You’re certainly not short of engine options with the 5 Series. Nearly all buyers are better off with a diesel and the 2.0-litre (520d) is punchy enough for most. It can whisk you up to motorway speeds without fuss and rarely needs working hard. Performance is roughly on a par with the rival Mercedes-Benz E220d.
If you want more performance, we’d recommend the brawnier 530d; it’s effortlessly quick and, in the real world, just as rapid as the more powerful 540i petrol. The 540i is the most powerful 5 Series you can buy aside from the full-fat M5. It’s brilliant to drive quickly and has a sporty exhaust note, even if it’s not quite as sharp as the Jaguar XF.
The lesser 530i needs plenty of revs to get the best out of it, so is the least recommendable engine in the line-up.
For those living in congested cities, the plug-in hybrid 530e iPerformance is also a tempting proposition. With a 29-mile electric-only range, short commutes can be completed without the assistance of the petrol engine, which should greatly reduce daily fuel bills. However, on longer journeys you’re unlikely to see the benefits of the electric motor, and the added weight of the hybrid system – equal to about 100kg – slightly blunts the car’s handling. You also get a choice of driving modes that either maximise the electric driving range, hold the battery at a pre-set state of charge or mix the two depending on your preference.
All versions of the 5 Series have an eight-speed automatic gearbox that’s one of the best of its type, shifting quickly and rarely dithering at junctions and roundabouts. Alternatively, you can take control yourself via paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, although you’ll rarely feel a need to.
The way the BMW 5 Series rides depends largely on whether you go for the standard suspension, the stiffer M Sport version, or do what we’d suggest and tick the box for the optional adaptive set-up, called Variable Damper Control (VDC). This isn’t cheap, but it's definitely worth the extra.
Without it, the 5 Series is supple enough over big bumps around town, but there’s always an underlying shimmy through the car on anything other than super-smooth roads, particularly if you opt for 19in alloys, M Sport suspension or run-flat tyres. If you do lots of motorway miles, you’ll probably find this quite annoying.
Cars with VDC are even more forgiving at low speeds, and they ride in a much more sophisticated fashion along pockmarked British A-roads and motorways – especially if you press the Comfort button next to the gearlever. And the good news is the settings are the same whether you opt for SE or M Sport trim. In fact, few cars in any price bracket ride better. Still, even with the VDC suspension (which is also included as part of the Adaptive Drive option) it’s best to steer clear of really big alloys or run-flat tyres. It’s also worth noting that the plug-in hybrid 530e iPerformance never rides with quite the same aplomb as its conventionally powered brethren, even on VDC suspension. We suspect this is down to slightly firmer springs that are designed to support the extra weight of the batteries and electric motors. Indeed, it can send a judder through the car if you driver over potholes or large ruts in the road.
The words ‘capable’ and ‘clinical’ spring to mind when describing the way the 5 Series handles. How it controls its hefty body through corners is truly remarkable, and there’s so much grip you’d swear you were sucked to the road by a big magnet. Again, though, the 530e iPerformance model loses a few points here, because of its extra bulk the car leans more into fast corners. High-speed stability is also extraordinary regardless of which model you choose; a 70mph cruise feels like you’re bumbling along at about 40mph.
Mind you, the rival Jaguar XF is more rewarding to drive quickly along a snaking country road. That’s partly because it has quicker steering, but also because of its more playful handling. The optional Integral Active Steering helps makes the 5 Series a better all-rounder by allowing the rear wheels to help out with the job of steering – at slow speeds they turn a few degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts, which offers a better turning circle, while at high speed they turn in the same direction, to aid stability. Having xDrive (four-wheel drive) also improves traction in the wet, but neither is by any means essential.
The 5 Series does a brilliant job of keeping wind and road noise away from your ears even at really high speeds. The 5 Series is a car designed very much with German Autobahns in mind, after all. For library-quiet cruising manners avoid 19in wheels and run-flat tyres, though.
Beyond that, the noise level depends on which engine you go for. The quietest and smoothest is the 540i petrol, but the six-cylinder 530d is still remarkably muted and merely takes on a rather pleasant growl when you work it hard, which you rarely need to do. Meanwhile, the best-selling 520d is quiet and smooth most of the time, if a little coarser than the rival Audi A6’s 2.0-litre diesel engine. And the 540i is quiet until you put your foot down, at which point you hear its pleasant sound at higher revs.
Around town the 530e iPerformance is the quietest car in the line-up, as its electric motor endows it with a level of low-speed refinement that conventionally powered rivals can't hope to match. However, once the batteries are depleted, it’s hard to ignore the rather gruff sounding 2.0-litre petrol engine, especially if you put your foot down.
All engines come with a superb eight-speed automatic gearbox that has a bit of a split personality; squeeze the accelerator pedal and the shifts are smooth, but jump on it hard and they’re incredibly fast.
Every BMW 5 Series gets a comfortable and reasonably supportive driver’s seat with electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment, while M Sport models have bigger side bolsters to hold you in place more securely when cornering quickly. There’s also plenty of steering wheel adjustment, and the driver’s seat drops lower than it does in the rival Mercedes E-Class, so you feel as though you’re sitting in, rather than on top of, the car.
Fully electric seats with a memory of different driver positions are, unsurprisingly, an optional extra, but it’s disappointing that you also have to pay extra for lumbar adjustment support – even on the most expensive trims. This important feature really should be standard on a luxury car at this price point.
The 5 Series’ dashboard is clearly laid out and all the controls are within easy reach. In this area, the 5 Series is better than its closest rival, the Mercedes E-Class, although the margins aren’t huge.
Seeing out of the 5 Series forwards and over its bonnet is no problem at all, thanks to relatively slender front pillars and the tall, wide windscreen. It’s the same story when looking sideways to the right and left when at roundabouts and junctions.
Getting a good view of what’s going on behind isn’t quite so easy. However, many rival saloons have similarly restricted visibility, and at least every 5 Series comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard, so judging distances forwards and backwards is never a chore.
A reversing camera and a self-parking system are available as optional extras on all models, as is a 360-degree bird’s eye view monitor. Meanwhile, the optional head-up display can beam your speed, the speed limit of the road and even sat-nav directions onto the windscreen directly in your line of sight.
Every 5 Series comes with BMW’s range-topping Professional Multimedia system, which brings a whopping 10.2in widescreen, sat-nav, various online services, a DAB radio and even a built-in 20GB hard drive to store your music on. It’s one of the best systems in the world.
The screen is touch sensitive, so you can control it by pressing it in much the same way you would an iPad. However, there’s also a rotary dial between the front seats that's surrounded by shortcut buttons. It’s much easier (and safer) than using the touchscreen when you’re driving because you just twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to make a selection. It helps that the menu system is logical and easy to get the hang of.
On the options list you’ll find a range of increasingly powerful sound systems, a wifi hotspot, a digital TV and Apple Carplay, the latter of which lets you sync up your iPhone and use some of its functions on the move. There’s even a gesture control feature, which lets you operate certain functions using mid-air hand signals.
There’s no danger of you feeling shortchanged when climbing into your new 5 Series. All the materials, even those lower down that you’ll rarely come into contact with, look and feel of suitably high quality, and some of the ‘metal’ touches are the real thing, although there are also silver coated plastics. Similarly, most buttons and switches are nicely damped, although an Audi A4's interior feels even more securely bolted together.
There are different trim inserts – including wood and gloss black – that run the length of the dashboard and around the doors, and they all look and feel upmarket. The standard ambient lighting obviously doesn’t make any difference to build quality, but it does make the interior look even more swish after dark.
Cars at the lower end of the luxury class need to put on a good show when it comes to front space, since this is where the majority of owners will spend most of their time. The 5 Series is roomier than its key rivals, the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, so you’re unlikely to have any issues with head room. And because the front seats slide back a long way, leg room won’t be a problem, either.
Getting in is also comparatively easy, thanks to doors that open wide. The glovebox is a good size and there’s a lidded cubby behind the gearlever with USB ports that’ll take most wallets, keys or a mobile phone, along with two cup holders in front of it. Both door pockets will accommodate a small water bottle, but that’s about it.
There’s enough room for tall adults, but carrying a third in the back isn’t a comfortable experience on long journeys; shoulder room is tight and whoever's sitting in the middle has to straddle a raised central tunnel. There’s actually more leg room in the rival Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class, although the margins are small, but by a whisker, the 5 Series beats them for head room.
Access to the rear seats is good, because the doors swing open wide and the aperture is usefully tall. However, the 5 Series isn’t that much more accommodating in the back than the smaller 3 Series, although it does have more comfortable rear seats.
Just like the driver’s seat, the front passenger seat has electrical base height and backrest angle adjustment as standard, making it easy for your passenger to fine-tune his or her perfect position. It’s disappointing that electrically adjustable lumbar support costs extra, though – even on the more expensive trims.
It’s also disappointing that the rear seats are fixed as standard. You have to pay extra to make them split 40/20/40 and fold down, although at least they lie almost flat when folded.
The 5 Series has a 530-litre boot, which is officially smaller than that of a Mercedes E-Class, although only fractionally. There’s more than enough room for a couple of large suitcases and some smaller bags, but rather than being a simple, square shape, the load bay is full of various contours that can be restrictive when trying to load a large bulky object. There is quite a step down from the boot lip to the boot floor as well.
Like all saloons, the boot opening is far smaller than a hatchback or an estate's, which can make loading tricky, although access to the boot is better than in the rival E-Class. An electric bootlid is on the options list if you can’t be bother with the hassle of raising and lowering it yourself.
Unsurprisingly, bootspace in the 530e iPerformance saloon is reduced from the standard car’s 530 litres to 410 due to a battery pack located under the rear seats.
Broadly speaking, the BMW 5 Series is priced in line with its closest rivals, the Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The 520d (2.0-litre diesel) is by far the most popular version and emits from just 108g/km of CO2, making it a great value company car. Mind you, the rival Mercedes E220d is even more efficient, so if you’re chasing the best emissions you can pay for a slightly pricier 520d Efficient Dynamics version that will match it.
As long as you steer clear of the petrols, fuel economy should be good, too. Every diesel engine is impressively frugal, but again it’s the 520d that really stands out. Officially, it can manage 68.8mpg (72.4mpg for 520d Efficient Dynamics), although on our real-world True MPG fuel economy test it managed 43.5mpg. That may sound unimpressive compared with its official figure, but it’s better than the E220d managed.
On paper, the 530e iPerformance is the most frugal of the lot, with BMW claiming that the car can achieve 141.2mpg and 46g/km of CO2. However, once the battery is depleted, expect the fuel economy figure to drop significantly.
The desirability of the BMW badge helps keep other costs down, too. Resale values are reasonable, so private buyers will get back a decent chunk of what they paid for the car when they sell it, and leasing rates are competitive. Discounts are available if you're prepared to haggle, too.
Entry-level SE trim is the one we’d go for, because it’s the cheapest but still comes stacked with equipment. Among the luxuries it gets as standard are heated leather seats, a 10.2in sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors and 17in alloy wheels, so you’re hardly left wanting. The SE Efficient Dynamics trim is the same, just with a more efficient engine.
M Sport trim is extremely popular thanks largely to its more aggressive body styling and bigger alloys, but you also get stiffer suspension that does little for ride comfort. We’d spend the extra cash on a few choice extras instead, chief among which are adjustable lumbar support, split-folding rear seats and the Variable Damper Control (VDC) adaptive suspension.
There’s a massive range of luxurious options to choose from, too, including ventilated front seats and rear entertainment screens and even a night vision camera.
Although we don’t have specific data for the current 5 Series, in our latest reliability survey BMW finished mid-table in our list of 32 manufacturers, below Audi but above Mercedes.
Thankfully, all 5 Series come with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, which is similar to the cover provided by most rivals.
All models come with a minimum of six airbags and a host of electronic driver aids, including stability control. Automatic emergency braking, with pedestrian detection, is also standard, to reduce the chances of you accidently running into the car in front.
Optional safety kit includes lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam assist for the headlights, a driver fatigue detector and speed limit recognition. We’d recommend considering the Driving Assistant option, which bundles together all of the key active safety aids for a very reasonable price.
The 5 Series scored the full five-star Euro NCAP rating for safety, with a very impressive 91% score for adult protection. All of its main rivals also scored five stars.
An alarm, engine immobiliser, deadlocks (which prevent a door being opened, even if the window is smashed) and locking wheel nuts are fitted to every 5 Series to ward off thieves. Security experts Thatcham awarded the car five out of five for its resistance to being stolen and four out of five for its resistance to being broken into.
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