The seventh-generation BMW 5-Series is a car that should quite rightly feel the pressure of expectation. In some ways, the Five is to senior executives what Mondeo Man is to the wider public. It’s the car that defines a sector, and which is the ubiquitous presence and default choice despite the presence of high-quality rivals.
On the road
On the road
BMW has described its new 5-Series as a car with a fair bit new on the exterior and a hell of a lot going on under the skin. There needs to be, because it’s replacing and improving upon a model that achieved the rare success of still being at or very near the top of the class even at the end of its life cycle.
Development targets for the new model included being more refined, lighter, safer and more fuel efficient, and there are big steps forward in terms of connectivity and technology.
The car has grown slightly compared with its predecessor, so is now in 36mm longer, 6mm wider and 2mm taller, while boot space is up 10 litres to 530. This increased capacity puts it within 10 litres of all its main rivals – which comprise the Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The engine line-up from launch starts with the 190hp 520d diesel, driven here and expected to take the lion’s share of sales. It is joined by the 265hp 530d, a pair of petrols in the form of the 252hp 530i and 340hp 540i, plus, coming soon, the 46g/km 530e plug-in hybrid. All are mated to eight-speed automatic gearboxes – the last 5-Series had a manual on the 520d only, and it accounted for just 4% of volume so BMW has gone auto-only this time around to give the car’s residual values a little boost.
For the first time (apart from a handful of cars in the 1990s) a four-wheel-drive version will be available, with BMW recognising the popularity of its premium brand rivals’ all-wheel drive offerings. The xDrive system is already available on other BMW models, and is flying out of showrooms – 20% of 3-Series models are being specced with it, and half of UK 7-Series orders include it, although admittedly some of the luxury saloon models are only offered with four-wheel drive. The xDrive system comes as an option on the two 5-Series diesels, adds £2000 to the P11D price and increases CO2 figures by up to 11g/km, depending on model. Still, early predictions are that around a third of customers will opt for it.
At launch, the trim levels are pretty simple, with SE and M-Sport making up the offering. On the 520d, there’s a £3000 premium for M-Sport, which is nevertheless expected to be the dominant option, in line with previous models and sibling BMWs. That extra cash buys upgraded alloys – 18-inch on the 520d, 19s on the rest of the engines – and a host of adornments that really lift the car’s styling, including a purposeful bodykit, sports steering wheel and a different instrument panel.
As ever, it’s easy to spend thousands of pounds on options – it is still a BMW after all – but the increased level of standard kit is worthy of note. Even SE cars include the higher-spec Professional Navigation system with 10.2 inch touchscreen, while dual-zone climate control is standard across the range, which is something that wasn’t the case with the previous model.
However, the options list is where the cleverest kit lurks, including the £395 remote-park function that first appeared on the new 7-Series. It allows the driver to manoeuvre the car at low speeds from outside the car, simply by using the key. It’s handy in tight garages or parking spaces, where the driver can park or extract the car remotely rather than have to squeeze into and out of the driver’s seat, potentially damaging doors against other cars. It’s a spectacular party trick, with the car using the various sensors to ensure it doesn’t hit anything.
Party tricks aren’t where the new 5-Series is going to be judged, though. Out on the road is where it needs to perform if it’s to keep the firm’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” reputation intact. So it’s a good job it’s still got it, and even better news is that BMW has managed to retain the class-leading sense of driver engagement and blend it with fairly astounding levels of refinement.
It was almost a given that the 5-Series would drive well – BMW would have spectacularly dropped the ball if it didn’t – but the low volume of noise entering the cabin at motorway speed is up with luxury cars costing multiple times the price. And given or not, the car’s handling is supreme; it’s almost as unflappable when letting its hair down on rare empty stretches of twistier roads as it is refined on the motorway.
Engine noise is under control during acceleration, and anything that does breach the passenger space is a low roar rather than a diesel clatter, while ride quality, even on our car’s optional 19-inch wheels, is more comfortable than before. As an all-round package, it’s really very impressive indeed.
That theme continues inside, because the cabin is nicely designed, well laid out and comfortable. There are just about enough cubbyholes and storage stashes, and the infotainment system is excellent in terms of usability, although the optional Apple Carplay system, which BMW is the first to offer wirelessly, did sometimes drop audio playback.
Rear seat space is good enough to easily take a pair of adults without any compromised legroom, and BMW says it has increased boot access, although the Five is still a saloon and therefore not the easiest way to transport large or awkward loads.
BMW has also developed its Connected Drive system so the car can now sync with a Microsoft calendar, enabling it to download appointments straight into the navigation system, and even alert the driver via the Connected app if they need to leave earlier due to traffic problems.
The 114g/km emissions figure on the M-Sport is within 4g/km of the best from its equivalent rivals, but when the 520d Efficient Dynamics model comes it will equal the 102g/km of the Mercedes E-Class.
It’s no surprise to see the 5-Series top the class for residual values, but its whole-life cost suffers from, surprisingly, being the most expensive of the sport trim levels from Audi, Jaguar and even Mercedes, which is traditionally the priciest of the premium brands. Obviously it’s the newest, and BMW points to the spec-adjusted figures telling a different story, especially factoring in the uprated navigation system, but the cheaper and admittedly less well-equipped and less powerful XF is more than 4p per mile to the good. BMW is the right side of its German premium brand rivals though.
A word, too, on the styling. It’s fair to say this isn’t a radical departure from a successful formula, although a close look at the new car next to the old reveals that there’s been more work than you’d initially suspect. It has a slightly more aggressive and imposing nose, but is a safe design that’s instantly recognisable as a Five, and so won’t scare away the large loyal fanbase.
The new 5-Series is a really tough car to find fault with. The refinement and quiet cabin ambience are, along with the constant technological advancement, its biggest triumphs, but BMW’s big success is simply not getting it wrong. Improving on a car as capable as the previous 5-Series is no easy task, but the new model is fundamentally better in pretty much every way. Which is a relief.
BMW has, across the previous six generations of 5-Series dating back to the early 1970s (pictured), sold more than 7.6m cars across the globe, with the outgoing car deemed the most successful to date. In fact, 17% of all BMWs sold are a 5-Series, in saloon, Touring or Gran Turismo forms. The latter, a slightly uncomfortably styled and less-loved model, will be replaced around a year from now by a sleeker design more akin to the Audi A7 or Mercedes-Benz CLS.
The saloon in particular is a favourite in the UK, where we match the number sold in BMW’s home German market, although the Touring is the more popular model over there.
The 5-Series has grown over recent generations, and the outgoing car was larger than a 2001 7-Series. The new car is 36mm longer still than its predecessor, but 100kg lighter, and BMW predicts around half of the new cars sold will be in the top M-Sport trim.
The xDrive all-wheel-drive system is available for the first time on a Five, having taken 20% of 3-Series sales and 50% of 7-Series since it was introduced to those models.
What they said
What they said
“The new 5-Series is a clear step forward. It is wrapped up in a more athletic and modern design which is combined with a great driving experience, not forgetting that xDrive is now widely available and will be a key growth area.
Critically for fleets the model range has been simplified (SE and M Sport) with standard equipment optimised.
No doubt, the new 5-Series sets the advanced business car benchmark.”
BMW Group UK
general manager, corporate sales
Need to know
Three things we like...
The £195 optional Display Key gives a variety of info on its screen, including fuel level
The shortcut buttons can be set to operate the phone, nav and media
The rotating infotainment control doubles as a pad for manually writing nav destinations
...And one we don't
Charging £335 for split-fold rear seats seems a bit much, though Jaguar and Merc do this too
It’s still a great-handling car, although the steering is a touch light. The 2.0-litre diesel is sweet,
and the eight-speed auto is slick.
So the 5-Series doesn’t sit at the head of the field for emissions, although it is safely in the pack.
Boot space is around the size of rivals’, and there’s plenty of rear space to ferry adults in comfort.
The Pro nav system is standard, along with the likes of DAB, but there’s plenty of attractive stuff that’s only on the options list.
Not revolutionary, but the new car still has that imposing and instantly recognisable look.
Comfort and refinement 10/10
Hugely impressive refinement is the single biggest area of improvement, and makes for a totally relaxing long-distance drive.
Well designed and logical while still being comfortable. A bit more clever space for stowing bits and pieces wouldn’t hurt, though.
BMW has now progressed to the point where it’s got a great infotainment system. The navigation features especially make life extremely easy.
Whole life costs 8/10
High up-front cost versus rivals puts the 5-Series at a slight disadvantage, but it claws
back ground on RVs.
CCT opinion 10/10
Very hard to fault as a package, other than the boot practicality that rival saloons also suffer from. It’s an immensely impressive and capable car that ticks every box.
The consummate executive saloon package that combines excellent refinement, driving quality, industry-leading tech and excellent residuals values