BMW 520d SE

Blend of style and driveability makes our class champion a strong choice

There's no time for BMW’s latest 5-Series to rest on it laurels. Less than a year after being crowned Best Executive Car at our New Car Awards, the model is having to defend its position at the top from Audi’s all-new A6.


This video is courtesy of our sister website

On first impressions, there’s little to separate the pair. 

While it lacks the Audi’s sleek profile, the taller 520d is more imposing, thanks to its gaping, double-kidney grille and quad headlamps.

The car in our pictures is the more expensive M Sport model, which features larger 18-inch alloy wheels and a bodykit that adds an aftermarket feel. We think the more low-key entry-level SE version tested is much better, although neither has the head-turning appeal of its boldly styled predecessor.

Inside, cues are taken from the firm’s luxurious 7-Series saloon. The sweeping dashboard design and beautiful build quality help give the interior a genuinely upmarket feel. This impression is reinforced by the long list of standard kit, which includes leather trim for the seats and dual-zone climate control, although sat-nav remains an extra-cost option. It’s spacious, too, with rear passengers getting plenty of room to stretch out. And while the BMW has the smallest boot of this trio, its 520-litre capacity should be ample.

As you’d expect from the firm, the 520d is a strong performer on the road. Its refined 181bhp 2.0-litre oil-burner is the most powerful on test. However, what gives the big saloon the edge off the line is its rear-wheel-drive traction. It sprinted from 0-60mph test in 8.1 seconds, but trailed the lighter A6 for mid-range pace.

The blue propeller’s clever EfficientDynamics technology has set the benchmark in this sector, yet the 520d’s emissions of 129g/km are matched by its newer rival. And while fuel returns of 37.4mpg are good, it trailed the A6 at the pumps. Keen drivers are sure to favour the BMW, though, as its rear-wheel-drive chassis serves up a wealth of involvement. The weighty steering delivers a lot of feedback and precision, which help to mask the car’s bulky dimensions.

The trade-off for its sharp handling is a firm ride, which means the BMW is less cosseting than its rivals. Long journeys are also made more tiring by steering that requires constant corrections to keep the 520d tracking straight at high cruising speeds. However, that’s one of the few flaws in an otherwise outstanding package. 

On this showing, it’s going to take something special to knock the most affordable car in this line-up off the top of the podium.


Chart position: 2WHY: Our current class leader is a brilliant executive car, yet it’s under threat from the new A6 and Jaguar’s forthcoming XF 2.2D.

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