BMW 5 Series Review
The BMW 5 Series is a fantastic all-rounder, offering luxury, space and great tech. A Mercedes E-Class is even comfier to drive, though.
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The BMW 5 Series is one of few cars you could reasonably argue are the best all-rounders on sale. It has something for every occasion: it’s comfortable, practical, full of tech, good to drive and economical. The only thing stopping us from calling it a Swiss Army knife is the fact that it doesn’t have a bottle opener. Still, that hasn’t stopped if from picking up the Best Large Car award in the 2021 carwow Car of the Year Awards.
The 5 Series, including the Touring estate model, was updated in 2020 with some subtle exterior changes, but they didn’t change the fact that the BMW isn’t quite as handsome as an Audi A6 or a Mercedes E-Class, its two main alternatives. The performance version, the BMW M5, was also updated around the same time.
It’s a different story on the inside, though, as it has a superb interior. The design is elegant and very upmarket, and the quality of the materials is excellent too. There are fewer cheap-looking plastics inside than in E-Class, though all three of these cars have a brilliant interior design in their own way.
The most recent version now comes with a 12.3-inch media system, using BMW’s latest operating system. Satellite-navigation is standard and instead of dials you get a display screen behind the steering wheel, just like in the E-Class and A6.
The BMW’s iDrive infotainment is the easiest to use of any car of its type, and it wouldn’t be hard to argue that it’s the best infotainment system in any car. The rotary controller on the centre console is the reason for this, although there are voice and gesture controls available if you want them. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included too.
The V8 M550i is sensational, but most buyers will be happy with the 520i petrol or 520d diesel in M Sport trim.
The 5’s seats are very comfortable and there’s loads of adjustment so the driving position is great too. Plus, there’s loads of room in the back for passengers – there’s more headroom than in an E-Class. The middle seat could be better as it is high up and a bit narrow, but it’s okay for short trips.
The BMW 5 Series saloon has a 530-litre boot, which is enough for a few suitcases. It’s on par with other cars of the same size, and the rear seats fold down if you need to carry long items. It’s not as practical as the Touring version but you can fit a bike in the boot with a bit of effort the rear seats folded flat, which means even the saloon is nicely practical.
There’s a good range of engines that all use mild or plug-in hybrid tech, so you can choose based on your driving expectations. The four-cylinder diesel engine in the 520d model is the bread and butter of the range, delivering north of 55mpg along with plenty of performance. There’s also the 520i with a four-cylinder petrol engine, which is a bit smoother but not as economical.
The six-cylinder models are great for those looking for more luxury. The 530d diesel is really powerful yet economical. There’s no plain petrol six-cylinder, but you can get the 545e plug-in hybrid, which has a six-cylinder petrol and an electric motor. Like the 530e, you can plug this in to travel over 30 miles on electricity alone.
Finally, there’s a M550i xDrive model at the top of the range, which is the most powerful model you can buy without stepping up into the BMW M5 super-saloon. All models come with a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard and you can get versions fitted with four-wheel drive (BMW calls it xDrive).
The 5 Series pairs these great engines with an excellent driving experience. It’s fun to drive and agile without being uncomfortable, and in fact, only a Mercedes E-Class outdoes it on the comfort front.
All this should sound very positive, because the 5 Series is one of the best all-round saloons on the market. If that sounds like your sort of thing, head to our deals page for the very best prices.
Not made up your mind? Take a look at the BMW 5 Series Saloon against Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus ES
BMW 5 Series Design
The BMW 5 Series is a large saloon car that uses typical BMW styling details, such as the kidney grille at the front and something called the Hofmeister Kink. This is the part of the rear side window that kinks back in towards the front. Depending on the spec of the car you choose, the exterior design can change. Here
BMW 5 Series SE
The SE model is the entry-level car and while it still gets plenty of equipment, it’s not as sporty-looking as more expensive M Sport cars. The 17-inch alloy wheels are the easiest way to spot one, as they have more tyre sidewall (though this helps with comfort for the driver). The SE also has different bumpers and chrome around the windows.
BMW 5 Series M Sport
M Sport cars have bigger intakes on the front bumper to give a sportier, more aggressive look. There’s different trim around the windows in a darker shade as well, plus much largr 19-inch alloy wheels with a five-spoke ‘V’ design.
BMW 5 Series M Sport Edition
The M Sport Edition model is the sportiest-looking of all, thanks to high-gloss exterior trim pieces, similar aggressive-looking vents on the front bumper and larger alloy wheels. They use a slightly different V-shape five-spoke pattern to the M Sport but are 20 inches across. This version also comes with Tanzanite Blue II metallic paint as standard.
The BMW 5 Series seats four adults in comfort and offers generous storage inside, but while it’s boot is a great size, it’s slightly less practical than alternatives’.
The BMW 5 Series has an excellent seating position and comes with plenty of adjustment to help you get comfortable. Front electric lumbar support is standard on all cars as of the 2020 facelift, which is great news for long drives. M Sport models get sports seats, too, although they’re not exactly racing bucket seats – they’re just a different design from the SE’s.
The rear doors open nice and wide so it’s easy to jump in the back. There’s absolutely loads of legroom and even the tallest adults won’t be left wanting for headroom. There’s more shoulder room than in a Mercedes E-Class but the 5 Series’ central seat is rather hard and the large hump in the floor means a third passenger won’t be particularly comfortable on long trips. A sunroof is available on some trim levels but it’s not too dark inside so it’s not needed.
Fitting a child seat is simple enough: the rear doors open wide and the Isofix anchor points are clearly marked with folding covers that you can’t lose in the depths of the cabin. You don’t have to stoop down too low to strap in a child, either, and there’s loads of room to lift in the seat itself.
The BMW 5 Series’ cabin comes with plenty of handy cubbyholes. Both the front and rear door bins are large enough to hold a big water bottle and there’s just enough room in those upfront to tuck in a second, smaller bottle as well.
There are two large cupholders in the front and two in the back that flip out of the folding rear armrest. The front armrest splits in two to reveal a large storage bin and there’s a slot under the dashboard for a phone or your car key.
The glovebox will easily hold a large bottle too, and there’s a small storage tray between the front seats for passengers in the back to throw a few bits and bobs. You also get smart aeroplane-style folding pockets behind the front seats instead of the more usual net or fabric items.
Overall, the BMW 5 Series runs the E-Class very close indeed for clever cabin storage but can’t quite match the Mercedes’ capacious cubbyholes.
The BMW 5 Series saloon has a 530-litre boot, which is identical to the Audi A6 and only a smidge less than the Mercedes E-Class, so it’s bang-on for the type of car it is. You’ll be able to fit a baby stroller, or two large suitcases and two small cases without folding the rear seats – and the small boot lip and wide opening make it easier to lift in large luggage than in the Audi or Mercedes.
You can fold the rear seats down in a two-way (60:40) split as standard using handy levers in the boot. A three-way (40:20:40) split – that’ll let you carry two rear passengers and long luggage at the same time – is offered as an optional extra. Whichever option you choose, you’ll need to push the seats down from the rear doors before they’ll lie flat.
With the seats out of the way, the BMW 5 Series’ boot is big enough to carry a bike if you remove a wheel first. Unfortunately, the boot itself isn’t quite as square as that in a Mercedes E-Class so it’s a little tricky to squeeze in lots of bulky items. You do get four tether points to help stop bags rolling around in the back while a netted cubby on the left and storage bin on the right will hold small items securely, too.
The BMW 5 Series has a huge breadth of ability when it comes to driving. However, if you want outright comfort rather than fun, a Mercedes E-Class does it slightly better.
You can get the BMW 5 Series with diesel, petrol or plug-in hybrid power. All models come with a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard and you can get versions fitted with four-wheel drive (BMW calls it xDrive) for a little extra grip in slippery conditions.
The entry-level models are the petrol and diesel 520i and 520d, and both now come with mild hybrid technology that adds a small 48v motor to boost performance and economy. The former is a four-cylinder petrol with 184hp and will return around 40mpg. It’s a bit quieter than the diesel, but not by much.
A diesel will be a better bet if you spend more time on the motorway. The BMW 520d model comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that’s reasonably smooth and impressively quiet when cruising. The normal 520d returns around 55mpg, while the four-wheel-drive version returns 52mpg, so the former is the better choice. Both have 190hp, so performance is good.
If you’re happy to spend a little more money and sacrifice running costs for a smoother driving experience you should consider one of the BMW 5 Series’ more powerful six-cylinder engines. The BMW 530d diesel is a hugely relaxing motorway cruiser that’ll return around 46mpg, yet it goes from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds.
The most powerful petrol model is the M550i, which has a 530hp V8 petrol, four-wheel drive as standard and accelerates from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds. There’s also the BMW M5, but that’s in another class entirely because it’s more focused and sporty.
Finally there are the plug-in hybrid models: the 530e and the 545e. These use four- and six-cylinder engines along with an electric motor, and can be driven for around 30 miles on electric power alone, which is perfect if your commute is shorter than that. Very low running costs could be possible with regular home charges.
Although it’s a big car, the BMW 5 Series is easy to drive. You get a surprisingly good view out through its large windows and the only annoying blind spot is where the windscreen meets the front door.
All models come with front and rear parking sensors as standard and as of 2020 a reversing camera is included, too. A high-tech 360-degree camera and 3D surround view system is optional, but not necessary. The latter displays a rendered image of your car from the outside – just like having someone jump out to guide you into tight spaces – it’s a neat feature and worth having if you have to park in tight spaces.
The BMW 5 Series is impressively comfortable around town and all models are supremely comfortable at motorway speeds. While the larger wheels on M Sport cars make them slightly worse in potholes, the 5 Series is still one of the smoothest cars around.
Tyre roar is mostly muted at motorway speeds and only a hint of wind noise makes its way into the 5 Series’ otherwise very relaxing cabin, so it’ll chew through hundreds of motorway miles with ease. However, it’s still fun to drive on a twisty road, as it’s more agile than most cars its size.
Euro NCAP awarded the BMW 5 Series an impressive five-star safety rating in 2017. For greater peace of mind, however, you can get the Driving Assistant Plus package, which adds a warning for traffic in your blind spot and alerts you if you wander out of your lane on a motorway. It also adds adaptive cruise control and will even steer for you on motorways – provided you keep your hands on the wheel.
The BMW 5 Series has a high-quality interior and one of the best infotainment systems on sale, but you’ll find more design flair inside a Mercedes E-Class.