‘Extra-Veganza!’: ‘Woke’ BMW dares to shake things up

Pasok bashers! (Come in, bashers!)”

That’s what I had in mind when the all-new BMW 520i and the first-ever BMW i5 eDrive40 were unveiled in the presence of BMW customers and the motoring media in Makati City on Feb 21.

The unveiling of these two models were notable events in and of themselves. But what really got me smiling was that these models were the German brand’s first models to feature their fully vegan interior called Veganza. “Fully” is the key word here, as the models have included not just the seats, but also the dashboard, door panels, as well as the steering wheel to feature materials not sourced from animals.

What got me thinking about bashers dates back to a social media situation this Jan. 24, when a story about the Jan. 19 launch of the all-electric BMW i4 eDrive35 4-door gran coupe was posted in our TessDrive Facebook page. In that post, we also highlighted the premium vegan interior of the i4 eDrive35, called SensaTec, and wrote that this material didn’t require the killing of innocent animals. This apparently triggered a group of followers who posted a series of disparaging comments against people, including this writer, who preferred vegan interiors.

I didn’t take such attacks sitting down, of course. I stood my ground and defended the non-use of animal parts in any aspect of the creation of cars. Vegan is the shortest word to describe any material that doesn’t use any part of an animal. Vegan-friendly cars may not yet be mainstream in the Philippine market, but worldwide, the number of vegan-friendly cars in the market and on the roads are increasing, and more people are adopting veganism not just as a dietary choice but as a holistic way of life (particularly in Europe). With this trend, many carmakers have responded positively, rolling out models that have vegan-friendly variants.

Another term for vegan leather, and a bit more sophisticated, is “faux” leather. Faux is a French word that means “fake” or “imitation.” The “x” is silent, because if you do pronounce it, you’ll get a totally different material, and it certainly won’t be vegan. Premium faux leather materials from luxury carmakers already closely resemble their animal-sourced counterparts both in feel and finish. Some types of faux leather even look and feel more luxurious than the animal-sourced ones.

BMW made it clear that it preferred vegan leather over animal-sourced leather in order to help meet the carmaker’s central goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. In the process of making animal-sourced leather, most emissions produced come from methane gas from cattle rearing. The remainder comes from processing the cowhide, which is both energy- and water-intensive.

So, with the most recent dual launches of the all-new 520i and first-ever i5 eDrive40, BMW has shown that its use of vegan materials isn’t just a one-off. And it’s even gotten a name: Veganza.

Dabbling in veganism since 2021

In January 2023, Spencer Yu, president of SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp, the official importer and distributor of BMW in the Philippines, introduced the new BMW iX3 M Sport, a full EV sport activity vehicle. He proudly announced that this EV has been fitted with “man-made seat upholstery that has the same suppleness, the same feel as (animal-based) leather but all reducing the carbon footprint. No cows were sacrificed in the making of the car (seats).”

In 2021, the BMW-owned British car brand MINI announced that it would be discontinuing its production of leather interiors, and the new seats would be made entirely from recycled fabric, with an underlining that’s 70% recycled. Vegan business magazine Vegconomist wrote that the company has aimed for a more timeless design, rather than one that would become outdated after a season.

There. I think I stressed veganism enough to “wake” those bashers up again. Anyway, before I engage in another keyboard battle with these guys, let’s go first to the other juicy stuff oozing from these new BMW models.

The new 5 Series comes with a choice of gasoline and, for the first time, an all-electric engine. The 520i, the internal combustion engine variant of the 5 Series, generates 208 HP and 330 Nm of torque. The 2.0L in-line 4-cylinder engine allows the vehicle to go from 0 to 100 kph in 7.5 seconds, and the top speed is 230 kph. This engine also links up with an 8-speed Steptronic transmission using mild hybrid technology with a 48V starter-generator.

On the other hand, the all-electric variant of the 5 Series generates 340 HP and 430 Nm of torque with a maximum range of 582km. The fifth generation eDrive technology lets the i5 eDrive40 go from 0 to 100kph in 6 seconds while achieving a top speed of 193 kph.

Enhanced ADAS

The advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) available for the new BMW 520i and BMW i5 eDrive40 enhance driving comfort on long journeys and increase safety in situations where the driver does not have a clear view.

The 520i and i5 eDrive40 come with the parking assistant’s range of functions, extended with the addition of the reversing assistant, which takes control of the steering while backing up for distances of up to 50 meters. The i5 eDrive40 exclusively features the lane departure warning system with driving assistant while also featuring lane return by means of steering assistance.

The 520i and i5 eDrive40 retail for P4,990,000 and P5,790,000, respectively. Both come with a 5-year comprehensive BMW Warranty, while the i5 eDrive40 also comes with a 6-year BMW Service Inclusive package, an 8-year high voltage battery warranty, and a BMW Wallbox charger that will be installed by a BMW i partner in the customer’s home.

New design language

The front view of the vehicle is characterized by a modern interpretation of the twin headlights and BMW kidney grille. LED elements arranged almost vertically serve as turn indicators and daytime driving lights. The BMW kidney grille, which projects far forward, features a wide surround and BMW Iconic Glow contour lighting.

The vehicle profile features a high shoulder line, powerfully designed surfaces and two precisely traced character lines shaping the vehicle’s athletic body. Black side skirts, flush-mounted door openers and an embossed number 5 at the base of the C-pillar are further eye-catchers. The dynamically stretched proportions flow into a powerful rear end. Flat rear lights divided by a chrome strip interpret the hallmark L-shape expressively. The 520i is fitted with silver 19-inch Triplex spoke 933 light alloy wheels, while the i5 eDrive40 comes with bicolor grey 19-inch aerodynamic wheels.

There are 6 different kinds of paintwork for both the 520i and the i5 eDrive40. Both models will be available in Mineral White, Black Sapphire, Cape York Green, Oxide Grey, Phytonic Blue, and Sophisto Grey.

Both have a cockpit with a significantly reduced number of buttons and controls compared to their predecessor. This is achieved by consistently digitalizing functions. Adjusting vehicle settings in both models can be done through the BMW widescreen display which consists of a 12.3-inch information display and a 14.9-inch control display.

To further elevate the cabin experience, the steering wheel has been redesigned with a flattened lower section and haptic feedback on the control panels, and the selector lever on the center console. Another highlight present in the 520i and the i5 eDrive40 is the BMW interaction bar. The effectively backlit functional unit with crystalline surface structure extends across the entire width of the instrument panel far into the door panels and includes touch-sensitive control panels.

With the inclusion of the HiFi loudspeaker system from Harman Kardon, all passengers inside the vehicle will even get the best audio treatment. The 12 speakers and 205 watts produce an impressive balanced sound that would reach all the corners of the 520i and the i5 eDrive40 for an immersive audio experience, elevating every journey to a symphony of perfection.

In the area of technology, the standard BMW Live Cockpit Plus brings the new BMW Operating System 8.5 to the 520i and i5 eDrive40, together with a host of extra digital services.

Furthermore, the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant adds intuitive interaction to the new models. For even better connectivity, the smartphone integration function is now compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Passengers may also conveniently charge their smartphones on the go with the wireless charging tray.

BMW ConnectedDrive

BMW is the first and only brand in the premium auto segment to introduce comprehensive digital services through BMW ConnectedDrive.

Both variants of the 5 Series are equipped with BMW ConnectedDrive, which lets customers gain access to the MyBMW App, empowering them to remotely control vehicle functions and access essential vehicle information directly from their smartphones. This also empowers both models with a series of capabilities, including the remote software upgrade and BMW Maps. These allow customers to download improved functions and additional digital services directly into the car over the air and navigate through a cloud-based system with precise route calculations and real-time traffic data updates, respectively.