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 and totally impractical GT, so all you’ll see on the roads is the saloon version. Which follows in all BMW history and does its job brilliantly.
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 a steering system that thinks it knows best. It doesn’t. All 5s now get electric power steering, which means the feel isn’t quite what it used to be. A shame.
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 530d, but for those on a more limited budget, the 520d won’t disappoint. It’s very quiet and fast enough for everyday driving situations. Company car buyers will be delighted to know there is also a 520d ED – CO2 drops to 119g/km, economy is 62.8mpg. Both figures are, frankly, staggering, especially when you think the 520d ED still produces 184bhp. There’s got to be some sort of black magic at work here.
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. And don’t worry about the iDrive – the latest versions are brilliant, and more intuitive than the old ones. Anyone who can’t figure it out should question themselves, not the car.
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. Other cars might be just as economical and clean, but none can match the power and eco balance of the BMW. It retains just as much value as the main rivals, and it also has lower running costs. What’s not to like?