The new 2017 BMW 5 Series, BMW’s seventh in a long line of revered midsize sedans, looks exactly like the outgoing BMW 5 Series.
Chip off the proverbial old block. Spitting image. Germany’s vehicular Dolly The Sheep.
If the new 5 Series, codename G30 in Bimmerphile parlance, were nothing more than a facelift of the departing F10 5 Series that will shortly end its 2011-2016 run, we would all surely consider the facelift to be an insufficient attempt at spicing things up.
But the new 5 Series isn’t just a mid-cycle refresh, it’s not merely a freshening of a tired old dog, it’s not the standard Munich riposte to a Stuttgart incursion.
This is the all-new BMW 5 Series. Or rather, one of these cars is the all-new BMW 5 Series. Can you say for sure which one it is?
This is by no means the first time BMW has run an old design through the Xerox machine, nor is self-plagiarism an unheard-of technique in the German automotive industry. Only four months ago, we discussed the reasoning behind the design direction of the new Audi A5, which looks exactly like the old Audi A5. Audi’s determination, summed up? Don’t mess with success.
The 5 Series has extraordinary history on its side. The degree to which it has looked terrific in most of its iterations works in its favour. The 5 Series’ intended demographic is full of conservative buying habits. So let’s be fair: we’re not dealing with, for instance, the successor to the Chevrolet Cruze up in here.
Nothing against the first-gen Cruze, but there’s no history there, no tradition, no street cred, no foundation, and little risk in rocking the boat. If General Motors released the second-generation Cruze with nary a noticeable styling change, we’d be more than a little confused. The Cruze isn’t an icon, it’s not a Porsche 911, it can’t take any credit for its role in developing the sports sedan category.
But the 5 Series is in another league. This is where laurels are meant to be rested upon, where an automaker is obliged to act as a trustee of past successes, where dancing with the one who didn’t brung ya could have catastrophic consequences.
Or is BMW just out of ideas?
It’s not as though the design ideas employed once again are bad ones. These design ideas have worked before. With the outgoing 5 Series, BMW USA reported record 5 Series sales in 2012 and then broke that record one year later. Last year, the 5 Series even (allegedly) outsold the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz E-Class in the U.S.
While a decline at the end of a lifecycle isn’t unanticipated, 5 Series sales slid 7 percent in 2014 and then plunged 16 percent in 2015 — harsh declines during growth periods for the U.S. auto industry. The 5 Series, America’s 76th-best-selling vehicle in 2013, tumbled to 104th overall in 2015.
It’s not just a 5 Series problem. Sure, U.S. new vehicle sales volume climbed to an all-time record high of 17.5 million units, but passenger car volume fell 2 percent to form 45 percent of the market. Through the first three-quarters of 2016, U.S. auto sales are up slightly, but car sales are down 9 percent and account for just 40 percent of the market.
In response to swift and dramatic changes in market demand that are abundantly obvious inside BMW’s own U.S. showrooms — car volume is down 18 percent; BMW’s five X crossovers are up 12 percent — BMW delivers this, the new 5 Series. Identical to the last 5 Series.
No, the sedan isn’t dying, but it is coughing, sneezing, aching, and complaining of a sore throat. And while automakers think outside the SUV box (Range Rover Evoque Convertible), adjust the scope of the SUV box (Mazda CX-3), expand how far the SUV box can be elevated (Bentley Bentayga), and break down the SUV box entirely (BMW Concept X2), where are the ideas that will help keep the sedan afloat?
Not surprisingly, the “all-new” seventh-generation BMW 5 Series is a handsome sedan. There are differences between old and new: BMW design boss Karim Habib says, “For the first time, the new BMW 5-Series Sedan brings together two traditional BMW design elements which are normally separate from one another,” referring to the swage line that apparently merges with the Hofmeister kink, “rather than continuing into the rear.”
Sure. Whatever. The grille features more chrome. The taillights are more rectangular. The headlights are, no, wait, the headlights are almost identical on outgoing and incoming 5ers.
The 2017 BMW 5 Series is a new car that won’t be distinguishable from its predecessor with a cursory glance or even a brief moment of study.
For owners of current BMW 5 Series sedans who have a vested interest in preserving resale values, that’s great news.
For the sedan — in the collective, general, en masse sense — it’s just more sad news.