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

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster 2017
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    It's the slower and cheaper of the two AMG GT Roadsters, but these adjectives are harsh given this excellent open-top's broad range of talents
  • Mercedes AMG GT C Roadster 2017
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster arrives with an upgraded chassis over the Coupé and tweaks that make it even more thrilling to drive
  • First Drive
    29 March 2017
    Sporty GT Line styling gives Kia's city car the visual lift it needs to go toe-to-toe with its European rivals, and the 1.2-litre engine does a power of good for its drivability
  • Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI 110 SE Navigation
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    This is a first UK drive of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf, which comes with an updated infotainment system and a lower price. What's not to like?
  • Volkswagen Golf R
    First Drive
    29 March 2017
    A facelift for the fantastically capable all-rounder delivers more power and new tech to the cabin, improving on an already exceptional formula