In-depth reviews

BMW 5 Series review - Engines, performance and drive

Overall weight reduction means the BMW 5 Series is faster and better to drive than ever

While the structure, bodyshell and interior were all-new in 2017, the BMW’s engine line-up features tried and tested petrol and diesel units. Two appealing plug-in variants are also on offer, with an electric range of up to 37 miles.

Whichever version you opt for, you’ll benefit from the same fine ride and handling balance. The 5 Series’s weight reduction has delivered improvements across the board, and despite exterior dimensions that are larger than the old car’s, the new version actually feels more agile on the move.

The steering isn’t as quick as the Jaguar XF’s, but it’s naturally weighted and delivers just the right amount of feedback. There’s also bags of grip, while even on the standard springs and dampers fitted to SE models the BMW delivers strong body control, coping very well over the bigger bumps.

Four-wheel drive is standard on the 530d and 545e, and optional on the 520d and 530e. The benefits in traction are obvious on the more powerful versions, but the 520d is best suited to the traditional rear-wheel drive layout, which feels a little lighter and more agile than the xDrive set-up.

The impression of luxury is enhanced by the low levels of noise in the cabin. Even the 520d’s four-cylinder diesel is hushed, while wind and road roar are barely perceptible.

For the first time ever in the UK, the 5 Series isn’t available with a manual gearbox – so if you want to shift ratios yourself you’ll need to look at an Audi A6 or Jaguar XF. However, the BMW’s standard eight-speed auto is so good that we'd have recommended spending extra on it even if it was an option. 

We used to recommend forking out for adaptive dampers, which were an option on certain M Sport variants as part of BMW’s £2,495 M Sport Pro Pack. In its sportiest setting, this set-up gives sharper responses and even greater composure, while selecting Comfort serves-up a soft ride that rivals luxurious limousines - presumably why BMW now reserves adaptive dampers for the M550i where they’re fitted as standard.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

Forming the bulk of 5 Series sales in Britain will be the 520d, with its familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. Producing 187bhp and 400Nm of torque, you might think it’d struggle in a car as big as the 5 Series. However, the new car is 100kg lighter than before, while the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission means the 520d delivers as much performance as you’ll need.

BMW claims 0-62mph in just 7.2 seconds, which rivals warm hatchbacks for outright pace. Yet with a healthy 400Nm of torque you don’t need to work the 520d’s engine hard to make decent progress. The automatic gearbox delivers smooth changes when left to its own devices and crisp shifts when using the manual mode. The 2.0-litre unit is also smooth and refined, although this is partly down to excellent soundproofing.

In fact, for most of the time this engine is as unobtrusive as the bigger six-cylinder in the 530d. And while the 282bhp unit knocks nearly two seconds off the 520d’s 0-62mph claim with a time of 5.4 seconds, in the real world the differences aren’t as obvious as you’d think.

There’s more low-down muscle with the larger engine, while the deep growl under hard acceleration adds to the sporty appeal. Yet unless you want to have bragging rights when it comes to the Top Trumps performance statistics, the 520d’s more balanced mix of performance and efficiency makes it the more rounded choice.

The excellence of the diesels leave the petrol models firmly in the shade. The 530e and 545e are impressive alternatives, though, driving very nearly as well as the petrol and diesel cars, with the added boon of up to 37 miles of zero emissions range in the less potent car. 

The final model in the 5 Series range is the M550i. It delivers scorching pace, with four-wheel drive traction and a healthy 523bhp delivering 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds.

Next Steps

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    520i SE 4dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £36,525

Most Economical

  • Name
    530e SE 4dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £45,915

Fastest

  • Name
    M550i xDrive 4dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £68,610

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