– Lisbon, Portugal
It’s been a decade since I first drove down Portugal’s N247 coast road – a winding ribbon of tarmac that’s as gorgeous as it is boringly named. I was there to test the then-new BMW ActiveHybrid 5 – the first instance of electrification in BMW’s mid-size sedan. Fast forward to 2023 and I’m back on the N247 in a 5 Series, but this time, it’s fully electric. The story of BMW’s eighth-generation 5 Series starts with the 2024 i5.
The i5 follows in the footsteps of the larger i7, which is to say, it’s not a one-off EV on a dedicated platform like the iX SUV. Instead, the EV and ICE models share the same bones, with BMW designing most of its platforms to accommodate internal combustion, plug-in hybrid, and electric powertrains. From the outside, there’s very little to distinguish the i5 from its gas-fed counterparts. Like the i7 and 7 Series, that’s intentional. And thank goodness, this one isn’t as ugly.
|2024 BMW i5 eDrive40
|Single Permanent-Magnet Synchronous
|335 Horsepower / 295 Pound-Feet
|81.2 Kilowatt-Hour Lithium-Ion
|205 Kilowatts DC
|$66,800 + $995 Destination
One Motor Or Two?
We'll get two i5 variants in the US: the single-motor, rear-wheel-drive eDrive40 and the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive M60 xDrive. Both have a lithium-ion battery with 81.2 kilowatt-hours of usable capacity, and BMW says all i5 models can accept DC fast-charging speeds of up to 205 kilowatts – a nice little improvement over the i7’s 195-kW max. Plugged into a Level 2 home charger, you’re looking at 11 kW.
In the i5 eDrive40, the rear-mounted electric motor produces 335 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque – enough to get this 4,916-pound sedan up to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, which, just for funsies, is the same time as that old ActiveHybrid 5. This swiftness is perfectly fine for everyday driving, especially since the 0-to-30-mph off-the-line sprint is always quick in an EV thanks to instant torque. If you’re on your best behavior, the EPA says you can expect a maximum range of 295 miles with this single-motor configuration.
The i5 M60 xDrive blows the eDrive40 out of the water, though, with a mega 593 hp and 586 lb-ft of torque. Fitting a second electric drive unit to the front axle adds 331 pounds to the i5’s curb weight, but the extra shove makes quick work of that penalty. The i5 M60 can hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Range takes a hit though; at best, the EPA says you’ll see 256 miles.
A Fine Daily Driver
Regardless of power output, the i5 drives like any good 5 Series: smooth and comfortable on the highway, but totally game to be tossed into a corner on a narrow Portuguese B-road. I got a positive impression from the i5 prototypes that BMW had me sample at its Miramas, France, proving grounds earlier this year, and it doesn’t appear that much has changed dynamically between then and now.
Driving an i5 eDrive40 with the optional M Sport suspension, electronically adjustable dampers, and 21-inch wheels (smaller 19s and 20s are also offered), the ride is superb, nicely smoothing out the often lousy roads found in tiny Portuguese towns. All i5s have a self-leveling rear air suspension that makes the butt end nice and cushy, and the front double-wishbone setup nicely keeps the sedan’s nose in check while still communicating just enough feedback through the thick-rimmed steering wheel.
Regardless of power output, the i5 drives like any good 5 Series: smooth and comfortable on the highway, but totally game to be tossed into a corner on a narrow Portuguese B-road.
All i5s are available with 2.5-degree rear-axle steering that’ll help tuck the rear end in through hairpin turns, but only the M60 gets the 5 Series’ new 48-volt active anti-roll tech – something that really helps this sedan keep its composure while hustling through the Portuguese hills.
Being an EV, the i5 relies on regenerative braking to feed some extra energy back into the battery, and being a BMW, there are different preset levels of regen, managed in a sub-menu of a sub-menu in the somewhat convoluted iDrive 8.5 infotainment system (more on that shortly). My advice? Keep the i5 in B – that’s one click down from D – which gives you maximum regen. And for cripes’ sake, turn off the adaptive recuperation feature, which adds or subtracts regen based on GPS route data. It sounds great in theory, but just makes for inconsistent brake feel.
Hey, Where’d Your Hands Go?
Want to drive hands-free? The i5 will let you do that – on pre-mapped highways, natch, not unlike Ford’s BlueCruise or General Motors’ Super Cruise. You can use BMW’s Highway Assistant for long periods of time without ever needing to touch the wheel, and should you have to make a little correction, it won’t automatically shut the system off. Super easy.
The hot new feature that debuts in the i5 is gesture-based lane-changes. Basically, if you’re using Highway Assistant and the system detects a lane change might be helpful, it’ll suggest one, and all you have to do is glance at the corresponding side mirror to activate the moment. If you don’t feel like taking the i5 up on its suggestion, keep looking straight ahead. Again, super easy. And don’t worry, this tech will soon roll out to other BMWs fitted with Highway Assistant, too.
Lots Of Tech In A Chic Cabin
It’s the little things that make the i5’s interior so nice, like attractive contrast stitching on the vegan upholstery, backlit ambient lighting panels, or the glass controls on the center console. There are even two individually carved-out smartphone slots on the wireless charging pad ahead of the cup holders, so no one’s fighting for juicin’-up space.
A single curved display incorporates a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 14.9-inch multimedia touchscreen. The former has a bunch of reconfigurable displays, as well as helpful augmented reality overlays that’ll help you nail every turn-by-turn direction. But the right-hand screen is where iDrive 8.5 lives – a nice upgrade to the existing iDrive 8.0 tech that adds a row of feature buttons along the bottom of the display for quick access to common functions. That’s a good thing, since iDrive’s main menu is an absolute mess of little icons that are tough to poke while driving. BMW says yet more improvements are coming over the air.
Here’s something we probably didn’t need, though: AirConsole. When you’re parked – like, at a charger – you can scan a QR code on your phone and play one of 10 different video games right on the 14.9-inch display. There are off-brand versions of everything from Mario Kart to Tetris. I’m not sure how this improves just screwing around on your phone while waiting for the i5 to juice up, but hey, you do you. Up to seven people can connect and play on AirConsole, which will be helpful for when this inevitably spreads to BMW’s seven-passenger vehicles. For now, you’ll just have to cram all your friends into the i5. (Dibs on whatever the German word is for "Yoshi," by the way.)
Coming This Fall, With More On The Way
The 2024 i5 eDrive40 will start at $67,795 (including $995 for destination) when it goes on sale this fall. That price undercuts this car’s two chief rivals, the Mercedes-Benz EQE 350+ and Tesla Model S, which cost $76,050 and $76,380, respectively. Interestingly, the i5 is only a few thousand bucks more than the ActiveHybrid 5 was when it was brand new in 2012. That’s electric democratization, right there.
For the power hungry, there’s the $85,095 i5 M60 xDrive which, again, comes in below its AMG-badged Mercedes EQE counterpart. And while I definitely love the thrill of 593 hp, I’m actually inclined to say I’d rather have the eDrive40. For starters, it doesn’t have the weird closed-off grille design, and 335 hp is still plenty quick for daily driving. Nicely equipped like the Brooklyn Gray car pictured here, a pretty loaded i5 eDrive40 should only set you back about $75,000.
The next chapter of BMW’s 5 Series rollout will be the gas models: the rear-drive 530i and all-wheel-drive 530i xDrive and 540i xDrive. After that, we’ll see the M5 Touring that isn’t destined for North America, followed by the red-hot plug-in hybrid M5. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before even that firecracker goes fully electric. Hopefully that next big step in the 5 Series’ electrification doesn’t take another 10 years.
Gallery: 2024 BMW i5 First Drive Review
2024 BMW i5 eDrive40