BMW 5 Series

A big executive car with class-leading handling

8.5
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 41 reviews
  • Premium feel
  • Brilliant interior
  • Economical engines
  • Expensive options
  • Steering complaints
  • 535i should sound better
 

£30,265 - £58,075 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

32 - 68 MPG

Review

The BMW 5 Series is a mid-size premium saloon that has been known for its fun-driving characteristics since the first generation was introduced 42 years ago. It now faces highly accomplished rivals such as the Jaguar XF, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6.

The interior of the 5 Series is a great place to be in. High quality materials are used and it is very comfortable. The iDrive infotainment system is controlled by a touchpad that lets the driver write addresses and post codes. Plenty of adjustment for the driver’s seat means that anyone can find a comfortable position. Passenger space is improved over the previous version and there is a substantial boot, albeit one that is smaller than the Mercedes E-Class’.

The 5 Series is as good to drive as any other BMW and delivers driver enjoyment that rivals such as the Audi A6 can’t. Some reviewers note that if badly specced the 5 Series can become uncomfortably firm and that the active steering is not recommended because it ruins the driving feel.

BMW has very good diesel engines and the 5 Series feels best when paired with one. Whether it is the frugal 520d or the surprisingly quick 535d, the 5 Series is fast and economical. Petrols are also very good, but only make sense in the fast M5, which has a 4.4-litre twin turbocharged V8.

Prices and equipment levels are competitive with rivals and Bluetooth connectivity and leather trim are standard. As with any other BMW there are numerous optional extras that can almost double the price. Low CO2 emissions help bring the tax down.

Read our 5 Series colour and dimensions guides to see if it is the car for you. The next generation of the BMW 5 Series will be available on carwow from 2017.

See how it compares to its closest rivals in our dedicated Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 group test review.

Cheapest to buy: 2.0-litre 518d SE diesel

Cheapest to run: 2.0-litre 520d SE diesel

Fastest model: 4.4-litre 550i M Sport petrol

Most popular: 2.0-litre 520d M Sport diesel

If you’re looking for a comfortable, high-quality interior, then the 5-Series ticks all the boxes. It’s been compared to the larger 7 Series in both style and quality. The latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is a doddle to use.

BMW 5 Series passenger space

The driver sits quite low, giving the BMW a typically sporty feel, and testers note that the large range of adjustment makes it easy to get comfortable. Passenger space is improved over the previous model and now matches its rivals, with experts stating that it’ll now seat four adults in comfort.

BMW 5 Series boot space

To the rear, there is a substantial 520-litre boot, though it isn’t quite as roomy as the Mercedes E-Class, which offers 20 litres more. For those wanting more space, but still want a BMW the 5 Series Touring and Gran Turismo models have bigger boots and offer the same driver enjoyment.

The vast majority of testers still believe that the 5 Series is the best handling car in its class, but to get the best out of it depends very much on the options you choose. Specify an alloy wheel design larger than 18 inches and you’ll pay the price in terms of ride quality, while the optional adaptive dampers are a must in order to get the best compromise of ride and handling – on standard springs the car suffers from “looser body control” and thumps noisily over broken surfaces.

We also recommend you avoid the active steering; testers say it feels artificial, and is a needless expense. That’s no bad thing, because the standard system is commended for being “naturally weighted” and it “delivers a decent amount of feedback,” according to one critic.

The M-Sport package is for those who seek the full performance potential of the 5 Series – it adds a sports chassis, bigger wheels and a range of small tweaks to make the car sharper and more responsive.

BMW’s best-in-class diesel engines will be first choice for most drivers; offering strong pace, great refinement and very impressive economy.

BMW 5 Series diesel engines

The entry-level 518d is highly frugal, but we’d recommend spending more to get your hands on the 520d. Producing 181hp, it offers 33hp more than the 518, resulting in a 0-60 time of 8.1 seconds. Despite the strong performance, it still achieves the same brilliant 62.8mpg while emitting just 119g/km of carbon dioxide, making it a very cheap car to tax.

A little further up the range, the 254hp 530d is praised for its excellent drivetrain, while the 535d offers more of the same, only with an added turbo to help it fly down the road even more keenly. The 309hp it offers results in performance that one tester describes as ‘extraordinary’. It’s also commended for being ‘significantly more refined than any previous big diesel’.

BMW 5 Series petrol engines

Even the petrol engines are smooth, fast and economical, with the 2.0-litre turbo equipped 528i producing 242hp, hitting 62mph in 6.2 seconds and offering a claimed fuel economy figure of 43.5mpg.

Whether you choose the six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox, you’ll get a smooth shift, so a choice between the two comes down to personal preference, although the automatic takes the strain out of stop-start city driving.

For those after huge performance, there is also the 552hp M5, which thanks to its twin-turbo V8 will hit 62mph from a standstill in 4.4 seconds.

We aggregate the most helpful new BMW 520d reviews from the best publications. Use the filter above to see reviews for the other engines.

The 520d is the entry level engine and the volume seller of the range. Despite its relatively small capacity, it certainly doesn’t lack performance. With an 8-speed automatic transmission and 184bhp you’ll see 60mph in 8.1 seconds and 140mph, as well as an incredible 60.1mpg when specified with start-stop. This also results in class-leading CO2 emissions of only 123g/km.

Critics describe the engine as smooth, tractable and never underpowered despite the 5-Series’ heavy kerbweight. Most critics agree that while it doesn’t have the same kick of the larger six-cylinder diesels, it still offers an unbeatable combination of power and economy while costing a lot less. It’s a class-leading engine.

The reviews for the 520d Efficient Dynamics are really positive. The experts are impressed with how it blends performance with economy so successfully.

The differences between the regular 520d and the 520d Efficiency Dynamics include longer gearing, stop-start and more efficient aerodynamics. It costs an extra £400 and the result is a increase over the 520d of around 3mpg and a reduction in CO2 emissions which leads to lower road tax (£60 a year less) and a better rate for company car owners.

The reviews say that despite these economical changes, the 520d ED is still responsive and doesn't feel any different to the normal 520d. It's just as refined too.

The only downsides to this engine are that you can't get it with an automatic gearbox, or fit larger wheels, or have the sporty M Sport body kit. Despite this, it's likely to be the best selling engine and the obvious choice for company car drivers.

The reviews for the BMW 525d say it's a great engine that's worth the extra over the 520d. It's noticeably quicker, smooth and an effortless cruiser. What's more it won't cost a lot more to run either, with similar fuel consumption and it's in the same BIK tax band, so if you're a company car driver then you won't have to pay more in that regard.

If you're a keen driver then you're unlikely to regret spending the extra over the 520d, go for it!

The reviews for the BMW 528i are fairly mixed. On the one hand they like the engine, but say as an ownership proposition it doesn't make sense as it's eclipsed by the other engines offered in the new 5-Series.

This 2012 528i reviewed by the experts below is more efficient than the old version, but it's not enough when compared to diesels such as the 520d which offer significantly lower running costs and similar speed.

If you're a petrol fan then it's undoubtedly a good engine; it's rapid, smooth and relatively economical. The 2012 model year improvements also mean that as a company car it's more attractive as it now sits in the 21% BIK band.

We aggregate and summarise the best new BMW 5 Series 530 Hybrid reviews from the most helpful publications.

Quite a few testers appear to be quite fond of the 5 Series Hybrid. It drives and behaves just like a normal 5 Series, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it also has the added bonus of improved running costs over the 535i on which it’s based. That being said, there were some complaints about a rather steep asking price.

Being such an important part of the car’s appeal, it’s good to hear that there appears to be hardly anything wrong with the petrol-electric powertrain. Both the engine and the electric motor work seamlessly together, whether it’s when you’re pootling through town or partaking in ‘enthusiastic driving’. Efficiency is also impressive at 44 mpg and 149g.km, but such figures are only within reach if you opt for the 17 inch wheel option.

There are, however, some problems with the 5 Series Hybrid. The batteries in the boot have reduced the space massively from 520 to 375 litres, and it’s vastly more expensive to buy and run than the flagship oil burning 5 Series, the 535d. Unless you have a desire to be green yet have a deep hatred towards diesels, it’s not the 5 Series we’d recommend.

We aggregate the most helpful new BMW 530d reviews from the best publications.

If you’re prepared to pay extra over the already excellent four-cylinder 520d, the 530d is the next model up. With 3.0-litres, 6-cylinders and 258bhp, performance is incredibly strong and once again, the engine is described as being best in class.

All that power and torque will get you to a limited 155mph with a 0-60mph time of 6 seconds. Economy is excellent too, with 51.4mpg and 145g/km of CO2 meaning low Band F road tax of £130 per year. The 8-speed automatic transmission is described as “a triumph” and helps the 530d get even better economy than the manual version.

We aggregate the most helpful new BMW 535d reviews from the best publications.

If you’re prepared to pay for the privilege, the 535d is the ultimate diesel-powered 5-Series, and “blends performance and economy like no other”.

The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre produces 295bhp and 442lb ft of torque which allows a 0-60mph sprint of only 5.7 seconds. Despite the performance numbers, the economy numbers are class-leading too, sitting in the same £130 per year tax band as the 530d and managing 52.3mpg on the combined cycle.

The superlatives keep flowing for the 535d, with the engine being described as an “engineering masterpiece” and “one of the finest engines in history”, delivering pulverising pace. For many, that’ll make it worth the extra money!

We aggregate the most helpful new BMW 535i reviews from the best publications.

You’d be forgiven for overlooking the turbocharged, petrol-powered 535i given the strength of BMW’s diesel models, but if you dislike diesel or don’t mind taking a hit to the wallet now and then, the petrol engine still has its merits.

Critics describe the engine as virtually inaudible and smooth, which helps economy. Attached to the widely-praised 8-speed auto with stop-start technology, economy of 37.2mpg is possible and 177g/km CO2 emissions mean £210 a year in road tax. Performance matches the 530d at 5.9 seconds to 60mph.

Good though the 535i is, most critics would recommend one of the diesel models for their superior economy and cheaper road tax.

These are general, non-engine specific reviews. They give a nice overview of what the car is like, without focusing on just one engine/version.

As is to be expected with modern BMWs, the 5 Series saloon scored the maximum five-star rating when tested by Euro NCAP.

Beyond its strong crash test score, it comes well-equipped with six airbags as standard, and Dynamic Stability Control+. This all-encompassing safety net offers traction, stability and cornering brake controls, as well as a system that compensates for brake fade, and another which helps the driver with hill starts.

BMW has made sure even basic models of the 5 Series come with strong levels of equipment, so the SE gets 17-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch display for the sat-nav and a leather interior.

BMW 5 Series M Sport

Few who buy the 5 Series keep to a basic level of specification, however, and many choose the M Sport derivative, which ties in nicely with the car’s reputation as a driver’s machine. It gives the car a more distinctive look on the outside thanks to an M Sport specific body kit and 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there’s aluminium trim, a sporty looking M Sport steering wheel and a pair of sports seats. Opting for M Sport Plus adds to that with a subtle boot-mounted spoiler, huge 19-inch alloy wheels and a Harmon Kardon premium sound system.

 

Conclusion

The current 5-Series, like its predecessors, goes straight to the top of the class. As several testers point out, even the basic 520d could be all the car you’ll ever need.

High price of some models aside, you won’t be found wanting for anything with the 5-Series. M-Sport spec is worth it if you want a sharper drive at the expense of some ride quality, and all critics praise the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which also improves fuel economy and reduces emissions, meaning lower tax.