Autocar pits the executive saloons together in a head-to-head test

The new BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-class have been pitted together in an exclusive head-to-head test in this week's Autocar magazine.

For 23 years, every iteration of the 5-series that has gone up against the E-class has come out on top, but this time tester Andrew Frankel was confident the Five faced the hardest fight of its life.

BMW 5-series v Mercedes E-class - see the exclusive pictures

The current E-class is at the top of the game, having pasted the outgoing 5-series in a previous test, and dusted the Jaguar XF.

The test pits the 3.0-litre diesel engined Merc - the best on offer, we think - against the 530d, historically the best of the bunch.

Exterior and interior styling

Both cars look disappointing, notes Frankel. The Mercedes is odd, the BMW just bland and unimaginative.

Inside the 530d BMW has made useful progress, and whether its cabin is preferable to its rival's depends on your priorities. Certainly it works much better: its switchgear is more lucidly arranged, its dials are clearer, the new iDrive controller clearly superior to Mercedes' rival Command system.

What the BMW interior lacks is a sense of occasion. Less coherent it may be, but the way the E-class deploys its wood and leather and subtle but extensive use of chrome has a class missing from the BMW.

The real news is how close the BMW now comes to offering E-class interior space; the E-class's advantage on leg room has been much reduced. The Five is fractionally smaller all round, but for the first time it can seat four large adults in comfort.

Driving

Here, it is a hideously close-run contest, determined by nuances here and there and a presumed order of priority that some customers may not share.

Most importantly, both are fine cars to drive fast or slow, in a straight line or through some bends.

The Merc can't match the BMW engine objectively, because its 0-62mph time of 6.9sec is 0.6sec off the 530d's benchmark. Instead, it contents itself with being quieter, smoother and, as a result, more sophisticated, while still being plenty swift enough to offer all the performance most buyers will ever want (or indeed use).

The BMW is easier to drive, requiring provocation few will dole out to unsettle it. The Mercedes is more softly sprung and rolls more, offering a little less grip. However, it has better steering and - more surprisingly - it's actually better balanced too.

The E350 CDI certainly offers better ride quality, but no-one with standard suspension on their car is going to return the 5-series complaining the ride is too stiff. Over long distances some owners may prefer the taut feel of the 530d, as well as its better fuel consumption (45.6mpg with auto box v 40.9mpg) and lower CO2 emissions (160g/km v 181g/km).

Even so, the Merc is quieter, especially in town or pressing on down a country road.

The verdict

The BMW is a more complete car than the old model, and if that means it's lost a little of teh old enthusiasm, some would argue that this is a price worth [paying for its broader base of talents.

But the Mercedes has rediscovered the values of quality, comfort and luxury. The result is two gloriously different cars.

Truth is, buyers will probably choose on which skill set is more appropriate to their desires and circumstances.

But, forced to choose, Frankel goes for the Merc "by a gnat's g-string".

For the full story buy this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.

Twitter - follow autocar.co.ukSee all the latest BMW reviews, news and video

Our Verdict

The BMW 5-series offers a compelling blend of all-round abilities, but wants specifying carefully

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Comments
30

4 February 2010

If it was my money, it would be the E-Class every time.

The E-Class looks classy and executive.

The 5 Series makes Mondeos and Insignias look radical.

I really wish BMW would sort their design out. They all look the same.

4 February 2010

It's hard for me to judge on looks. I've seen the E around for a couple of months now - and I really like it! Don't like the interor tho... a sence of occation!? Not really, no! Asian-like, yes. Here I prefere the 5 series' interior any day.

But for the looks, I'll wait till I've been "living" with the 5 for a few months.

4 February 2010

A good reveiw . I think it is all in the punchline near the end. These cars attract different sorts of buyers and will be purchased on the basis of what fits the buyer best. ie Merc for the more mature waft along understated driver (me) and Beemer for those who still sprout horns every now and then.

I have seen reveiws elsewhere and no one has addressed the big question for me. Has BMW seen sense at last and finally ditched the horribly hard riding and expensive run flats.

I still think both cars lack the soul of the XF and the XF is better equipped. However I can see Jag losing sales if they do not introduce a 2 litre D XF.

Maybe old fashioned of me but I would have the XF as it is made in Britain and not another austere ( but excellently engineered ) Germanic creation .

So there you go have a pop lads.

4 February 2010

I could not agree with you more, i think all there firms copy each other so much the all produce the same car. Whatcar place the E class second to the XF and have recently given the new 5 series 5 stars. Autoexpress have chosen the new 5 over the XF for its superior dynamics. I personally dont like the way the merc looks and i am not convinced thats its in any way better to drive.

4 February 2010

Wow, just looking at these cars makes me want to sle.............zz

4 February 2010

"For 23 years, every iteration of the 5-series that has gone up against the E-class has come out on top"

Would you ever see such a similar comment if a 7-Series finally knocked a S-Class of its perch? I doubt it.

Unless i'm mistaken this very magazine placed the W210 and W211 E-Class' ahead of the 5-Series when they were launched. Ok, the respective BMWs were a few years old at the time and the Mercs only ruled the roost for about a year because, to be frank they weren't as good as they should have been, but Autocar should note the 5-Series has been beaten by an E-Class.

4 February 2010

The other day I was on the A45 coming out of Coventry when a convoy of 3 XJ's pulled alongside at the lights before wafting off at some pace. It was a slightly shocking sight, the design, the enormous wheels and heavy privacy glass. For a moment it was like being an extra in a Ridley Scott scifi. I know this is a car from the group above but the point I am making is the design, love it or loath it created a feeling of occasion, a statement, something just missing from the BMW or Merc ranges. (Which is probably why I would prefer an XF too, it may not be best but its sure 'good enough')

4 February 2010

[quote The Apprentice](Which is probably why I would prefer an XF too, it may not be best but its sure 'good enough')[/quote]

Exactly... all of these cars are 'good enough' (as are almost all cars on sale in the UK today, in their respective classes).

Hence it all comes down to personal preference, and mine wouldn't be for either of the two reviewed here...

4 February 2010

Wow, surprised by the Merc getting the nod. Maybe I'm just used to the majority of the press being slightly sycophantic towards BMW or as is often also the case, the latest product. Like a few of the replies above although both the Merc and BMW are probably excellent products as a car enthusiast if I was shelling out this much (whether privately or as a company car) I just can't see that either would give the feeling of pleasure or anticipation of owning and driving an XF.

4 February 2010

Many consider 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' to be a masterpiece but just as many think it's Hemingway being his usual turgid and boring self. Who's right?

Anyway...

I'm all for the 5-Series. As someone further up has already said, I find the E-Class interior really, really awful. Each time I see one out on the road and imagine how comfy and solid it must feel to drive - Benz like BMW now returning what they've always done best - I remember that terrible all-angles interior (recipient of the 'Lexus award' for being simultaneously numb and try-hard glitzy).

The inside of the 5 seems to suit the rest of the car in that is essentially a return to what made prior versions of itself so universally praised. Thank heavens for that.

[quote Ryan Bane]

I was obviously in a minority of people who liked the look of the previous car. To me the old car moved the bar in terms of design, instantly making the competition look out of date - I cant see the new 5 aging well... [/quote]

It depends on whether you're the kind of person who thinks granny-glasses headlights improve the look of a car. I'm always amazed to hear of how many people liked them.

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