Johannesburg - BMW's head of design Domagoj Dukec describes himself as an “emotional rationalist”, pointing to inspiration from the art world – figures such as Michelangelo and Karl Lagerfeld. He took charge as leader of BMW Design in April last year, but over the past decade has overseen the design studio at BMW i and at BMW M.
We caught up with Dukec over video conference this week, to talk about the recently facelifted BMW 5 Series sedan, one of the best-selling executive vehicles in the world. We discussed, of course, its design updates, as well as powertrain developments, and most importantly, the evolution of the model.
A brief bit of history
The BMW 5 Series sedan is now in its seventh generation and has been in production since the early 1970s. For nearly five decades, it has fought against the BMW 3 Series for the title of best-selling model the German automaker's line-up. In fact, it's little known that BMW used the word Series for the first time when it named the 5.
Since the E28, all generations of 5 Series have included an "M" model, called the BMW M5, but in recent generations, BMW has also offered M-lite versions, such as the latest M550i.
South Africans love the 5 Series, so much so that we built our own "M5" (The 530 MLE) before the boys over in Landshut even dreamed of sending their executive car racing.
BMW 530 MLE: A South African legend.
But that was half a century ago, and today the 5 Series (and the M5) is more luxurious (and punchier) than ever before.
Why redesign the 5 Series for 2020?
Dukec says the world is changing fast and that customers' needs are evolving with the times. In the past, where a 3, 5, 7 and X5 was enough to satisfy a wide range of consumers, today the range needs to be double that amount of derivatives to keep people coming back to the brand. I asked Dukec if this overwhelming choice of models is actually making it harder for the customer to decide on what to buy and whether the 5 Series will still have a place in the market in the coming years and decades.
"It's hard to tell what will be popular in the next ten years, so you can imagine that trying to figure out what's going to be the right car for people in the next 20 years very difficult. We don't see the 5 Series going away but we do see it evolving and changing with the times. Even 10 years ago, we were not so concerned about electrification but now we see the changes in legislation that promote the use of electric vehicles," he says.
The latest 5 Series has been redesigned to offer heightened levels of refinement and luxury, while introducing elements such as the wide kidney grille and narrow, stretched headlamps first seen on the latest 7 Series.
"The styling elements we've applied to the 5 Series is very different to what you will see in the forthcoming 4 Series coupe, where we are taking a different and sportier direction with the grille and headlamps. The new large, vertically stretched grille will work for our sportier coupes but might not directly transfer to the sedans. We want to ensure each model has a unique style and presence, but you will still be able to tell that these vehicles share BMW genes," he adds.
If you'd like to learn more about the 2020 BMW 5 Series, you can watch this in-dept video walkthrough with Domagoj Dukec, Head of BMW Group Design:
The latest 5 Series (in Europe) will be offered with the widest range of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) derivatives ever. As that market matures and evolves, so too will the local market, Dukec believes, as more electrified BMWs are offered to local consumers.
For now, though, let's take a walk through the range of new 5 Series models landing in South Africa in Q4 of 2020.
BMW won't be bringing the base model 5 Series to South Africa with a petrol engine, instead, you'll have to go for the 520d.
This model features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque. The shunt is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic torque convertor transmission and BMW says it will sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds.
While it's no slouch from the lights and will certainly put the odd hot hatch in its place, the 520d is not for the boy-racer. It rides on double-wishbone suspension up front and a five-link axle at the rear that's tuned for comfort rather than flattening kerbs and will be more suited to executives with families.
Claimed fuel consumption on the 520d comes in at 4.3l/100km in a combined cycle thanks to the use of mild-hybrid technology and energy recuperation.
If you prefer gasoline instead of burning oil, you will be most interested in the new 530i, which is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. South Africa will be receiving the rear-wheel-drive version of this model only.
Also sporting mild-hybrid 48-volt technology to boost efficiency without compromising on performance, the 530i delivers 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It's paired as standard to an eight-speed torque converter Steptronic gearbox that enables a 0-100km/h sprint of just 6.4 seconds.
The ride and handling of the 530i is also more comfort biased, however, being a modern BMW, you'll be able to spice (and firm) things up with the addition of M Performance suspension.
BMW M550i xDrive
The car that (almost) makes an M5 obsolete is coming to South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The latest generation M550i with xDrive sports a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine with 390kW of power and 750Nm of torque, which is good enough for 0-100km/h sprint of 3.8 seconds. This is not a fully-fledged M car, remember, this is a tuned version of a regular 5 Series and yet it's now one of the fastest-accelerating BMW road cars ever made.
Ensuring manic acceleration times and sure-footed handling is an all-wheel-drive system that's motivated through an eight-speed Steptronic transmission, like the rest of the range. The all-wheel-drive system won't shuffle the power to each corner with the sportiest of intentions, but it will allow drivers (who enjoy grip driving) to accelerate out of corners with more ferociousness.
The M550i is also styled slightly more aggressively to ensure you are able to stand out from the regular models. You can also spec this model with an array of M Performance add-ons, which will allow you to create a rather bespoke car that's appointed just to your taste.
The M550i also comes standard with adaptive M suspension that gives you stepped levels of control in terms of ride comfort. You can dial it up for those tight and challenging twisties and canyons and then dial it back to a softer setting when transporting the family.
BMW M5 Competition
The new BMW M5 Competition model also arrives in South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2020 and it's bringing a whole raft of refinements to the segment too, but BMW hasn't released this car's final spec just yet.
It will be sporting all the design updates on the outside and inside as you would find on the standard 5 Series cars, but you can expect the M5 Competition to gain a slightly wider track and stand slightly wider on the tarmac overall thanks to the beefier treatment of its fender arches. Inside those arches, you will find ultra-high performance tyres, purpose-developed for the car.
In terms of performance, we're expecting the latest M5 Competition to feature all the mechanical refinement that's been honed while developing the all-new BMW M8 Competition. So in terms of power, there's a potential 460kW (we don't expect it to boast more than the M8 Comp) and thundering 750Nm (incidentally the same amount of torques you get in the M550i).
BMW will tell us more about the new M5 in the coming months, so be sure to watch this space for more information as it breaks.
There will always be a 5 Series customer
After discussing the style and the spec of the new BMW 5 Series with the company's head of design it became clear that the model will continue to exist well into the future despite the world's growing obsession with crossovers and SUVs.
The shape of the car will definitely evolve even further, and its drivetrains might not even feature a combustion engine, but the three-box sedan is not going away any time soon.
"We'll continue to listen to the market and the various customers that want different things and we'll do our best to build the cars that people want. You will see this growing differentiation between our model lines from the sedans to the coupes to the SAVs, where they might look different and offer different grilles and lights and signatures, but they will all retain special styling cues to ensure they remain BMW cars," he says.