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BMW 5 Series saloon takes back the top spot

Car Buyer Car Buyer 4 days ago

The BMW 5 Series is back at the top. Ever since the latest Mercedes E-Class and Jaguar XF launched, they’ve somewhat eclipsed BMW’s large executive saloon. The latest, seventh-generation model signals the company hasn’t been resting on the 5 Series’ considerable laurels, though, as it’s better to drive, more economical and more luxuriously appointed than the car it replaces.

The new 5 Series differs from the old car in a number of ways. It’s a subtle evolution in terms of the overall design, but under the metal it’s up to 100kg lighter. Almost every model can also be ordered with BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system, while UK buyers get a choice between two automatic gearboxes. There’s no manual option, however.

In truth, the lack of a manual gearbox is going to be of little concern to most 5 Series customers. What’s more, the standard version of the automatic fitted to our test car performed brilliantly, shifting unobtrusively when left to its own devices, but offering near-instantaneous changes when prompted by the steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

The rest of the 5 Series’ driving experience is similarly impressive. On motorways and dual-carriageways, noises from the outside world seem far, far away, while the excellent driving position and luxurious interior leave you feeling so, so relaxed. Show the 5 Series a more challenging road, however, and it becomes an engaging and rewarding car to drive, with pin-sharp steering and expertly tuned suspension.

At launch, BMW will offer two petrol engines and two diesels, although further options will come along later. The range kicks off with the ever-popular BMW 520d diesel, which is a huge seller to company-car fleets. This is partly thanks to its excellent fuel economy of 68.8mpg and partly thanks to its brisk performance, with 0-62mph taking 7.5 seconds. An even more frugal 520d EfficientDynamics is due later, too. The powerful BMW 530d we drove is a fair bit faster and not much less economical, but it’s considerably more expensive to buy.

If you want a petrol engine, the BMW 530i and BMW 540i are your cars. Being a modern BMW means a hybrid version of this 5 Series is also coming soon. The BMW 530e promises a rock-bottom Benefit-in-Kind rate of 7% – a key hook for business users. A barnstorming BMW 550i looks likely, while a supercar-rivalling new BMW M5 is due in 2018.

Inside, the 5 Series is feels modern and beautifully made. As with the exterior looks, the dashboard is evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its design, but build quality is pitch perfect and behind the scenes nestle the latest infotainment and connectivity systems, operated by BMW’s touchscreen-enabled iDrive setup. Front and back-seat passengers can all relax in spacious comfort and the 530-litre boot is competitive for the class.

Keeping things simple, you get a choice of just two trim levels. SE cars come with LED headlights, leather seats, sat nav, all-round parking sensors and BMW’s three-mode Drive Performance Control; M Sport models have a redesigned front bumper, an assertive bodykit, upgraded interior trim details, LED foglights and sports seats. We’d stick with SE trim unless the M Sport’s aesthetic tweaks hold significant appeal, and pair SE with the powerful yet economical 2.0-litre diesel engine of the 520d.

No official safety ratings are available yet, but there are likely to be questions at BMW’s head office if the 5 Series fails to match the E-Class’ and XF’s five-star Euro NCAP score.

4.6 / 5

The latest BMW 5 Series is even more economical than the outgoing car, which is an impressive achievement

Executive expresses like the BMW 5 Series have to perform something of a balancing act: buyers at this end of the market expect low running costs paired with impeccable performance, practicality and luxury – and that means powerful engines, big bodies and lots of equipment.

These demands tend to push a car’s weight up, though, which is an enemy of high economy and low emissions. Carmakers must work hard to achieve all this, but the results can be impressive and the 5 Series is a case in point. Despite being fast, spacious and well appointed it can return over 70mpg, and even more if you pick the hybrid model.

New BMW 5 Series MPG & CO2

The BMW 520d is likely to be the biggest seller in the 5 Series range. It returns 68.8mpg and emits 108g/km of CO2, meaning company-car buyers will be liable for a Benefit-in-Kind rate of 21%. Road tax for the 520d will be just £20 under the current system, but new road tax rules come into play in April 2017 and are of more relevance: under that forthcoming system, the 520d will cost £140 a year to tax.

The economy-focussed 520d EfficientDynamics (ED) returns 72.4mpg and will cost the same in road tax under both systems, but qualifies for a 20% BiK rate thanks to CO2 emissions of 102g/km. The most efficient diesel Mercedes E-Class has identical fuel-economy figures to the 520d ED.

If you’re happy to trade a little in the way of economy for some extra performance, the BMW 530d returns 60.1mpg and emits 124g/km of CO2. Be aware that all the 5 Series’ diesel engines use AdBlue to reduce emissions, which high-mileage users may need to top up in between annual services. 

The real economy star – on paper at least – is the petrol-electric hybrid BMW 530e, as this looks set to officially return 134.5mpg. As with many hybrids, that figure might be tough to match in real-world conditions, but low CO2 emissions of 49g/km mean 530e customers won’t pay road tax or the London Congestion Charge, while business users get a BiK liability of just 7%.

Those hankering for a conventional petrol engine should look to the BMW 530i. This returns 48.7mpg and emits 132g/km of CO2, so it’ll cost £200 to tax for the first year – although after that the annual charge drops to the same £140 as the diesels.

Company-car drivers will be liable for a BiK rate of 23% if they choose the 530i, while the powerful and expensive BMW 540i comes as standard with four-wheel drive. It can only manage 39.2mpg and emits 164g/km of CO2, although these are impressive figures for such a fast car.

Four-wheel drive can be added to all the other 5 Series models save the 520d ED, but note it’ll dent economy by 7mpg or so, pushing CO2 emissions up by around 10-15g/km.

Insurance group

There’s no word on insurance groupings yet, but the outgoing 5 Series sits mainly in groups 30-40 out of 50, so expect similar or slightly higher rankings for the newer, more expensive model.

Servicing

Again, full maintenance schedules are being ironed out, but BMW tends to offer attractively priced servicing packages with its cars. Do investigate these, as they can be real money savers.

Warranty

BMW’s three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty is reasonable if unexceptional – and identical to Mercedes’ guarantee.

4.9 / 5

Logos, slogans and taglines may sometimes be mere marketing trinkets, but the BMW 5 Series more than lives up to its maker’s strapline of being “the ultimate driving machine”. It switches seamlessly between effortless long-distance cruising and stimulating B-road entertainment, so however you want to drive it, the 5 Series obliges with élan.

Wind noise barely gets a look in, too, while the suspension insulates you adeptly from broken tarmac and undulations in the road, exhibiting minimal body lean as it does so. Drain covers and larger potholes prompted some slight discomfort to be transmitted through to the seats, but this should be less of a problem if you choose the BMW 520d, which has smaller alloy wheels.

The lack of a manual gearbox option may seem like heresy from a brand like BMW, but in truth it’s a mark of changing consumer tastes: the extra convenience and economy offered by modern automatics makes them the default choice in this class of car and the eight-speed automatic fitted to our test car perfectly suits the 5 Series’ character. We expect the Sport version of this gearbox to be even faster, although it remains to be seen if this comes at the expense of smoothness.

The optional four-wheel steering and adjustable suspension our test car had inspired an incredible amount of confidence when cornering and allowed for comfort or sportiness to be prioritised according to preference. These options cost about £2,000 together, though, so we’re keen to see how the 5 Series handles without them.

New BMW 5 Series petrol engines

We’ve yet to drive a petrol-engined 5 Series, but BMW fans should note the BMW 530i now features a 249bhp four-cylinder engine, while the outgoing 530i used a super-smooth six-cylinder job. It’ll be interesting to see how this change affects the overall driving experience, although if you’ve got deep pockets, the 335bhp BMW 540i still offers the six-cylinder experience, as well as standard four-wheel drive. The 530i takes 6.2 seconds to go from 0-62mph, while the 540i does the same in just 4.8 seconds.

Diesel engines

The 2.0-litre 187bhp 520d should be a similar prospect to the outgoing 520d – and that’s a good thing. We’ve always rated the 5 Series with this engine highly, as it offers excellent economy with brisk performance. The new 520d is about half a second faster from 0-62mph then the old model, taking 7.5 seconds. This is roughly a second faster than the Mercedes E200d, but fractionally slower than the more expensive E220d; such acceleration should be more than adequate for most, though.

Our test car was a BMW 530d xDrive, so it came with four-wheel drive and a 261bhp 3.0-litre diesel engine. The 530d produces seemingly endless power, going from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds and accelerating with a similar ferocity when overtaking on motorways as it does when moving off from a standstill.

We’re keen to see how the 5 Series behaves when fitted with rear rather than four-wheel drive. We found our 4x4 test car pitch-perfect in terms of handling, with plenty of steering feel and prodigious grip, but the two-wheel-drive variant may offer even more finesse.

Hybrid engine

If the 249bhp petrol-electric BMW 530e hybrid is as good as the equally powerful BMW 3 Series hybrid, we expect to be impressed. The 530e has a 2.0-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor and takes just 6.2 seconds to go from 0-62mph, despite its low running costs.

Some things may have changed with the latest BMW 5 Series, but it remains best-in-class where driver involvement is concerned

4.7 / 5

The BMW 5 Series doesn’t represent as much of a step change in design as the latest Mercedes E-Class did when it was launched, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The old E-Class was starting to feel its age inside, so the total rethink its replacement brought was welcome.

That’s less true with the outgoing 5 Series, which has aged gracefully as it heads towards its autumn years. The new 5 Series is even better inside, with seamless ergonomics, suitably premium materials and the latest infotainment and connectivity systems.

New BMW 5 Series dashboard

Like many modern premium cars, the 5 Series has its infotainment screen sitting permanently atop the dashboard – it doesn’t retract. As with the display found in the latest E-Class, however, it’s well integrated into the overall design and doesn’t spoil the aesthetic cohesiveness of the 5 Series’ interior.

Technology

All models come with the latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, which has long been the benchmark against which other setups are judged. This remains the case, as the 10.25-inch main screen is crystal-clear, while the rotary controller is supplemented with a touch-sensitive top that features character recognition: you can draw out the shape of a letter on the pad with your finger when entering postcodes into the sat nav, for instance, rather than use the scroll wheel.

A further input method is available if you specify the ‘Gesture Control’ option. This allows you to control many in-car systems by gesturing in the air. If you receive a phone call, for example, pinch in the air to accept it, or wave your hand dismissively to reject.

Equipment

SE trim marks the entry point into 5 Series territory. This includes the iDrive Touch system described above, as well as sat nav, a DAB radio, leather seats and a cruise-control system that’ll slow the car gently for corners, returning to the pre-set speed once the road straightens out.

Standard cars also have 18-inch alloy wheels (although the 520d gets 17-inch examples), ambient lighting, LED headlights, heated front seats and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for the gearbox. BMW’s multi-function instrument panel replaces the speedometer and rev counter with digital screens, displaying sat nav and economy information, for example, depending on how you configure it. It’s not quite as slick as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but it’s nice to have as a standard feature in the 5 Series.

BMW also fits its ‘ConnectedDrive’ package to all 5 Series. This includes access to a concierge service, as well as eCall, which automatically contacts the emergency services if the airbags deploy in a collision.

Upgrading to M Sport trim costs around £3,000 and adds 19-inch alloy wheels (though again, the 520d makes do with slightly smaller alloys), LED foglights and twin exhaust pipes. There are also natty ‘M’ details around the upgraded interior and more assertively styled exterior. M Sport cars also have upgraded brakes, although these don’t come if you choose this trim for the 520d.

Options

The 5 Series is undoubtedly very well equipped, but adding thousands of pounds to its list price is easily done.

The 520d, for instance, comes only in white or black as standard, so many will add metallic paint to this popular model. That costs £675, although it’s fair to point out that Mercedes and many other carmakers also make you pay for metallic paint. Whichever brand you go for, this charge seems measly considering large executive saloons typically cost at least £30,000.

You do get Bluetooth connectivity as standard with the 5 Series, although Apple CarPlay is £235; this connects wirelessly in the BMW, which is a neat feature, and an industry first. If you fancy some wood trim inserts instead of the standard aluminium fare, a selection of of walnuts, poplars and the like are reasonably priced at £250. Upgrading the seats to fine Napa leather costs just under £800.

BMW’s Display Key seems good value at around £200: this cool gadget allows you to set the car’s air-conditioning to come on in advance and also shows economy figures and servicing information on its small colour screen. Spend a further £395 and you even get a remote-control parking function operated by the Display Key.

Then come the equipment packages, which range from around £1,300 to almost £3,500. The Technology Package bundles together the Display Key with a wi-fi hotspot and a head-up display; the Comfort pack gets you a reversing camera, power-adjustable seats, keyless entry and a hands-free boot release; M Sport Plus comprises a Harmon Kardon stereo and more aggressive alloy wheels, while ticking the Premium box will see the 5 Series equipped with upgraded, massaging ‘Comfort’ seats, a powered bootlid, four-zone climate control and ceramic finishes for the dashboard controls.

The BMW 5 Series is beautifully made and bang up-to-date inside

4.6 / 5

As it’s a brand-new model, assessing the BMW 5 Series potential reliability and safety credentials is tricky, partly as it’s yet to go through Euro NCAP testing. We do know BMW offers a range of advanced protective features though, while the previous 5 Series has done pretty well in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys.

New BMW 5 Series reliability

BMW as a brand came 15th out of 32 manufacturers in our 2016 Driver Power poll, between Audi in 21st place and Mercedes in 12th. A ninth-place finish for build quality is decent, but 21st for reliability is less so.

Looking at previous models of the 5 Series adds further colour. The previous (sixth-generation) car came 53rd out of 150 models in 2016, with an average 78th-place ranking for reliability; this is a reasonable result for an outgoing model. As a long-term prospect, it’s worth noting the fifth-generation 5 Series came in 149th place out of 150 cars, which indicates the sophisticated electronics and mechanicals BMW is known for may throw up problems over time.

Safety

BMW fits all 5 Series with mandatory safety kit like electronic stability control and ISOFIX child-seat mounts. The 5 Series also has the usual clutch airbags, but with an added layer of sophistication: sensors determine how many occupants are in the car and how severe any collision is, triggering only the airbags that are required. This means if there’s a secondary collision, undeployed airbags can activate.

BMW’s Driving Assistant is just under £900 and this packages autonomous emergency braking (which works at urban speeds) alongside a lane-departure warning system and rear cross-traffic alert; this mitigates the likelihood of a collision during reversing manoeuvres. Spending a further £1,300 or so turns this kit into the Driving Assistant Plus, which adds features like adaptive cruise control for a semi-autonomous driving experience.

It should come as no surprise to hear the BMW 5 Series is brimming with the latest safety technology – although many systems are optional

4.4 / 5

The BMW 5 Series is competitively spacious.

As a large executive saloon, the BMW 5 Series acquits itself well. Neither front nor rear-seat passengers will want for room, while the size of the boot is roughly on a par with the space offered by the Mercedes E-Class, Jaguar XF and Audi A6. Family buyers may increasingly be heading towards dealerships’ SUV sections, but the 5 Series is better to drive than almost any SUV on the market and confers no hardships in terms of spaciousness and practicality.

New BMW 5 Series interior space & storage

There’s little not to like inside the 5 Series. As with most cars of this class, anyone in the middle rear seat will be forced to splay their legs around a pronounced transmission tunnel, but other than that, head, leg and elbow room are all extremely generous, and the 5 Series is up there with the best when it comes to interior space. A long journey in the 5 Series with four six-foot tall adults should prompt no apprehension.

Cup-holders, doorbins, the glovebox and the central cubbyhole are all well sized, and there's also a space to wirelessly charge the Display Key or your mobile phone.

Boot space

The 5 Series has a 530-litre boot with a wide aperture and a lower loading lip than before, although there’s a fair bit of intrusion from the wheelarches and it’s not quite as square a shape as we’d like. The Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class offer 10 litres more space and, while this difference is negligible, it must be said the E-Class’ boot in particular is a better shape. Do specify the £335 folding rear seats so you at least have the option of taking long loads, and be aware BMW euphemistically refers to these as a ‘Through Loading System’. An opening ski hatch behind the rear armrest is a further £75.

Towing

No official towing limits have been released for the 5 Series, but the outgoing car can pull between 2,200kg and 2,500kg depending on which model you choose; we expect the latest 5 Series to be similarly capable. A folding tow bar is around £850, although it’s worth knowing some of BMW’s EfficientDynamics models aren’t suitable for towing.

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