rolls-Royce garage’, plus a 24/7 concierge. All complimentary.
What’s more, service is recommended every 12 months/15,000km, and it’s free-of-charge for the duration of the warranty.