BMW 5 Series 2013 review
The BMW 5 series won the Best Executive Car of 2013 at the Auto Express awards - it's an enjoyable ride and sets the standard for its class
The current 5 Series has been the king of the executive car class since its debut nearly five years ago. It manages to offer a more enjoyable driving experience than the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-Class, but it's also very good at covering long distances in comfort. Factor in a well-equipped and plush cabin, plus an engine range including economical diesels and punchy petrol motors, and you've got a superb all-rounder.
With a recent facelift adding revised looks, an upgraded interior and tweaked mechanicals, the 5 Series is out to tighten its grip on the class. All models get more standard kit, while lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy mean the newcomer should be even cheaper to run for company users and private buyers alike. On top of that, it promises to retain its predecessor’s sharp driving dynamics, top-notch quality and family friendly practicality.
Two new trims have also been added, inspired by the smaller 3 Series. The Modern and Luxury versions of the 5 Series allow buyers to add extra kit without the more aggressive image of the racier M Sport variants. The Touring estate version and rasied GT model have also been given significant updates for 2013, as has the high performance M5 flagship which now comes with a 'Competition Pack' for regular track driving.
Our choice: BMW 520d SE
You have to look closely to spot the changes to the new 5 Series. There are subtly reprofiled headlamps, revised bumpers, and tweaked tail-lights, while the indicator repeaters have moved from the wings to the door mirrors. Still, there wasn’t much wrong with the handsome, neatly proportioned original, so while the BMW can’t match the Jaguar XF for sleek style, it looks more modern and sporty than the slightly staid Mercedes E-Class. All versions get standard alloys and xenon headlamps, while our M Sport test car adds a neat aerodynamic bodykit, a dark chrome finish for the front grille and exhaust pipe, and eye-catching LED front foglamps.
Inside, the changes are even more subtle – they’re limited to a variety of new trim and colour options. The biggest change is reserved for the iDrive cabin control; when you specify the £1,290 Professional Media sat-nav, it gets a larger rotary controller with a touchpad that lets you ‘write’ addresses with a your finger. Elsewhere, it’s as before, with a slick design, high-quality materials and impeccable build. The sweeping dash looks more modern than either rival’s, while the intuitive layout and low-slung driving position mean you’ll soon feel comfortable behind the wheel. M Sport models also feature a gorgeous three-spoke steering wheel, and cars with a manual box benefit from a stubby, short-throw shifter.
The 5 Series continues to set the standard for driving fun. With its poised rear-wheel-drive handling, great refinement and strong pace, the big BMW is still the keen driver’s choice. Due to the widely spaced ratios of the standard six-speed manual gearbox, on the road the 5 Series always feels eager and responsive, particularly with the Performance Drive Control in Sport mode, which provides a sharper throttle and heavier steering. And while the engine is little gruff at idle, it smooths out once you’re on the move.
There's something for everyone in the engine range. We love the six-cylinder turbo petrols, while the twin-turbo V8 M5 has enough pace to keep up with most Ferraris - but it's the diesels that are the most relevant and impressive. Pick of the bunch is the 520d, which has a gutsy and smooth 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel capable of doing 0-62mph in just 8.1 seconds with a top speed of 144mph, yet it is incredibly efficient. For fleet customers a new entry-level 518d diesel has joined the line-up, which uses the same engine as the 520d M Sport but detuned to produce just 141bhp and less torque. Further up the range the 525d and 530d also win praise, as does the mighty 535d.
Yet it’s the sparkling handling that grabs your attention. The steering is naturally weighted and delivers decent feedback, body control is excellent and there’s loads of grip. Plus, this is the only executive saloon that feels right with a manual box, as the six-speed unit’s slick and precise action adds to the fun. There’s also the option of a seamlessly smooth and responsive eight-speed auto, for £1,550.
Better still, this driving fun doesn’t come at the expense of comfort and refinement. Wind and road noise are virtually absent, while SE models ride smoothly. Standard M Sport cars are a bit firm at low speeds, but you can get the more forgiving SE set-up as a no cost option.
With its tight panel gaps on the outside and robust construction on the inside, the 5 Series looks and feels as though it will give years of dependable service. That impression is backed up by an impressive 11th place finish in our Driver Power 2013 survey, with owners raving about the car’s build quality and reserving special praise for its reliability.
Equally impressive are the BMW’s safety credentials. Thanks to its strong structure, and the fact it comes equipped with six airbags and stability control as standard, the car comfortably achieved a maximum five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests. As you’d expect, there are also plenty of hi-tech options, including £1,330 adaptive cruise control, the £995 head-up display and £500 lane departure warning. A night vision package is even available, with headlamps that can automatically identify pedestrians and highlight them with a separate beam of light. However, this is expensive, at £1,750.
Given its vast exterior dimensions, the BMW unsurprisingly has an extremely roomy interior. Back seat passengers get plenty of head and legroom, while three adults will comfortably fit on the wide rear bench – although the middle seat occupant will find the wide transmission tunnel compromises their comfort a bit. Look around the rest of the cabin and you’ll spot plenty of useful storage, including large door bins and a decent-sized cubby hidden beneath the armrest that’s located between the front seats. There’s also a smattering of cup-holders and a deep, air-conditioned glovebox. However, the BMW can’t match its rivals when it comes to luggage capacity – its 520-litre boot trails the Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class’ by 20 litres. To add insult to injury, you’ll have to fork out £420 extra if you want a folding rear bench – although neither rival’s back seat folds as standard either.
If you really want extra practicality, go for the excellent Touring estate version which offers a much greater range of flexibilty and different storage options. The revised Gran Turismo model has now been extended so that is boasts even more space than the estate and comes with a sliding rear bench too.
Most executive saloons are company cars, so for most drivers the bottom line will be more important than a brilliant driving experience. BMW has dropped the frugal EfficientDynamics model from the revised 5 Series line-up, but the good news is that the SE has been tweaked to emit exactly the same 119g/km of CO2 as the old eco model.
You really can have your cake and eat it with the 5 Series. The 520d is fast but claims 62.8mpg and just 119g/km of CO2 thanks to stop-start, eco-tyres, brake energy recovery and clever aerodynamics. The superb petrol engines are efficent, too, but are simply outshone by the punchy diesels - even the 525d manages nearly 60mpg. You'll need deep pockets for the 550i and M5, but the trade-off is that both deliver blistering performance. Finally there is the ActiveHybrid petrol-electric hybrid version, but this is geared more towards speed than efficiency and manages just 44.1mpg combined.
Further financial incentives include a top-value £475 service pack that provides five years/50,000 miles of maintenance, plus strong predicted residuals of 47 per cent. And while BMW charges a lot for options on this car, even the entry-level SE gets all the kit you’re likely to need, including climate control, leather seat trim and sat-nav.