The outward appearance of the 2012 5 Series is unmistakably BMW. It has no seemingly extraneous horizontal surfaces, as some recent BMWs have had, adhering instead to the functional appeal that has long been BMW's signature. The traditional kidney grille is present, and the 5's shorter-than-ever frontal overhang, a BMW trademark, is accompanied by a traditional long hood and long, segment-leading 116.9-in. wheelbase.
The cabin is set considerably to the rear, giving the profile a slightly wedged, coupe-like forward-thrust shape that, given the car's performance, is in no way misleading. Handsomely flared wheel openings filled with stylishly modern wheels and large tires underline the car's muscularity and its rear-wheel drive layout. The signature kink in the rear side window's aft edge confirms that this is a bona fide BMW.
At the nose, the 5 Series features BMW adaptive xenon headlights for powerful, safe forward illumination. And in daytime running, the headlight complex is illuminated by LED rings of light. The turn indicators, as well, are illuminated by LED. Following Audi practice, taillight clusters are illuminated in an LED pattern distinctive to BMW.
The cockpit of the BMW 5 Series is all business, deferring in every way to the driver. The dashboard is angled slightly toward the driver, while the horizontal lines of the dash add to a feeling of spaciousness for both front-seat occupants. And as expected, all controls are well placed, with the driver-only functions situated to the left of the steering column or on the wheel itself. The steering wheel contains 12 fingertip adjustments for audio, phone and adaptive cruise control. It also has a convenient tilt-away provision for easy ingress and egress.
The front seats are supportive and grippy, with unobtrusive but firm side bolstering. Both front seats have 10-way power adjustment, though with the Sport Package, the driver's seat is provided with deluxe 18-way multi-contour seats. The rear seats offer decent side bolstering, and rear seat legroom is generous. Instrumentation includes four classic circular gauges set against a black panel for optimal legibility.
The optional navigation system, located in the center console, proved easy to use, delivering a fine three-dimensional display and excellent, well-timed verbal instructions even in the most complex of multi-lane maneuvers. Combined with the navigation option, this more user-friendly fourth-generation iDrive is contained in a large and legible 10.2-inch screen. Without navigation, a 7-inch console screen is standard. The display is trans-reflective: Sunlight actually enhances its legibility. And if the head-up option is included, relevant navigational instructions are added to the head-up display.
Six different two-tone interior color schemes are available, and standard Dakota leather can be replaced by optional, more luxuriant Nappa leather. The strokes of wood that give the 5 interior its deluxe feel are available in three colors, with Ash Anthracite and Fineline Matte optional.
Climate controls and ventilation are as expected: superb.