The BMW 5 Series has long been the upmarket saloon that every rival looks enviously at, and a particular favourite of fleet drivers. Despite the best efforts of the likes of Audi with its A6 and Mercedes-Benz with the E-Class, the BMW inexorably keeps racking up the best-in-class awards for its combination of quality, practicality and a reputation for unrivalled driving ability.
The bad news for those rivals is that earlier in 2017, BMW launched an all-new 5 Series. Styling changes remind one of the larger 7 Series sister, but are just a minor element of the new package – far more relevant are the new modular engine range, significant quality upgrades to the interior, and a whole host of new technology.
For The Car Expert’s road test, we spent a week with the 520d, the core model of the 5 Series line-up, and in the case of our test car boasting all-wheel-drive to take on the best that Audi’s quattro can offer.
Buying and owning the BMW 5 Series
Buyers of the new BMW 5 Series range have a symmetrical choice – four engines, two petrol and two diesel, all matched to a standard auto transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard as one would expect in a BMW, but all-wheel-drive is also available, as is the option of rear-wheel-steering.
All the powerplants are examples of the latest modular range already seen in several other BMW and MINI models. The core of the 5 Series line-up will remain the 520d, with its four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine of 190hp and forming the entry into 5 Series ownership at prices from £36,025. Combine this with combined cycle fuel economy of close to 70mpg and a mere 108g/km emissions figure (in 2WD form), and one can see why it is chosen by so many fleet buyers.
Bigger sister is the 530d, costing from £43,835. Its six-cylinder unit puts out 265hp, producing a sub six-second 0-62mph time with still impressive plus-60mpg economy.
For petrol buyers the choice is between the 530i or 540i, costing from £43,985 and £46,645 respectively and the 540i fitted with AWD as standard. And there are more engines on the way, including a plug-in hybrid version with combined cycle fuel economy of 134mpg and an all-electric range of 28 miles.
Trim levels are simple too – basically a choice of SE or the more performance-imaged M Sport. And the days of BMWs with no standard equipment, everything on the options list are long gone – even choosing the ‘base’ SE one will get satellite navigation, DAB radio, parking sensors front and back, heated leather seats and dual-zone climate control as standard.
Of course, there is a lengthy options list, and by the time one gets to our M Sport test car with all the toys included, the amount of equipment is mind-boggling. Remote parking for example – the car will park itself if desired, with one able to jump out and move it backwards and forwards while standing by it.
This is achieved through a ‘Display key’ which looks like something out of Star Trek, and for a key is huge – pocket filling. It also recharges itself on a pad at the base of the centre console where one can also power up a mobile phone.
BMW’s Connected Drive services are available, part of a host of information one can access through the infotainment screen. In the case of our car this extended to weather reports and even Wikipedia online encyclopaedia entries – while at motorway speeds…
Overall the BMW’s safety package is impressive and has earned the car a five-star Euro NCAP rating, the crash-test body highlighting the autonomous emergency braking, active bonnet to reduce pedestrian injuries in a collision and the speed limit setting. Notable in the options is the Driving Assist Plus package which includes lane departure and blind-spot warnings, lane-keeping steering assistance and a system to keep the car stable if forced to make an emergency jink around an obstacle.
Outside and inside the BMW 5 Series
The new 5 Series is effectively the same size car as its predecessor, if quite a lot lighter thanks to the wide use of new technology construction techniques. While boasting subtle styling updates which are clearly inspired by the larger 7 Series, notably the wide ‘kidney’ grille that dominates the front end, the shell includes a number of efficiency-improving measures. These cut the car’s drag by 10% and therefore improve fuel economy and emissions.
Among the clever tech are shutters on the grille that only open when the engine needs the cool air, at other times smoothing out the flow, and measures to cut out turbulence in the wheel arches.
Inside has seen rather more extensive upgrades, though seasoned BMW users will find the driver’s surroundings familiar – again, especially if they have previously driven a 7 Series.
The layout hasn’t changed much because it works so well – but the display is now completely digital, the infotainment screen sits at the very top of the centre console where it is easy to use with the merest glance from the road ahead. This is particularly useful, of course, if making much use of all that information one can have sent to the car.
Meanwhile, the surroundings are so plush – the materials are all soft touch and ooze quality, the seats very supportive and comfortable. There’s loads of space in the front cabin, still quite a lot in the rear, and an enormous boot – and this has a flat floor and a wide loading aperture.
Driving the BMW 5 Series
BMW’s latest range of engines is a highly refined bunch. Our 520d is freely giving of its power, but the only way one knows it is visually – the engine is virtually silent in operation, while smoothly dialling in the propulsion.
Chassis setup is clearly biased towards serene progress, even in our M Sport version that has uprated suspension and brakes alongside the slightly more aggressive styling package. Our test involved a long drive from mid-Wales to north of Edinburgh in Scotland, and with supportive seats and the sheer quality of the interior we arrived as refreshed as when we started.
Yet while the chassis setup makes for oh-so-comfortable cruising over mile after mile of motorway, turn off onto challenging B roads and it’s not quite so satisfactory. Such a route would once have provided a perfect opportunity for the car to live up to BMW’s long-lived ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ slogan, but today it’s all a little less precise and not so perfectly weighted.
The car has plenty of grip – especially with the all-wheel-drive chassis in our test version – and it can still be fun, just not way ahead of rivals like it used to be.
The new BMW 5 Series has evolved with the times – the recipe appears to have been ‘wherever there is technology available to improve it, apply liberally.’ As a result, just as the latest contenders from rival brands almost catch up, the 5 Series eases ahead again.
Driving enthusiasts will find that this is not quite as satisfying a car dynamically as its predecessors, but to virtually every buyer that won’t matter. They will choose it because it is simply the complete package, with all the quality, technology and capability one could want. This is still the car that everyone else has to beat.