BMW 5 Series review
BMW's mid-size saloon remains our executive car of choice thanks to combination of a great drive, refinement and a quality cabin
Despite its age, for many the BMW 5-Series remains the default executive car choice, and it's not hard to see why. Even with strong competition such as the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Jaguar XF, it still leads the way in several key areas five years on.
It’s got badge prestige in spades, the interior is extremely well-built and high quality, and its driving dynamics (on most versions) are up there with the best in class. But it's also comfortable, refined, efficient and practical, while the M5 brings along supercar-baiting performance.
The previous 5-Series had its detractors thanks to controversial styling inside and out. But those criticisms quickly disappeared with the latest car and it continues to be a top choice for those looking for executive wheels.
It debuted in 2010 and a subtle facelift to the looks an updated interior technology in 2013 has helped to keep the 5 Series looking relatively fresh. And while a 5 Series was only available in saloon and Touring estate forms a decade ago, there is now the 5 Series GT - a quirky-looking five-door hatchback variant.
There’s a strong choice of engines under the bonnet as well. For petrol, there’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder powering the 520i and 528i models, a forced-induction 3.0-litre six-cylinder for the 535i and the eco ActiveHybrid 5 model and for the 550i, there’s a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8.
The M5 sports saloon uses the latter engine also, but ups the ante to produce a crushing 552bhp, while a special M5 celebrating 30 years of the high-performance model upped things even further with 592bhp.
Fleet buyers and those who do more miles will be more interested in the two diesel engines on offer, both in varying power outputs. A 3.0-litre diesel powers the 530d and 535d models, while a 2.0-litre unit powers the 518d, 520d and 525d cars.
Specification-wise, the 5 Series comes in the choice of three trims: SE, Luxury and M Sport.
Our choice: BMW 520d SE
Engines, performance and drive
Despite best efforts from Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar, the BMW 5 Series still remains the best executive car to drive and this is where a large proportion of its appeal lies thanks to its rear-wheel-drive setup, great refinement and strong pace.
It's the impressive handling of the BMW 5 Series which grabs the interest of the keen drive - its steering is naturally weighted and delivers a decent amount of feedback through the wheel, while the balanced chassis also sets the standard.
The 5 Series is also the only executive car that feels right when fitted with a manual gearbox - the slick and precise action of the six-speed box adds to the fun.
One issue with the 5-Series is that cars without the optional adaptive dampers don't offer the same excellent ride-and-handling balance. The standard springs on SE cars are fine, but if you do venture into the options box make sure you consider shelling out for the adaptive items.
Buyers will also be happy to know that the fun factor of the BMW 5 Series doesn't come at the expense of refinement, as the Bavarian manufacturer has ensured road and wind noise are virtually absent.
A small criticism would be that the M Sport spec cars can be slightly too firm at low speeds - the SE models ride much more smoothly. However, the suspension settings from the SE models can be set-up on the M Sport cars at no extra cost.
The diesel engines in the 5 Series are truly impressive all-rounders, making them our range choice despite the general competence of the petrols.
Our choice of engine from the entire BMW 5 Series range then, is the 181bhp 520d. This particular unit is capable of 0-62mph in just 7.9 seconds and has a top speed of 144mph. The economy figures are equally as impressive, as the 520d manages 62.8mpg and emits 134g/km of CO2.
It is worth noting though that the 552bhp BMW is truly astonishing and will have most things this side of a Ferrari worried. It's not as exciting an engine as the old naturally-aspirated V10, has far more useable torque and is much more efficient. The '30 Jahre' commemorative M5 gets even more power. There’s 592bhp under the bonnet!
MPG, CO2 and running costs
All of the engines in the BMW 5 Series range are impressive, but overall, the diesels outshine the petrol units thanks to their excellent blend of performance and efficiency.
Our pick of the engine range is the 2.0-litre 520d, which is brisk and returns 62.8mpg with CO2 emissions of just 114g/km. Fitted to the 148bhp 518d model, the 2.0-litre maintains the same mpg, so we'd spend that little bit extra and have improved performance.
The petrol powered 550i and M5 provide blistering pace, but return a reasonable combined economy of 32.8mpg and 28.5mpg respectively. The blistering 592bhp M5 '30 Jahre' manages 28.5mpg and 231g/km of CO2.
In terms of petrol engines, the 181bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine with the eight-speed automatic gearbox is the most economical thanks to a fuel economy of 47.1mpg 139g/km of CO2.
The 2.0-litre engine also powers the 528i, which sees fuel economy decrease to 46.3mpg (with 142g/km of CO2) on the SE model. It's a less characterful engine than the old six-cylinder powerplants, so we'd rather opt for the diesel unless outright rev-chasing acceleration is your bag.
BMW also offers financial incentives to its buyers, which include a top-value service pack that provides five years/50,000 miles of maintenance. There's also the strong predicted residuals of 47 per cent.
Interior, design and technology
It would take a keen-eyed observer to notice the tweaks BMW made to the 5 Series in 2013 given how subtle they were. The indicator repeaters were moved from the front wings to the door mirrors, and the bumpers received some revisions.
Either way, there was hardly anything wrong with the looks of the pre-facelift car, so the changes have done it no harm at all. However, some detractors may say it looks too conservative, and it can't match the sleek looking (and soon to be replaced) Jaguar XF for outright style.
BMW fits every model of 5 Series with alloy wheels and Xenon headlamps as standard kit, but only M Sport spec cars benefit from a muscular aerodynamic bodykit and a smart looking darkened chrome finish for the front grille and exhaust pipes. These cars also feature a pair of neat LED front fog lamps.
In addition to the subtle facelifted exterior, BMW also made slight changes to the cabin of the 5 Series in 2013, in the form of new dashboard fascia and colour options.
Arguably, the biggest change BMW made to the 5 Series' interior were the revisions to its iDrive cabin control; if the buyer opts for the Professional Media sat-nav package, the iDrive system gets a larger rotary controller with a touch pad that lets the driver 'write' addresses.
Otherwise, little else has changed since 2010. From the entry-level SE model to the range-topping M5, each 5 Series' cabin is slick, impeccably built and BMW has made good use of high-quality materials.
The 5 Series sweeping dash looks more modern than any of its executive car rivals from Audi or Mercedes. Its intuitive layout and low-slung driving position mean you'll feel comfortable behind the wheel in no time.
In the M Sport cars, BMW further improves the 5 Series experience with a gorgeous, three-spoke M Sport branded steering wheel. All models with a manual gearbox benefit from a stubby, short throw shifter.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The BMW 5 Series is a big car, so it's no surprise that it features a supremely roomy interior.
Rear occupants in the BMW 5 Series will get plenty of head and legroom. It's worth noting, however, that the middle occupant may find their comfort compromised by the 5 Series' bulky transmission tunnel.
BMW has made intelligent use of the 5 Series' spacious interior, and dotted around the cabin is plenty of storage space - this includes large door bins, a decent-sized cubby hole hidden beneath the armrest that's located between the front seats.
Despite these solutions, the 520-litre boot in the BMW 5 Series cannot match the 540-litres of boot space on offer in the Mercedes E-Class and Jaguar XF. A folding rear-bench seat also comes at a premium of around £400, which seems a little excessive.
Therefore, if it's extra practicality you're after, then the excellent 5 Series Touring estate would be a better bet as it offers a greater range of storage options and 560-litres of boot space.
The 5 Series GT fastback is also very practical, as well as a sliding rear bench seat to increase the maximum bootspace to 650 litres.
Reliability and Safety
The BMW 5 Series feels built to last both inside and out and it the overall feeling is that it's a top-quality product.
In our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the 5 series finished an impressive fourth out of 150 cars, while BMW finished 10th out of 32 manufacturers.
Furthermore, the 5 Series' safety credentials make it one of the safest executive cars on the market. BMW fits six airbags and stability control as standard. Unsurprisingly, the 5 Series comfortably achieved a maximum five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests.
BMW offers further safety options, which include adaptive cruise control for around £1,500, a heads-up display for around £1,000 and a lane departure warning system for around £500.
A night-vision package is also available, with headlamps that can automatically identify pedestrians and highlight them with a separate beam of light. This feature, however, comes at a premium of almost £1,800.