The 5 Series is the oldest nameplate still made by BMW, and this is the sixth generation, which lines up against rivals like the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It’s larger and more expensive than BMW’s 3 Series, but also more comfortable, better equipped and more refined, too.
There’s a choice of eleven engines available with the 5 series, so you’ll have to pick carefully. None feel underpowered, although the entry-level 520i petrol needs working hardest to make swift progress.
For many the diesel makes most sense, and pick of the range is the 520d as it rarely has to be stretched, even when overtaking at speed. If you want more performance, then the effortlessly quick 530d is well worth considering. Elsewhere, the 528i petrol offers a strong blend of performance and economy, and of course there's the famous M5, which is targeted at petrol heads. As good as a petrol-electric hybrid sounds, this model is one to avoid – it may be quick but it’s on the pricey side and difficult to justify.
The way the 5 Series rides depends very much on whether you go for the standard suspension or tick the box for the expensive optional adjustable shock absorbers, called Variable Damper Control. We’d recommend it, as its far more comfortable at low and high speeds, partly because you can soften or stiffen the suspension at the touch of a button. Without them fitted, the 5 Series fails to settle over lumps and bumps around town, while undulating roads cause too much body float.
The steering is nicely weighted and gives you a good idea of how hard the tyres are gripping. And when it comes to refinement, every 5 Series keeps road noise out at all speeds, although you do notice the odd bit of wind noise from around the door mirrors. No matter what the engine, you’ll hear little noise from it when cruising on the motorway.
In The Cabin
As you’d expect for a premium executive saloon, the 5 Series gets a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat with a fully adjustable electric seat. The pedals are slightly offset, so the driving position, particularly in manual models, can be a little odd. It's worth a test drive to find out if you can live with it or not.
Forward visibility is good with thin front pillars and tall, wide windscreen. However the thick rear pillars mean that getting a good view of what’s going on behind isn’t quite so easy, but at least every 5 Series comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard. A rear-view camera and a self-parking system are an optional extras across the range.
The dashboard is neatly laid out and all the controls are within easy reach. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is one of the best on the market and comes with a 6.5-inch screen as standard or an optional 10.2-inch found in Luxury, Active Hybrid and M5 models. Both systems are controlled via a rotary dial between the front seats, which is surrounded by shortcut buttons. It’s a really easy system to use, both screens are clear and the various menus all make sense.
All the cabin materials are built to a high standard, even the chrome touches are the real thing, rather than metal-look coated plastics. Similarly, every button and switch is nicely damped, lifting the sense of quality further, while fit and finish throughout the cabin is exemplary.
The 5 Series is one of the roomiest executive cars on the market, at least in the front. Even tall drivers will have enough head and legroom. Rear space isn’t as impressive though. Shoulder room is tight if you have three rear seat passengers and anyone sitting in the middle will have to straddle the large central tunnel.
The boot size is between the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class and there’s more than enough room for a couple of large suitcases and some smaller bags. Like all saloons though, the boot opening is far smaller than that of a hatchback. You have to pay extra to make them split 60/40 and fold down, although at least they lie almost flat when folded.
The BMW 5 Series is a well-built, spacious and refined executive saloon with good equipment levels, low running costs and a range of excellent engines. It’s only a shame that you have to pay extra to make your 5 Series ride and handle like it ought, and it’s a pretty expensive option albeit worth it.