During the past decade BMW has branched out into every market niche, from the coupé-SUV crossover that is 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.

BMW also says the 5-Series is a more sophisticated all-rounder than it everh has 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 saloon and estate ( the 5-series GT has a separate review on the site), not forgetting a storming twin-turbo V8 M5 (also reviewed separately). Trim levels are the easy bit to deal with – mainly you choose from SE or M Sport, although company car and eco minded buyers will gravitate towards the sole, saloon only Efficient Dynamics model, which is tuned for optimum efficiency.

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

Top 5 Mid-size execs

  • The Jaguar XF is a sublime British executive saloon. It has a tremendous interior and even greater dynamics

    Jaguar XF

    1
  • Superb engine and cabin, but ride and handling let the side down

    BMW 5-series

    2
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
    The E-class more than lives up to traditional Mercedes values

    Mercedes-Benz E-Class

    3
  • Audi A6
    The Audi A6 is a car that delivers in every area

    Audi A6

    4
  • The Lexus GS is unusual in the part of the market in not offering a diesel option

    Lexus GS

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    27 February 2015
    The second pure Mercedes-AMG model is a triumph of engineering and design, and should have rivals from Porsche and Audi worried
  • First Drive
    27 February 2015
    Dual motors and a power hike give Tesla's electric family car supercar acceleration - and the rest of the package is as strong as ever
  • Car review
    26 February 2015
    Flagship performance C-Class is more than ever a true rival for BMW's M3, and impresses with both its breadth of ability and its practicality
  • First Drive
    26 February 2015
    The new Renault Megane GT 220 is essentially a toned-down version of the hallowed Renaultsport 275, but does it have the required DNA?
  • First Drive
    20 February 2015
    Remember Mercedes' 6x6 monster off-roader? Well, this is the 4x4 version, and we've driven it.