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The Top Gear car review:BMW 5 Series
For:As ever, the ride/ handling/eco/quality compromise is spot on
Against:Focus has shifted from handling to comfort
520d  SE 4dr Step Auto
A facelift that isn’t worthy of the name, but no matter. The 5-Series remains a great car.
BMW’s created a hybrid that also doubles as a sports saloon. Eco begins to look fun…
We drive the most powerful BMW diesel… in the world. But what’s it like?
Not quite diesel’s answer to the M5 (the car, not the road), but close. What an engine
The 530d is absolutely gorgeous in nearly every way. If the irritatingly impressive 520d didn’t exist, we’d take one right now
What we say:
The benchmark that all executive saloons should aim for... The undisputed class-leader
What is it?
It’s not quite BMW’s bread-and-butter car – that honour belongs to the hugely popular 3-Series – but the 5-Series is a hugely important car for the Bavarian firm. Weirdly, at one point BMW looked like completely hashing up the 5-Series when it released the 5 GT first, before the saloon. Fortunately, the car-buying public has largely ignored the utterly hideous GT, so all you’ll see on the roads is the saloon – facelifted a while back with new trims and engines, although ‘new styling’ is barely perceptible. Nothing needed changing there, BMW rightly judged.
As ever, this is BMW’s strongest hand. Although this time the 5-Series is a bit more susceptible to which spec level you choose. Basically, you want to choose a car with Variable Damper Control but not Active Steering. That way you get the best of the ride/handling compromise, without steering that thinks it knows best. It doesn’t.
Hardly anyone buys a petrol 5-Series, so you’d expect the diesel choice to be excellent. It is. Top of the list of brilliance is the 535d, but the 520d that most buy won’t disappoint, especially now it uses BMW’s much smoother and quieter new 2.0-litre motor. 190bhp serves up a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds and 147mph. Most buyers decide they don’t need any more.
There’s a detuned 518d too, which is cheaper, but its 150bhp output doesn’t sound sufficient to us. A yawning 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds won’t win you any traffic light races, that’s for sure…
On the inside
BMW tends to go for a slightly more minimalist look than Audi. It’s smart – so long as you avoid some of the hideous wood trim options – but doesn’t have quite the blend of sophistication and simplicity that Audi manages so well. Build quality is top-notch, though, and the 5-Series will easily seat four in comfort. But the middle seat is a bit of a squeeze.
Don’t worry about the iDrive – the latest versions are brilliant. Anyone who can’t figure it out should question themselves, not the car. BMW’s also introduced cool digital dials for 2014, upping the tech count further.
Now in its sixth generation, the 5-Series should offer bulletproof reliability. BMW’s stop-start tech is well proven nowadays, and there aren’t too many complicated electronics elsewhere. If you’re a company car buyer, the 5-Series is the only choice for you in this class. Even more so now: power hasn’t been cut but economy and emissions are even better. At 114g/km CO2, the 520d is now so green, there’s no need for a green EfficientDynamics model…How does it do it? The 518d usefully lowers the entry-level price (but we’d still find the extra if possible). The 5-Series retains just as much value as the main rivals, and it also has lower running costs. What’s not to like?