The new, sixth iteration of the BMW 5 Series is the kind of car that makes everything you drive afterwards feel inadequate.
Driving this frankly faultless vehicle got me thinking how arduous motoring used to be. During my youth, in the 1980s, I don't remember ever getting into a car that: (a) wasn't a second-hand Ford Cortina; (b) didn't have to be started with jump leads; (c) wasn't driven by a drunken uncle; and (d) didn't have at least 10 members of my family squeezed into it. Indeed, one of my earliest motoring memories is of being transported three miles across Wolverhampton by an inebriated relative, a dozen of us in a car that would have struggled to hold five, and the front passenger door flying open on a dual carriageway as we did so. My brother, who was tucked into a footwell, fell out and had his foot run over by another car.
I did same journey with the same brother in the new 5 Series, with its airbags, automatic parking, Integral Active Steering, Night Vision with pedestrian recognition, and astonishing Surround View system which uses two cameras in the side mirrors to give a bird's eye view of the car to aid low speed manoeuvring, and we both couldn't help reflecting how far things have come in 25 years.
If I had to pick a stand-out feature on this car, it would be the heads-up display. Amazingly, it is not listed as a safety feature alongside the SOS emergency call function, which recognises an accident has occurred and then puts a call instantly and automatically through to the emergency services (with the exact co-ordinates of the car) or the gadget which allows BMW customer service operatives to unlock the car remotely, if necessary. It is listed as a toy. But it is no such thing. I've driven cars with Top Gun-style heads-up displays before and, while they have been fun, they have all, ultimately, been useless.
However, the one in the 5 Series is so clear, so practical and contains so much information that you really don't ever have to look at the dashboard. And every time I have got behind the wheel of a car since, I have felt a little bit unsafe as a result of its absence.
Frankly, this a car that you not only want, but need.
SPECIFICATION BMW 535i SE
Engine: 3.0 litre, six-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Power: 306 bhp
Torque: 295 lb ft @ 1,200 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel: 33.2 mpg (combined cycle)
0-62 mph: 6.0 seconds
Top speed: 155 mph (limited)