2024 BMW i5 Prototype First Drive: 5 Series EV Makes A Great First Impression

BMW's next-generation 5 Series lineup is almost ready for prime time, with the luxury sedan expected to debut in late May. This time around, the 5 Series will be offered with internal combustion, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric powertrains, and it's that last one on that list that BMW recently invited me to sample at its test track in Miramas, France.

Called the 2024 i5, BMW's electric 5 Series will take an approach similar to the existing BMW i7 EV. That is to say, it'll look like every other 5 Series sedan — save for aerodynamic tweaks like a closed-off grille and unique wheels — and will be offered with the same interior color schemes and creature comforts. When it goes on sale this fall, the i5 will compete with well-received midsize rivals like the Mercedes-Benz EQE, Porsche Taycan, and Tesla Model S.

What we know right now

Because of the i5's early pre-production status, there are a whole bunch of details BMW cannot yet reveal. Battery size or chemistry? Torque output? DC fast-charging speed? These figures are all TBD. My one sincere hope is that BMW manages to offer charging speeds above 200 kilowatts, since that's quickly becoming the industry norm. The i7 can only charge at a maximum of 195 kW, which is pretty disappointing for an EV with a price tag that starts at almost $120,000.

Right now, I can confirm there will be an entry-level BMW i5 eDrive40 with a single electric motor mounted at the rear axle making 335 horsepower. BMW will also have an i5 M60 xDrive available at launch, with a dual-motor setup making 590 hp. Additional power levels could be on the cards, too, much as we've seen with the recently announced i7 M70 xDrive.

As for the i5's all-important driving range, BMW says it's estimating a US EPA rating of 295 miles for the base eDrive40. Final certification will take place closer to the i5's on-sale date in October 2023.

BMW i5 M60: How it drives

Based on the same architecture as the internal combustion 5 Series, the i5 gets the full shebang of chassis technologies. The front suspension uses a double-wishbone setup while the rear has adaptive air springs. Underlying 48-volt electrical architecture allows for optional active roll stabilization, and the i5 has rear-axle steering, which can turn the back wheels up to 2.5 degrees in either direction. That said, rival Mercedes-Benz has up to 10-degree rear steering, making its cars much easier to maneuver in tight parking lots.

Hustled around two different handling courses within the Miramas facility's walls, the i5 M60 really impresses. The active roll stabilization works wonders, keeping body motions in check while cornering, but not overriding the experience so much as to feel unnatural. Some active anti-roll technologies (ahem, Mercedes) are so aggressive they make me feel car sick, but that's not the case in the i5.

With the drive mode selector in Sport, the i5 M60's steering is light but full of feedback, and the rear-axle assist helps give you an extra little shove through tighter turns. More impressively, the 18-inch front brakes are powerful — there's immediate bite and no fade. Lap after lap on a technical road course, the i5 M60 inspires real confidence.

BMW i5 eDrive40: Great balance of comfort and sport

Of course, even in hot M60 guise, the i5 is not a car meant for flogging. It'll handle a winding country road with significant pep in its step, and certainly has more on-road verve than a Mercedes EQE — the specially-tuned 677 horsepower AMG variant notwithstanding — but for 95 percent of most buyers, I'm willing to bet that the cheaper and less powerful i5 eDrive40 will be more than sufficient. 

The instant torque from the electric motor makes this car quick and responsive when pulling away from a stop, and there's enough midrange passing power to get you around slow traffic. You can feel a difference in the eDrive40's steering, too — it's lighter, given there's no front drive motor in this model. And, even without the active anti-roll stabilization, the i5's stiff body and nicely damped suspension make the eDrive40 an enjoyable steer.

Updated hands-free driving tech

The 2024 BMW 5 Series will launch with a few big updates to its driver-assistance technologies, most notably an enhanced version of the company's Highway Assistant. This Level 2 system works like Ford's BlueCruise or General Motors' Super Cruise, giving you the ability to drive hands-free for extended periods of time.

BMW's Highway Assistant is especially slick because it more seamlessly allows for tiny bits of driver intervention without completely disengaging the system. (You can – and should – dodge that pothole.) The basic Level 2 operation requires your hands to still be on the wheel and is mostly used at lower speeds, but once this is activated, the fully hands-free Level 2+ option will be presented when available, and you don't have to press any button to use it — just let go. The i5 will tell you if it needs you to take over again.

The other new functionality that'll launch with the 5 Series is hands-free lane changes. Highway Assistant can already proactively suggest one or multiple lane changes depending on traffic or your navigation route. But instead of having to touch the turn signal to proceed with the lane change, you can now just look at either of the side mirrors and the driver-facing camera will register this gesture as a "yes." Don't want to move over? Just keep looking straight ahead.

Helpful infotainment upgrades

After the 5 Series hits the scene, BMW's enhanced Highway Assistant will be available to 7 Series and i7 owners through an over-the-air update. Similarly, a tweaked version of BMW's iDrive 8 infotainment technology — which the company unofficially calls iDrive 8.5 — will roll out across the lineup. That'll include a modified display design that introduces shortcuts running along the bottom of the screen for frequently used menus, as well as a reconfigurable home screen that has a simplified layout.

All 5 Series models will have BMW's curved display — as we saw on the XM SUV — incorporating the aforementioned multimedia screen as well as a colorful digital gauge cluster. As for the rest of the interior, well, the i5s I tested were all still camouflaged, but I'm expecting a simple and handsome design not unlike that of the new 7 Series. The seats are comfy, that much I know for sure.

Coming this fall

It's way too early to say how much the 5 Series — i5 included — will cost; look for pricing to be announced in the late summer or fall. A base, gas-powered 5 Series sedan will likely start in the $55,000 to $60,000 ballpark like it currently does, though features like active roll stabilization and xDrive all-wheel drive will help nudge that figure northwards. I'm willing to bet the i5 will command closer to $80,000, which will slot it nicely between the existing BMW i4 and i7. Regardless of drivetrain, all versions of the 2024 5 Series will be built at BMW's plant in Dingolfing, Germany.

So, while there are still many blanks to fill in regarding the new 5 Series, one thing's for sure: the i5 makes a great first impression. Assuming it offers competitive pricing, decent range, and appropriately fast charging speeds, the 2024 BMW i5 should be quite the compelling luxury EV.