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BMW 520d M Sport road test

The new BMW 5 Series is, according to the firm, the car that most people associate with the German brand. It is, if you like, the most BMW of all BMWs.

To the bigwigs in Munich, the 5 Series should represent everything good about BMW, and this, the all-new version (codenamed the G30 if you’re interested) – is meant to be the best one yet.

To find out if the new 5 Series lives up to its billing, we flew to Southern Spain to collect one and spent three days driving it the 1,600 miles back to the UK.

What’s changed from the old one?

Everything. As well as new exterior styling, BMW has taken almost every single bit of technology introduced on its flagship 7 Series model in 2015 and trickled it down to the new 5 Series. That means you can get autonomous lane assist that steers around bends without you touching the wheel, adaptive cruise control that’ll bring you to a stop in traffic and accelerate away for you, and even air ionisation tech which leaves the interior air feeling as spring-fresh as the snowy mountainsides we swept past on our drive back to Blighty.

Don’t think the improvements are all fancy high-tech electronic ones. There are also big changes in the car’s steel and aluminium body – it’s up to 100kg lighter than the old model, although there’s no carbon fibre like in the bigger 7 Series. It’s 28mm longer than the old model and 6mm wider, meaning rear-seat passengers have more leg and shoulder room – and there’s now enough space to fit three child seats side-by-side, although, as only the two outer seats have Isofix child seat anchors, we’re not sure why you’d want to.

What’s under the bonnet?

The big seller – and the car we drove back to the UK – will be the 520d with its four-cylinder 190hp, 2.0-litre diesel, a very efficient engine that powers countless company car owners – driving various BMW models – the length and breadth of the UK. If you want more power then there’s a six-cylinder 530d with 265hp.

Petrol-powered versions include the 530i with 252hp, the 530e hybrid with the same amount of power from its combined petrol and electric motors, and a 540i with 340hp. For the first time in the UK you can get a 5 Series with BMW’s xDrive 4×4 system – it’s available on the 520d, 530d and standard in the 540i. You won’t find a manual gearbox option at all on the new 5 Series because just four-per-cent of buyers bought a manual 5 Series last time out.

Is it an ultimate driving machine?

The first leg of our route back to the UK from sunny Estepona, Spain included the winding Ronda road. A 27-mile stretch of hairpins, sweeping corners and fast straights, this mountain road was the perfect place to test the 5 Series in Sport mode. Our car had the variable adaptive dampers (one of four suspension options available to buyers), so touching the Sport button noticeably stiffens the ride and the car feels more responsive as you turn the steering wheel. The gearbox also changes gears faster and will shift down a few gears more readily when you plant the accelerator.

All this means the 5 Series could be driven quickly into and around the Ronda road’s smooth bends with complete confidence. The steering’s accuracy meant we never felt the unnerving bowel twinge associated with an oncoming car appearing halfway through a tight corner, and our car’s rear-wheel-drive setup made for an enjoyable sense of being pushed out of tight corners. Although it’s a capable cornerer, and more fun to drive than an Audi A6, the 520d isn’t as enjoyable to throw around as the Jaguar XF, and the British car remains the sportiest feeling car in this class.

But the 5 Series is the perfect motorway car, isn’t it?

Thankfully, with more than 1,500 miles left to travel after the fun of the Ronda road, the 5 Series settled into one of the quietest and most comfortable cruises we’ve experienced in recent times.

BMW’s worked hard to isolate the cabin from outside noises, and this was never more evident than when we were piling along Spanish motorways at the legal limit (and a little beyond) in almost complete silence. Even the four-cylinder diesel doesn’t make too much of a racket when you accelerate – although naturally the six-cylinder in the 530d feels and sounds smoother. Even better, the sat-nav and gearbox are linked so the car’s always in the right gear for the motorway gradient and we were never left short of power on Spain’s surprisingly steep and serpentine dual carriageways.

Despite our high average speed during the 1,600 mile drive, the 520d returned 39.7mpg – this quickly shot up to 45mpg under slower, real-world UK driving. That said, a recent UK drive in a Mercedes E220d with a 2.0-litre diesel engine did see 50mpg with far less effort than the BMW required. Things would likely improve with a few more miles under its belt.

That we maintained such a rapid pace for two-and-a-half days with minimal fatigue is testament to the incredibly comfortable seats in our M Sport-level car. A neat feature is a switch on the base, which inflates the side bolsters quite significantly and thus gives you a choice between comfy-couch and grippy-sports settings. Only massage seats could make the sitting aspect of driving the 5 Series more comfortable, and they’re on the options list anyway. While you’re there you can pick from three grades of leather for the upholstery, ranging from Dakota through to Nappa and finally Merino which uses upwards of six cow hides per car. And some of the seat stitching is done by hand because BMW’s sewing machines aren’t up to artisanal levels just yet.

The grille slats open for engine cooling, but are usually closed to help aerodynamics

Wasn’t such a long drive a bit dull?

Luckily all 5 Series models come as standard with BMW’s Professional Navigation system, which has real-time traffic updates built-in. The 10.25-inch screen is super sharp, and zooming in and out of sat-nav maps is a smooth, lag-free experience. It even simplifies the process of searching for destinations by including a ‘quick search’ feature that lets you search for whatever you like without having to specify whether it’s a town, road, hotel or other point of interest.

Better yet, all 5 Series come with a built-in SIM card that gives the car unlimited data access throughout Europe for three years. You can use this to power a wi-fi hotspot for your other devices, or use the car’s excellent integrated Deezer music streaming service. This works brilliantly – you simply press a button on the steering wheel and say ‘play music by Coldplay’, and the car will quickly fill the cabin with generic music. It’s such a seamless user experience that it could very easily take the need to stream music by Bluetooth out of your life.

The other antidote to long-distance fatigue was the cracking sound system. Our car had the middle of the three available sound systems: the Harmon/Kardon 16-speaker, 600-watt setup which pumps out huge volume with only slightly farty bass notes, but gives an impressively immersive feeling of being ‘in the middle’ of the music. The standard no-cost system is a 12-speaker setup, and nutters can spend £6,000 on a 1,400-watt Bowers and Wilkins Diamond surround system which threatened to blow all the window glass out of the hotel windows when one journalist cranked it up to half volume when parked outside.

As night fell on the last day of the trip the 5 Series’ LED headlights flicked on, and – you may be detecting a theme here – they’re among the best in the business. On main beam they’ll light up objects 500 metres away, which BMW says is not far off the range of the laser headlights in the 7 Series. A tick of the options sheet will give the lights the ability to automatically dip and avoid dazzling oncoming cars using careful movement of the individual light elements.

Should I buy one?

If you’re in the market for a large, posh saloon car for work or family duties then you should definitely have a test drive. It doesn’t have quite the same plush comfortable ride as the Mercedes E-Class on air suspension, but it’s a far more engaging car to drive and trumps it in nigh-on every other area, from infotainment to interior quality.

Look past the 520d’s occasionally gruff-sounding and less-frugal-than-you’d-think engine, and the slightly gimmicky and slow-to-respond Smart Key (which has a touchscreen for checking the car’s fuel level and locked-state remotely) and you’re left with a car that does almost everything very well indeed. It cruises in near silence, corners as well as you’d want a diesel saloon car to and comes with free European internet to keep the kids’ iPads connected to their games’ servers. Well done chaps, it’s the most BMW you’ve ever been.

BMW 5 Series

Agile mid-size saloon packs more tech than ever
8/10
£36,275 - £52,525
RRP
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