New BMW i5 vs Mercedes EQE: interiors

BMW’s fully electric i5 aims to raise the bar for executive cars. But first it has to see off the Mercedes EQE...

BMW i5 interior dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

BMW knows how to execute a great driving position. There’s plenty of adjustment in the well-bolstered seat and you feel like you're in the ideal position relative to the steering wheel. This contrasts with the Mercedes EQE, in which a raised dashboard design places the steering wheel unusually high. To achieve true comfort in the EQE, you must significantly raise your seat (which is well padded but a little short on support) to match the wheel’s height.

This driving position not only feels somewhat unnatural but also does little to improve visibility. With heavily raked front and rear screens, shallow side windows and thick pillars, the EQE is trickier to see out of than the more upright BMW i5. Fortunately, both cars come with front and rear parking sensors, rear-view cameras and parking assistants. You’ll need to fork out for the £2000 Technology Pack to get a 360-degree camera on the i5, whereas the EQE comes with one.

The interiors of the i5 and EQE are dominated by huge central touchscreens (14.9in and 12.8in respectively), but the i5 has a more user-friendly dashboard layout. In the EQE, you have to use the main touchscreen to adjust almost everything, including the interior temperature, whereas in the i5, a backlit touch panel (which runs across the width of the dashboard) conceals controls for the air-con (among other things) that aren’t too tricky to operate.

Mercedes EQE dashboard

You can also specify your i5 with a head-up display that projects your speed onto the windscreen (a feature that's standard on the EQE), but considering that both cars come with highly configurable digital instrument panels that can show lots of information in a variety of ways, you can do without this.

Both cars’ interiors look suitably glitzy and futuristic. Each features a rich mixture of high-quality materials, ambient lighting galore and slick-looking details such as turbine-style air vents on the EQE and crystalline trim on the i5.

However, some of the EQE’s fixtures and fittings feel disappointingly cheap or flimsy, particularly around the infotainment screen and centre console. In contrast, the i5 feels meticulously assembled and robust throughout. The only notable drawback in the i5 is that the standard ‘vegan’ leather resembles cheap vinyl (whereas the EQE’s equivalent is more convincing). For £2100, you can have real leather in the i5 (but not the EQE) instead.

Infotainment systems

BMW i5

BMW i5 interior infotainment

Forming part of a wide, curved display alongside the digital instruments, the 14.9in infotainment screen is crisp and quick to respond to inputs. Shortcut keys along the bottom make this relatively easy to use as a touchscreen, but the dial controller between the seats is still the best way to interact with it on the move. You get wireless charging for two phones, plus a Harman Kardon audio system. For £1250, you can upgrade to a punchy B&W set-up.

Mercedes EQE

Mercedes EQE infotainment

At the heart of the dashboard is a 12.8in touchscreen with a straightforward layout, sharp graphics and swift responses. However, because the only ways of interacting with the system are via the touchscreen or voice commands, it’s more distracting to use on the move than the i5’s set-up. Mercedes’ vaunted Hyperscreen (which turns the whole dashboard into a display) isn’t available on this model; you have to step up to the EQE 53 for that.