Superficially, the BMW 5-series Touring is the choice for people who want the premium appeal of the standard BMW 5-series combined with the benefits of a load-lugging estate.
Dig beneath the surface, though, and the keen enthusiast will also find that it delivers probably the best balance between drivability and usability in the entire 5-series range, even when taking into account the BMW 5-series Gran Turismo.
In terms of load space, the BMW 5-series Touring is comparable with the Audi A6 Avant, but lags behind the mammoth Mercedes E-class estate. In our experience, though, there are few occasions when you need all the capacity on offer in the big Mercedes. The BMW’s boot is also a practical shape, offers easy access and the split rear seats are easy to lift and drop when you need to access the full load capacity.
As in all versions of the 5-series, the interior is understated in a compelling way. The iDrive controller is no longer a thing to fear, and it takes hours rather than weeks to familiarise yourself with all the controls. Rear seat passengers are also well catered for, both in terms of legroom and shoulder space, although a centre passenger in the rear would find the intruding transmission tunnel an issue.
It is not possible to option four-wheel steer or active anti-roll bars on lower powered models, but variable-control damping is available. Keen drivers will welcome all of these options where available, as they add a definite degree of extra body control. However, those who opt against them – or who buy a four-cylinder car with only variable-control damping – will find they are not crucial so long as they prioritise load capacity over driver enjoyment.
All BMW 5-series Touring models get self-levelling rear air suspension as standard (the saloon uses coil springs). In standard form the suspension is not without fault, at times it feels too soft and at others too firm, but in this less dynamically focused version of the vehicle it makes most sense.
The biggest selling powertrain is typically the four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel found in the 520d. This is because BMW has stolen a march on its rivals in the field of small capacity diesels, delivering the best blend of performance and real world economy among its competition. It can sound a bit gruff on start up and when pushed, but overall it is a highly compelling engine.
A more frugal 518d Touring is available, although we’ve yet to test it. The 525d also makes a compelling case for itself, especially for the keen driver. It remains frugal, but delivers enough to push the 5-series Touring well beyond the mundane.
The 530d 3.0-litre diesel’s headline figure of 242bhp is impressive enough on its own, but when it’s coupled to nigh on 400lb ft of torque, flat-lining from 1750 through to 3000rpm, it delivers fireworks. Move up to the 535d and you’ll not be surprised to learn that it delivers performance that can only be described as extraordinary.
The petrols are only ever likely to be a niche choice in this type of car. All are decent, and all deliver increasing performance commensurate with the rising asking price. In the case of the quickest 550i that performance is close to mind-blowing for this type of car. Unless you cover very few miles, though, none are likely to make financial sense in the long-term, and resale values also suffer accordingly.
BMW's 5-series Touring comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but we’d strongly recommend the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, which adds refinement and an ease when cruising. Company car drivers will have to do the sums to work out whether the CO2 increase is too penalising, but in the vast majority of cases it does not push the 5-series Touring up any tax bands.
Trim levels are SE, Modern, Luxury and M Sport, with each taking you in different directions in terms of kit in the manner the name would suggest. Not all trim options are available with every powertrain, however. As with all premium manufacturers, BMW knows how to charge for optional extras. The list is long and varied, and it is unlikely that you will emerge from the dealership having only spent the entry price for the car in question.