2023 BMW i5 electric car revealed

One of our favourite executive cars – the BMW 5 Series – is being replaced this year. And for the first time there will be a fully electric version, called the i5...

2023 BMW i5 front driving

On sale: October 2023 | Price from: £49,850

At first glance, the ever-evolving BMW 5 Series might not seem to have anything in common with famously typecast movie star Katharine Hepburn. However, both are serial winners: Hepburn holds the record for acting Oscar triumphs (four), while the 5 Series is the most decorated car in the history of the What Car? Awards, having collected 25 trophies over the years. And that record of the latter means hopes for this new, eighth-generation 5 Series could hardly be higher.

There are no diesels this time, but in addition to launching the new 5 Series in regular petrol guise, BMW is introducing a fully electric sister model called the i5. It’s this that you can see in our pictures, but expect the 5 Series to look very similar, aside from an open front grille.

The i5 will face off against the likes of the Mercedes EQE, Polestar 2 and Porsche Taycan, as well as the upcoming Audi A6 e-tron, which is due to go on sale next year. 

Two i5 variants will be offered, with the entry-level eDrive40 drawing power from an 81.2kWh battery, which provides an official range of up to 361 miles. That’s enough to take you from London to Sheffield and back without stopping, although the EQE and the Polestar 2 can go farther still. This entry-level i5 is no slouch; its single electric motor (which drives the rear wheels) produces 335bhp, meaning it can crack the 0-62mph sprint in 6.0sec.

Want even more performance? Then the M60 xDrive is aimed at you; this gets a second electric motor to drive the front wheels, making it four-wheel drive and boosting its output dramatically to 593bhp. That cuts the 0-62mph sprint time to just 3.8sec, but also reduces the car’s range to 320 miles. 

The i5 is able to charge at a peak rate of 205kW, meaning a 10-80% top-up takes just half an hour if you can find a sufficiently powerful charging point. Even a 10-minute charge can potentially boost the range by 156 miles – plenty for most commutes. Of course, as with all electric cars, fully charging at home using a typical 7kW wallbox will take considerably longer.

If a fully electric car doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle, the choice of engines in the regular 5 Series is sparse at first, amounting to a single offering: the 520i. This gets a 188bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit with mild hybrid electrical assistance to help lower your fuel bills. The result is an official average economy figure of 49.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 130g/km. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard.

Two plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants will join the 5 Series line-up next spring. The 530e pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined power output of 295bhp and an official electric range of up to 63 miles. The 550e, meanwhile, gets a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine and produces a combined 308bhp, with the official electric range dipping to 56 miles. In both cases, that’s farther than the 34 miles that the rival Audi A6 50 TFSIe and Mercedes E-Class E300e can manage.

2023 BMW i5 interior

The PHEV models (along with the i5) will appeal to company car drivers, thanks to the tax incentives brought about by their long electric ranges and CO2 emissions of as little as 14g/km.

You might also be interested to know that both the i5 M60 and the 520i can tow a 2000kg braked load – the equivalent of a family-sized caravan – whereas the i5eDrive40 is limited to 1500kg. Figures for the PHEVs are still to be announced.

Fans of the old M5 performance car will be happy to hear that there will be a replacement, and that it will retain a V8 petrol engine. However, this will be joined by an electric motor as part of a set-up adapted from that of the upcoming XM sports SUV. That car packs a heady 644bhp (or 738bhp in range-topping Label Red guise), and has an electric range of up to 55 miles.

Given that the new 5 series is larger all round than its predecessor, it’s a little surprising that the new 520i has a smaller boot than the car it replaces: 520 litres versus 530 litres. That’s also less than is offered by today’s A6 and E-Class. Still, we managed to fit a respectable eight carry-on suitcases into the old 5 Series’ boot, so a full load of holiday luggage shouldn’t trouble the new car.  And, unlike before, the PHEVs don’t lose any boot space to their batteries. The i5, meanwhile, has a 490-litre boot. If you’re in need of more space in either car, the rear seats split and fold in a versatile 40/20/40 arrangement.

2023 BMW i5 front

Up front, the dashboard features a 12.3in digital instrument panel and a 14.9in infotainment screen, both contained within a single housing. This might not be as visually impressive as the EQE’s massive optional Hyperscreen (which covers virtually the full width of the dashboard), but BMW’s infotainment system has long set the standard for usability. It can be operated by touch, gestures, voice commands or, most usefully when on the move, via a rotary controller on the centre console.

The infotainment should help to keep you and your passengers entertained while you’re parked up or charging, because you can watch YouTube videos on the screen, or even play games on it, using your mobile phone as a controller. Alternatively, you can take selfies or record videos using an integrated camera. 

That camera isn’t just for creating Oscar-worthy social media content, however; it can also be set to send an alert to your phone if someone breaks into your car, and record footage of them.

2023 BMW i5 rear seats

The 5 Series uses the same augmented-reality navigation technology we’ve already seen (and been impressed by) on the iX electric SUV. It shows a real-time camera view of the road ahead on the infotainment screen and overlays it with navigation instructions, so you should never miss a turning again.

Elsewhere, the standard-fit Harman Kardon audio system can be upgraded to a Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound set-up, while there’s no danger of anyone’s devices running short on power, because four USB-C charging ports are dotted around the 5 Series’ interior. A panoramic glass roof is also available.

For the first time, the 5 Series features a fully vegan interior, with the dashboard, door panels, seats and steering wheel all made from sustainably sourced materials.

Buyers will be able to choose from M Sport, M Sport Pro and M Performance trim levels, with the latter being exclusive to the i5 M60. The equipment that comes as standard with M Sport trim will have most of your needs covered, because it includes 19in alloy wheels, heated seats and wireless charging for your phone. M Sport Pro models get larger, 20in wheels, sportier styling and a more throaty-sounding exhaust note for the 520i, while the M60 comes with adaptive suspension, electric seat adjustment with memory, and four-zone climate control. The adaptive suspension is optional on other versions.

2023 BMW i5 side

As you might expect, both the 5 Series and i5 come with assistance systems designed to take the stress out of driving. These can keep you a set distance from the car in front, keep you within your lane on the motorway and can change lanes for you when prompted to do so.

BMW’s ConnectedDrive service lets you add additional features after you’ve bought your 5 Series, including remote parking and the ability to start your car’s engine using a phone app. You can even choose to subscribe to these features for a limited period of time.

Prices for the petrol 5 Series start from £49,850, making it significantly more expensive than the A6, but about on par with the E-Class. The i5, meanwhile, costs from £73,200 for the eDrive40 and £96,840 for the M60 xDrive. So, while the i5’s starting price is competitive with the equivalent EQE, you might still need to put in a few award-winning performances at work before you’ll have enough in the bank to buy yourself an i5.

The new 5 Series and i5 saloons will be joined by more practical Touring estate versions next spring, with the i5 Touring going up against the all-new Audi A6 Avant e-tron that’s due at roughly the same time.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: BMW i5 prototype driven >>