Improved standard equipment
The 5 Series is the German company's mid-range executive offering. From humble beginnings it has evolved into the benchmark car for anyone seeking a sophisticated blend of luxury and driving enjoyment. This sixth generation model promises to further enhance this proposition with a more mature look and a noticeable bias towards comfort and luxury.
Dividing opinion, this car's predecessor was designed with the enthusiastic driver in mind. With a changing buyer profile and a greater emphasis on economical motoring throughout the industry, this 5 Series is a more refined and rounded proposition. This is most obvious in the projected best-selling 520d.
Fans of BMW's Efficient Dynamics programme won't be disappointed with this particular model; the car boasts an impressive performance, with the 2.0-litre diesel unit offering class-leading levels of economy and emissions. The low CO2 rating of 129g/km has been designed to make it much easier to justify a 5 Series as a company car.
Financial issues aside, this 5 Series shares a platform with the larger 7 Series – reinforcing the subtle shift towards enhanced refinement. There's no suggestion that the 5 Series has gone soft, however. BMW offers a clever driver switchable suspension system in the 'comfort, normal, sport' theme, while there's also a clever active steering and rear-wheel steer option, which does much to boost the car's agility on twisty roads and in town.
The refinement trend continues inside the car, as its cabin is more luxurious than ever. Clearly influenced by the 7 Series, the 5 Series boasts new levels of fit and finish plus a tasteful array of wood and leather trim options. The overall layout is a departure from the stark design of its predecessor, and offers more occupant and storage space into the bargain.
It's understandable that some die-hard fans might bemoan the car's noticeable swing towards the luxury end of the scale – the cabin's design and opulent ambience being obvious signposts. BMW rightly felt it had to compete with its rivals and it has done so in style. It's streets ahead in one important area, though: running costs. This particular 520d offers exceptional economy and emissions performance, which should result in low fuel and tax bills – the latter being important to anyone considering a company car. And taken as a whole, the 520d is the car to beat in the real world.
Being a model everyone with one eye on their budget will want to own, the car's 2.0-litre diesel engine delivers an impressive performance. Boasting ultra-low fuel consumption and emissions for a car in this class (57.6mpg and 129g/km CO2) you'll pay less tax and use less fuel over the course of year than with its rivals. This 5 Series is also better equipped than previously, which also makes it a better value proposition.
Now that little bit bigger all round, this 5 Series offers plenty of room for a quartet of adults. Head and legroom in the rear is good for a car in this class, while oddment storage space is plentiful both fore and aft. The car's boot is also a good size, although the deep load space is not particularly wide.
With BMW's i-Drive technology having steadily improved over time, it's now become surprisingly intuitive, and controls many of the car's functions: ventilation, audio, satnav, telephone. The car's main display and instruments are all up to BMW's usual high standard, while the auto gear lever requires a little practice to be fully comfortable with. The default manual gearshift also requires acclimatization, as its rubbery feel takes a little getting used to.
For a car expected to rack up the miles, engine and road noise has been reduced to impressively low levels. Now it's only the occasional incident of wind noise that interrupts the otherwise soothing cabin ambience. There is no issue over the amount of space in the cabin though, and the driving position offers plenty of adjustment thanks in part to the wide range of seat adjustments.
Like its predecessor, this sixth generation car is likely to be no less popular. As such, a quality alarm and immobiliser package is available plus a keyless entry and start feature, while it would be unwise to dismiss a supplementary tracking device if you value your pride and joy.
Boasting a full compliment of airbags to a sophisticated electronic traction and a stability package nothing has been left to chance, there's no doubting the car's safety credentials.
Delivering a sporty driving experience for the enthusiastic executive has been a major BMW selling point. This time, however, the economy-minded 520d offers a softer, more rounded experience as standard, making it ideal for the predictable long motorway journeys it will routinely undertake. There's the option of switchable suspension settings if you want the best of both worlds. The optional (again) eight-speed auto gearbox is also an impressive piece of kit, while the four-cylinder diesel unit is smooth, quiet and willing, emitting a sporty roar when worked hard.
The car's plush cabin is unlikely to survive intact in the face of boisterous toddlers. Also, the car's boot isn't as flexible as a people carrier's load space. A 5 Series Gran Turismo or X5 might be a safer bet if you must have a family-friendly executive-level BMW.
There's no question that it's an easy car to drive and, with the variable rate steering, it requires little effort to park. Anyone on a budget might prefer the 3 Series. Smaller and less expensive to buy and run, it's likely to be easier to manage on a daily basis.
The previous model, although a strong seller, divided opinion with its looks. This variant displays and more restrained appearance, and one that's likely to generate wider interest from conservative buyers. BMW's Efficient Dynamics sub-brand has done wonders for boosting sales of frugal models.
Bigger in all the key areas, this 5 Series offers occupants plenty of room. As such, access through the car's front doors is good. Surprisingly, the rear door aperture is generous for something in this class. Accessing the boot of this saloon variant is also straightforward.
With BMW adding more standard kit to boost the car's chances in the fleet sector, this basic offering in the 5 Series range isn't so basic. Including Bluetooth mobile phone compatibility – - is something all executives on the move should appreciate. The optional Satellite navigation works well on the big screen, and there's the likes of digital radio and MP3 music player connectivity to choose from.
Surprisingly for an executive car, lighter hues work best, as darker colours mask the many exterior details. This model is more conservatively styled than previously, and it's obvious when a darker colour is chosen. The opposite is true inside, with darker fabrics and trim materials setting the right tone.
Despite being a big car, once you're familiar with its size parking rarely proves to be a challenge. The included parking sensors help, while the optional active steering function greatly reduces the effort required. The optional reverse parking camera is an added bonus.
Run flat tyres fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options – 523i (204bhp); 528i (258bhp); 535i (306bhp); 550i (407bhp). Diesel engine options – 520d (184bhp); 525d (204bhp); 530d (245bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, plus optional eight-speed auto gearbox (standard for 550i). Trim levels: SE.