Hands on: Bowers & Wilkins Surround Sound System (BMW 5 Series 2023) review

BMW's new 5 Series gets the Bowers & Wilkins treatment

What is a hands on review?
BMW i5 M40 in Brooklyn Grey
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

Early Verdict

A new 5 Series and a new Bowers & Wilkins system to go with it, but can it hit the sonic highs of the company's most recent stereo speakers?


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    Easy-to-use iDrive system

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    Continuum midrange drivers

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    Available across 5 Series models


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    i5 sacrifices under-seat woofers

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    Lots of menus to navigate

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Being one of the jewels in BMW’s crown, a new 5 Series is always a huge deal and this 2023 version (the 8th Generation) brings some of the biggest and boldest design and technology changes the range has ever seen.

It’s absolutely packed to bursting point with all manner of tech, from the option of fully electric drivetrains to BMW’s Curved Display and even sees the debut of in-car gaming in the 5 Series.

For What Hi-Fi? it’s a big deal, because it once again sees a Bowers & Wilkins sound system offered as a premium option. We were recently invited to a media event and managed to get behind the wheel of a BMW i5 M40 and hear what this new generation of B&W system brings to the party.


Bowers & Wilkins speaker placement diagram in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Bowers & Wilkins has featured in the 5 Series since 2016 and we tested a previous iteration back in 2018 which was called the Diamond Surround Sound System and included the company’s trademark diamond dome tweeters. It used 16 speakers powered by a 10-channel, 1400W amplifier.

In this 8th Gen car, it is now simply called the Bowers & Wilkins Surround Sound System, as diamond dome tweeters are reserved for other models in the BMW range. However, it does include B&W’s Continuum cone technology which is used in the midrange speakers found in each door.

The B&W system comes as standard if you opt for the top-of-the-range BMW i5 M60 (which is the car we drove and pictured here) but the good news is that it’s available as an individual option for other models in the range in the UK and US. Adding the system will set you back £1250 / $950.

Bowers & Wilkins speaker grille in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

For that, you get 18 speakers, although the i5 fully electric cars only have 17. This is because the car batteries leave no space for the two woofers under the front seats. In this model, they’re replaced by a single subwoofer in the boot. The system is driven by a 655 watt amplifier with surround processing provided by Harman's Logic 7 software.

For those wondering, as standard the new 5 Series comes fitted with a Harman Kardon system with 12 speakers and a 205 Watt amplifier.

The full speaker line-up is as follows…

  • 7x 25mm aluminium tweeters
  • 7x 10cm midrange speakers (x4 with B&W’s Continuum cone technology)
  • 2x (50cm + 80cm) dual-balanced woofers arranged in opposition to each other
  • 2x bass woofers under the front seats (for non i5 models)
  • 1x 20cm dual voice coil subwoofer in the boot (for i5 only)


Bowers & Wilkins sound menu in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The 5 Series cabin is an impressive place to be and taking pride of place on the dashboard is the BMW Curved Display. The single unit combines a 12.3in display behind the steering wheel and a 14.9in display next to it, which caters for all your infotainment needs.

It’s controlled by BMW’s trademark iDrive system, running BMW’s latest Operating System 8.5. The main screen is a touchscreen, but we found it easier to use the rotary control on the centre console which also has a volume scroll wheel and buttons for switching between navigation, media and telephone.

There’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, while you also get access to Video on Demand from the likes of YouTube and Pluto TV. Pluto TV comes via the Powered by TiVo platform which is making its debut on the 5 Series.

Bowers & Wilkins Continuum midrange and aluminium tweeter in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

You’re not short of charging points in the 5 Series, with a wireless charging tray and two USB-C inputs up front and a couple of USB-C inputs in the rear which can rise to four depending on the optional packages you add to the car.

And, it’s not just the Bowers & Wilkins system that brings sound enhancements to the i5. The sounds that accompany the different driving modes have been created with input from the world-famous film score composer Hans Zimmer.

Sport mode, for example, has a fruity, futuristic sound with plenty of thrust while there’s more of a sparkle to the sound that comes when you’re in the Efficient driving mode.


BMW Curved Display with album art in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Bowers & Wilkins provides a 5.1 surround-sound demo in FLAC which sends various sounds from chimes to drums and strings throughout the cabin and between and across speakers to give you a taste of its surround credentials. It’s a neat demo, but there’s no substitute for playing your own music through it.

While we’re weaving our way through some country roads, we have time to play a handful of tracks starting with This Moment, the result of a hook-up between Chase and Status and Manchester band Blossoms. The poppy drum & bass track sounds suitably fast-paced and fun through the B&W system.

Logic 7 surround menu in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Highs don’t seem to sound harsh, with mids solid and relatively expressive and lows displaying a decent amount of weight. We didn't find ourselves heading straight for the sound menus to tinker, which is a sign that the system is doing some things right.

We switch over to Drake’s Too Much and there seems to be a good sense of rhythm and a decent amount of space around the main beat, the vocal and the percussion that circles above. With the Logic 7 processing engaged, you can alter the surround intensity in the menus. We tend to leave it in its normal position but also experiment at both ends of the scale. Alternatively, you can turn it off completely – the result is you lose the surround effect but seem to gain a bit more focus.


Bowers & Wilkins aluminium tweeter in the BMW 5 Series

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The set-up in the all-electric i5 seems promising and the price to have this added as an option seems quite reasonable compared to other systems on the market.

We weren’t able to compare the Bowers & Wilkins system to the standard Harman Kardon set-up to hear if there is a big jump in sound quality, but first impressions were positive. Hopefully, we’ll have a little longer with the car further down the line, so we can bring you our definitive star rating.


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Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.