2024 BMW i5 Prototype First Drive: A Promising Preview

With about 295 miles of range, a well-balanced chassis, and hands-free smarts, there's a lot to like about the upcoming Mercedes EQE rival.

2024 BMW i5 Prototype 2024 BMW i5 Prototype

There’s no single standout feature that headlines the 2024 BMW i5. Rather, it’s this sedan’s overall breadth of competency that should really get you stoked. You can putz through town, hustle down winding roads, or cover great distances on the highway – and that last one doesn’t even involve touching the steering wheel. All told, this fully electric 5 Series ought to be a fitting delineation of BMW’s long-serving midsize sedan.

Ahead of the 2024 5 Series’ premiere in late May (and a fall 2023 on-sale date), BMW rolled out a few prototypes of the i5 EV for me to sample in and around its huge testing facility in Miramas, France. The bad news? I can’t tell you anything about the full range of internal combustion and plug-in hybrid powertrain options, nor can I confirm a lot of the specs about the electric i5. The good news? I can safely say the 5 Series won’t be a mega uggo like the 7 Series. Even through the prototype’s heavy camouflage, conventional headlights and a reasonably sized grille are obvious. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but… that i7… yeesh.

What We Know (And What We Don’t)

BMW will initially introduce the i5 in two configurations. The base i5 eDrive40 will have a single, rear-mounted drive motor producing 335 horsepower, while the uplevel i5 M60 xDrive bumps output up to 590 hp thanks to a dual-motor setup. Torque specs aren’t yet available, but based solely on similarly named models in BMW’s lineup, I’m guessing around 315 to 320 lb-ft for the eDrive40 (the i4 eDrive40 makes 335 hp and 317 lb-ft) and as much as 750 lb-ft for the M60 (the iX M60 has 749 lb-ft, or 811 lb-ft in Launch mode).

The i5 will use a lithium-ion battery pack of an unknown capacity, mounted in traditional skateboard fashion low in the chassis between the axles. DC fast-charging speeds are TBD, but I’m betting it’ll be around 200 kilowatts; an i7 xDrive60, for reference, charges at 195 kW. Range numbers are – you guessed it – also being finalized, but BMW is targeting a US EPA rating of 295 miles for the i5 eDrive40. This model’s closest rival, the Mercedes-Benz EQE 350+, has an estimated range of 305 miles and a 170-kW charge rate.

Keep Your Hands To Yourself

Going the distance is something the i5 nails. It’s comfortable, with credit going to the nicely damped double-wishbone front suspension and the extra cushiness of air springs at the rear axle. It’s also loaded with driver-assistance tech, including an updated version of BMW’s excellent Highway Assistant that now includes automatic, hands-free lane changes.

Say you’re doing 75 mph on the freeway and there’s a semi truck ahead of you. The BMW i5 will proactively check the lane to the left, and if it’s clear, it’ll alert you that it’s ready to merge. All you have to do to accept the lane change is look at the corresponding side mirror and, presto, you’re on your way. Not that touching the turn signal stalk is a chore or anything, and you can still manually request lane changes by doing so. But this little added gesture control keeps the Highway Assistant completely hands-free. Oh, and if you don’t feel like going through with the 5 Series’ suggested lane change, just keep looking straight ahead.

Highway Assistant works like General Motors’ Super Cruise in that it allows the i5 to drive for extended periods of time on the freeway without requiring the driver to put their hands on the wheel. Plus, Highway Assistant is more forgiving of small bits of driver intervention, like if you want to veer slightly to avoid debris in the road. Other systems might completely disengage, but Highway Assistant keeps on rolling.

After the 5 Series launches this fall, BMW will send out over-the-air updates to 7 Series customers to give their cars this extra feature. Thanks, 5G connectivity.

Speaking of which, the 5 Series line will have BMW's updated iDrive 8.5 multimedia software that’ll soon roll out across the company’s portfolio. The major change for this system is that there’s a fixed row of icons at the bottom of the central display that makes it easier to find the most frequently used menus. Trust me, it’s a good thing.

The BMW i5 eDrive40

More Fun Than The Average Commuter

The eDrive40 will undoubtedly be the higher-volume i5 variant, and you know, that’s fine. Sure, it has a lot less power than the M60, but the rear-wheel-drive i5 is lighter and more sprightly. It’s still plenty quick when accelerating thanks to all that electric torque (however much it is), and the steering is responsive and full of feedback. The brakes have strong bite, too.

If you want to get rowdy, though, the i5 M60 xDrive is a real honey. The extra power is noticeable, that much is a given. But it’s the poise afforded by the M60’s active anti-roll tech that really helps with comfort and composure. Over broken pavement, there aren’t as many suspension movements, so the car handles road blemishes with greater stability. On smooth surfaces, the 48-volt anti-roll technology culls unnecessary body movements, but not to the point where it makes the i5 feel uncharacteristically taut.

The BMW i5 M60

The i5 will have 2.5-degree rear axle steering that helps with agility at higher speeds, but unlike Mercedes-Benz’s 10-degree system, this isn’t exactly a boon for parking lot and tight city maneuverability. On the other hand, the i5 will come with all the same parking assist abilities as the i7, where you can even remotely control the sedan along a pre-mapped route. Like, if your driveway super sucks or something.

After a day of testing i5 prototypes, the best compliment I can give this sedan is that it drives like a 5 Series should. It doesn’t feel overly heavy, despite the big battery ballast between the axles. It’s not wafty, yet at the same time, the M60’s relatively low-profile 245/40 front and 275/35 rear tires don’t result in a chatty ride. There will naturally be differences between the base 5 Series models with fixed dampers and the zippier M variants with active suspension technologies, but from what I’ve sampled thus far, this BMW feels like a solid middle ground between the nimbleness of a 3 Series and excellent refinement of a big 7.

So Far, So Good

What else can I tell you? Not much, I’m afraid. From what I can see between cuts of camouflage, the i5’s interior has a straightforward layout, and the seats are pretty stinkin’ nice – comfy enough for a long day of testing, at any rate. The cabin likely won’t have the same level of styling flourish as a Mercedes-Benz EQE; don’t expect millions of ambient lighting colors or pinstriped wood. But at least the i5 is quiet, and it’ll for sure have better fit and finish than anything Tesla offers, with physical controls and everything.

If the internal combustion 5 Series starts in the same $55,000 to $60,000 range as before, my guess is that the i5 will command closer to $75,000 or $80,000. A brand-new Mercedes EQE 350+ costs $76,050 including destination, so use that as a barometer for where the BMW might end up.

There’s a lot more we’ll learn about the 2024 5 Series when BMW takes the wraps off its new sedan in May. Here’s hoping the rest of the range is as all-around pleasant as the compelling new i5.

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