After half a decade of flame surfaces, cat's-eye headlamps, and wild cutlines, BMW design is pulling back from extreme frivolities for the next 5-series, due in 2009 (wagon in 2010).
Early illustrations show toned-down creases and edges, less-busy details, and a more elegant overall appearance. A longer wheelbase will boost rear seat room, while a wider track and a slightly lower ride height give the car a more ground-hugging stance. Inside, there's a new instrument panel, an optional head-up display, and a center console angled toward the driver.
The drivetrain goes high-tech with brake-energy regeneration teaming with adaptive alternator control, a start-stop system with an upshift indicator for manual transmissions, plus biofuel- and synfuel-capable engines.
The classic six-speed manual gearbox is joined by a traditional, torque-converter automatic that shifts 50 percent quicker and also can skip gears. BMW's unloved SMG sequential manual found in today's M5 bites the dust, but two new auto/manual hybrids are planned. One is a faster-shifting evolution of the current SMG. The other is a dual-clutch automatic. The engine lineup should include a 3.0-liter six with 238 hp (525i); a direct-injection 3.0-liter six with 272 hp (530i/xi); a twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.0-liter six with 306 hp (535i/xi); a 4.8-liter V-8 with 367 hp (540i); a twin-turbo, direct-injection 4.4-liter V-8 with 408 hp (550i/xi); plus an array of diesels that use urea injection to cut emissions. As for the M5, it will have an even more potent, 550-hp, 5.5-liter V-10, and it definitely will get the twin-clutch automatic. It bows in late 2010.
More exotic body materials help make the standard car a bit lighter than its predecessor--but there are plenty of new optional add-ons to cancel out the weight savings. Among them are active rear-suspension kinematics, xDrive all-wheel drive with active torque split, stability-enhancing active yaw control, and the next-generation electronic damper control system.
For all the technology, the styling may take center stage. But will the restrained look prove too mainstream for a carmaker that has, under Chris Bangle, received a lot of flak--and a lot of praise--for its extroverted styling?