During the past decade BMW has branched out into every market niche, from the coupé-SUV crossover that is the X4 and the X6 to the estate-saloon-soft-roader hybrid that is the 5 Series GT. But it is still the classic, default models like this 5 Series that form the backbone of the brand.

From the look of the latest model, introduced in 2010 and mildly revised late in 2013, you would be forgiven for thinking that BMW is playing it safe. But underneath the skin the 5 Series is more complex than ever. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is available on the whole range, and the engines offer world-class tech. All this technology ensures the 5 Series remains the executive saloon of choice ahead of the Audi A6, and the revamped Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

BMW also says the 5 Series is a more sophisticated all-rounder than it has ever been before. And with Efficient Dynamics on board, every model gets an impressive blend of performance and economy – astonishingly so in some cases.

The vast range comprises of three bodystyles including a saloon, a hatchback and an estate, not forgetting a storming twin-turbo V8 M5. Trim levels are the easy bit to deal with – mainly there are three to choose from, although company car and eco minded buyers will gravitate towards the sole, saloon only Efficient Dynamics model, which is tuned for optimum efficiency. BMW also offers a hybrid 5 Series in the shape of the ActiveHybrid 5, which has a 300bhp, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine assisted by an electric motor.

The plethora of options is a massive ball of confusion, as we’ll go on to explain.

To find out what our sister site, What Car? thought of the 5 Series, watch the video below.

First drives

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