BMW 5 Series Saloon Review
For many years, BMW’s 5 Series has been an obvious choice for someone in the market for an executive, premium saloon. It’s the sporty option when compared to its big rivals, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6, and the latest version, updated in 2020, shows that it’s still one of the very best cars of its type; beautifully made, engaging to drive and available in a range of different versions to suit different tastes.
Select's rating score* - 4.5 / 5
BMW wants you to believe that the 5 Series is a car that does everything (well, except go off-road). This version, released in 2016, is spacious, desirable, powerful, fun-to-drive and beautifully made, and a substantial overhaul in 2020, with tweaked looks and new features both inside and out, has kept things bang up to date against very talented rivals.
Choose from diesel, petrol or plug-in hybrid power, all-wheel drive if you want extra traction in bad weather, or monstrously powerful versions from BMW’s performance M division. We’ll be focusing on the saloon in this guide, but you can also specify the 5 Series as an estate, called the Touring.
When it comes to executive cars, there are The Big Three – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – and for cars of this size, everyone’s shortlist should include the A6, 5 Series and E-Class. There are other rivals trying to muscle in on the German dominance too though, including Jaguar’s XF and the Lexus ES. So what does the 5 Series bring to this well-heeled party?
Well, pretty much everything. It’s comfortable, and luxurious inside, but scintillating to drive when you want. If you’re after an efficient diesel or plug-in hybrid, there’s a 5 Series for you. If you want huge power and sporting credentials, it’s got you covered. And it’s got room for the family and a weekend’s worth of stuff.
Since 2020, every model has LED headlights, refreshed looks and its engines have been reworked for extra efficiency. The trim levels let you focus on understated elegance or something a bit more sporty, and all have some top-notch technical features, including one of the best infotainment systems on the market.
When you market your cars as ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, as BMW has done for many years, you’d better back that up. And luckily, the 5 Series does. While Mercedes and Audi has focused more on comfort with its rival cars, BMW has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the 5 Series not only keeps drivers happy on long motorway journeys, but also provides smiles of delight on an open country road.
Through the bends, the 5 Series feels smaller than it actually is, with nimble handling and steering that feels beautifully connected to the front wheels. Is it quite as sharp as Jaguar’s XF? Perhaps not quite, but it’s much better than the Audi or Mercedes and it’s quieter than the Jag when it comes to road and wind noise.
Customers can choose between different suspension types; standard, M Sport or the adaptive Variable Damper Control system. All are decent in their own way, with the standard setup keeping larger lumps and bumps out of the cabin and the M Sport setup stiffening things up for improved composure around the corners. But the adaptive system is well worth having, as it enables the suspension to change depending on conditions, and it’s more comfortable than the both the standard set up and the rather firm M Sport suspension, especially if you’ve got larger alloy wheels. If you only tick one option box, this is the one to go for, and it’s standard on higher-end versions.
Engine choices are many. The petrol options start with the 520i, which is powered by a four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine with 181bhp. The next step up is the M550i, which uses a 4.4-litre V8 to give you a very hefty 523bhp. If you want even more than that, the M5 Competition ups that power to give you a huge 616bhp and a suspension setup that’s been tuned for the racetrack.
Back to slightly more everyday options, the diesel range begins with the 520d, which uses a 2.0-litre engine with 187bhp, and this is likely to be the engine that suits most people; it’s got plenty of punch but won’t cause you to wince every time you have to fill it up. Should you want more, however, the 530d has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine with 282bhp, which is enough for rapid progress without the expenses of the powerful petrol options.
New for 2020 are the 530e and 545e plug-in hybrids. The 530e combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, giving a combined 288bhp and an electric-only range of up to 37 miles. Meanwhile the 545e uses a 3.0-litre straight-six engine, which combines with an electric motor to give 339bhp, with an electric range of up to 33 miles. If you do mostly shorter journeys, and have somewhere to plug it in, a plug-in hybrid 5 Series could dramatically reduce your fuel costs, but make sure you keep the battery charged, or you’ll burn extra fuel hauling the extra weight of the electrical system around.
It’ll depend on the model, but a quick comparison to its rivals shows that the 5 Series is at worst competitive and at best considerably more affordable on leasing costs, especially against the A6 and E-Class, which makes an already attractive car even more alluring.
When it comes to fuel costs, the plug-in hybrid models have the potential to give you the best economy, but as previously mentioned, that’s very dependent on how you use them. For what it’s worth, the official fuel consumption figure for the 530e is up to 201.8mpg, and 135.8mpg in the 545e.
If you’re not able to regularly plug a car into a charging socket, or if you do longer journeys, then diesel might appeal more. The 520d has an official mpg of up to 58.9, or up to 55.4mpg if you opt for the all-wheel drive xDrive model. The 530d, which comes only in xDrive form, will give you up to 52.3mpg. All of those stats are pretty impressive considering the power the engines produce, and especially for those with heavier all-wheel drive systems.
The petrol engines, predictably, will do less well at the pumps. The 520i has an official figure of up to 45.6mpg, while the performance focused models will get through petrol rather quickly. The M550i has an official figure of up to 25.9mpg, and the M5 Competition promises no more than 11.3mpg to get all that power.
Insurance groups range from 30 to 50 out of 50.
Exact emissions will depend on the specification of the car you choose, including factors such as wheel size. The 520d has an official CO2 emissions figure of 126 to 143g/km, or 132 to 150g/km in xDrive form, which means it falls between the 30% and 35% brackets for company car Benefit in Kind tax, using 2020-21 data.
The 530d will put out between 143 and 159g/km (33%-36%), the 530e plug-in hybrid 31-41g/km and the 545e between 43 and 50g/km. The hybrids fit in the 12% bracket.
The 520i emits 142 to 159g/km (33-36%). The performance-focused M550i jumps up to 247 to 252g/km and the M5 Competition up to 256g/km, which means they’re well into the top 37% BiK bracket.
If you’re looking at a 5 Series, the chances are high that you’ll be spending long periods of time in it. So it’s just as well that the interior is right up there with the best. The driver’s seat in even the entry-level models is adjustable, comfortable and supportive, and the sports seats in M Sport models even more so. The interior is smart, modern and very well made with some great quality materials. It’s comparable to the excellent build quality in Audi’s A6, and better than the stylish but slightly less solid-feeling Mercedes E-Class.
Fans of lower driving positions will be pleased to know that it’ll drop almost to the floor pan, which is great for a more sportscar-like position. Infotainment duties are carried out via a big 12.3-inch screen controlled either by touch or via a rotary dial next to the gear lever.
All models get what BMW calls its Live Cockpit Professional system, which is a fancy term for saying it’s got two 12.3 inch screens to show all your information. One is a touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard, and the other is a digital instrument display behind the wheel, replacing traditional analogue dials. You can control things using the touchscreen, but while you’re on the move it’s easier to do so with the dial next to the gear stick, or through the wheel-mounted buttons. The system includes navigation and a digital assistant (sort of like Siri or Alexa), as well as DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone connectivity.
Another interesting feature is gesture control, which lets you wave your hands about to use various functions. Twiddle your forefinger clockwise and you can turn the volume up, for example. It’s a fancy trick to show people, but in practice it’s a bit finicky to do properly; just use the steering wheel controls.
The gesture control is part of the Technology Pack, which also includes a head-up display that projects driving information onto the windscreen, and a Harmon Kardon sound system. You can also specify a Bowers & Wilkins surround system if you want the absolute best for your ears.
There’s a lot of room both front and back in the 5 Series, with easily enough headroom for two six-footers in the back. If you’re after the most space possible then some rivals can offer more, such as the Audi A6 and the Volvo S90, but you won’t feel cramped in the BMW.
Boot space, at 530 litres, is good but not the biggest in the class, and you’ll have to pay extra if you want the rear seats to fold down. The boot in the hybrids is reduced to 410 litres because of the various electrical bits needed.
There are plenty of spaces to store everyday items, including large door pockets and a storage space under the front centre armrest.
The 5 Series was awarded the maximum five stars by safety organisation Euro NCAP when it was tested in 2017, with high scores in adult and child occupant tests and pedestrian safety. A large number of high-tech safety systems are available, but a lot of them are optional, which is becoming more unusual these days. Many are as part of the Driving Assistant Plus option pack, which includes tech to help you keep control during sudden evasion manoeuvres, lane keep assist and cross traffic warning that watches out for vehicles approaching from the side.
All models get front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags as standard and Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
There’s a lot of choice in the BMW 5 Series, so it’s possible to make it almost exactly as you want it, but beware that the options list is sizable, and could get very expensive, very quickly.
The range starts with the SE, which rides on 17 or 18-inch alloy wheels, depending on which engine you choose, and features LED headlights, heated seats and two-zone air conditioning.
M Sport cars get 18 or 19-inch alloys, sports suspension on most versions and a body kit inspired by the more powerful M5. Inside, you’ll get sports seats and some sporty trim bits. M Sport Edition models get 20-inch wheels, different paint options and a rear spoiler, as well as adaptive suspension on the more powerful engines.
The M550i rides on 20-inch wheels and gets adaptive suspension and a Harmon Kardon sound system, while the M5 Competition has, well, basically everything.
Options packs are too many to list here, but include a range of wheel designs, paint and upholstery colours, various external cameras to help with manoeuvring and upgraded sound systems, as well as a panoramic or electric sunroof, rear seat TVs, massage seats and brighter headlights.
The obvious rivals for the 5 Series are the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-Class, both of which have similar prestige but lack the driving fun of the BMW. They’re a touch more expensive too, as is the Jaguar XF, which is about the only rival that can rival the 5 Series’ level of enjoyment. It’s not as accomplished in other areas though.
Other cars that you should look at include the Volvo S90 and Lexus ES, which could appeal if you want something a bit different from the norm.
There’s a chance that some of those rivals could tempt you away with certain areas in which they excel, but there’s not much on the market that can do as much as the BMW, and as well.
The BMW 5 Series is one of the most well-rounded and accomplished cars on the market. It does everything well, and some things brilliantly. Whether you just want an efficient, comfortable cruiser to pass the miles away, a barnstorming monster of a performance car or something in between, the 5 Series has you covered. The 2020 updates have kept it fresh against some very talented opposition, and the addition of two plug-in hybrids mean it’s got even more appeal. Don’t pull the trigger on any other executive saloon until you’ve checked out the 5 Series.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the BMW 5 Series Saloon.
**Correct as of 25/11/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,753.89 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.