It’s important to note that when we make comparisons between the BMW 5 Series and its competitors in terms of ride and handling, we are talking about differences you could only measure in nths of degrees, when tested back to back on the same stretch of demanding road or ride-and-handling test track.
Note, too, that the 5 Series is, in general, an excellent car to drive; it is quiet, it is comfortable and it soothes miles away with the same crushing ease with which it approaches going around corners. We would very happily recommend a 5 Series to anyone who wants one to drive 50,000 miles a year and occasionally enjoy themselves while they are doing it.
However, to maximise its potential it’s important to optimise the specification, of which the choices are many. And even then, in some areas the 5 Series is a touch weaker than its best rivals.
First, we’d avoid choosing anything larger than the 18-inch wheels. Smaller wheels are standard and, if you can bear their appearance, will be better still at providing a truly isolated ride. As it is, the 18-inchers mated to the standard (passive and non-adjustable) suspension let sharper road imperfections affect the cabin in a way that a Mercedes E-Class on 17s does not.
Adaptive dampers are optional on all models. With them fitted, small ripples are far better dealt with. Brake, turn (even modestly) and introduce a broken surface into the equation and the 5 Series fails to prevent noisy thumps with the same aplomb as an adaptively suspended car (even on 19in wheels) or an E-Class.
In SE spec and without the active chassis, the 5 Series also rolls more and has looser body control – surprisingly so at times, but hit the right specification (for example, the 518d with adaptive dampers but on 17in wheels we tried) and there's a lovely blend of ride and handling.