9

The BMW 5 Series has been the go-to mid-sized executive saloon, and G30 generation brings 7 Series luxury limo quality to the class, but is it still the best?

For more than 40 years the BMW 5 Series has been the go-to executive saloon for millions of business-type mile-crunchers with an enthusiasm for driving.

The car’s blend of talents has always been highly commendable and rarely matched, offering supreme ride comfort, cutting-edge interiors and, whenever it takes your fancy, exciting and entertaining rear-wheel-drive dynamism.

The 520d has moved an additional step closer to the 530d’s exalted standard

For this latest 5 Series – the G30 generation – there is no dramatic leap away from familiarity. A record 2.1 million sales of the previous-generation model, along with feedback from its buyers, signaled to BMW that the best course of action to continue its executive saloon’s sales success was to gently tickle the formula rather than rethink it.

The result of that train of thought has delivered a new 5 Series that is in essence a mini version of the latest BMW 7 Series.

Much of the styling and technology has been borrowed or adapted from the flagship limousine, and both models share the same modular platform.

Improvements over the outgoing 5 Series include reduced weight, revised suspension and a tonne of new tech, such as the latest iDrive system, gesture control and semi-autonomous driving features.

These upgrades, and being so closely related to the 7 Series, mean the new 5 Series could, in theory at least, represent the closest thing to limousine luxury you can buy in the executive saloon class.

Advertisement
Back to top

The G30 5 Series is available in saloon and estate form with a choice of three petrol engines – the 520i, 530i and 540i – three diesels – BMW 520d, 525d and BMW 530d and one hybrid - BMW 530e iPerformance. To complete the line-up is the full-blooded 592bhp BMW M5.

But the stoic 5 Series is facing a new threat. It’s no longer just a case of rivalling the quality within its own class (which has plenty of it to offer); now buyers are showing a trend of ditching traditional segments in favour of more fashionable SUVs and compact saloons.

The 5 Series, then, needs to lay down a case that it’s more enviable and appealing than ever.

Even with all these upgrades, is it compelling enough to remain in the pantheon of modern machines and keep buyers interested? Let’s find out.

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW 5 Series rear

While the Russian doll-style design approach has been much praised as a business model in order to achieve account-balancing economies of scale, it is much maligned by enthusiasts decrying a lack of imagination.

Nonetheless, BMW has favoured the former approach and opted for it with the new BMW 5 Series, something that has served Mercedes so well with Mercedes S-Class, Mercedes E-Class and Mercedes C-Class.

I accept the transmission’s refusal to go from drive to reverse during parking manoeuvres if it thinks forward speed is too high, but does it have to default to ‘park’? The abrupt halt makes it look like a stall

The sleek, conservative design undeniably acknowledges the model’s heritage, but, unsurprisingly given the shared architecture, there’s an extremely strong whiff of the BMW 7 Series about BMW’s new saloon.

The similarity, however, aside from a lack of individual identity for both models, doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

Being able to make use of BMW’s new Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform, which is predominantly aluminium, is a real benefit. It uses more aluminium, magnesium and titanium in the floorplan, bulkheads and connecting nodes than the previous model.

CLAR helps to make the car much lighter – by up to 100kg on a model-for-model basis – and increases torsional rigidity.

The 5 Series also gets a revised front double wishbone design using more aluminium components – again as a weight saving measure – along with a redesigned, and lighter, five-link set-up at the rear.

Similarities with the 7 Series continue with BMW’s aim of giving the 5 Series a silky smooth ride.

Four suspension set-ups are available: a standard one with fixed-rate dampers; a firmer, lowered sports suspension for M Sport cars; an adaptive damper option, called Variable Damper Control, which we recommend every 5 Series buyer chooses; and, for the BMW 540i and BMW 530d, a pricey combination of adaptive dampers paired with electronically operated active anti-roll bars.

Also offered is xDrive all-wheel drive, plus, as an option on all models except the BMW M5 where it's standard, an active four-wheel steering system that countersteers the rear wheels at lower speeds and parallel steers them at higher speeds, the former to the benefit of tight manoeuvres in town, the latter to sharpen turn-in on the open road.

All models come with an updated eight-speed automatic gearbox.

INTERIOR

BMW 5 Series interior

BMW’s claims of greater cabin spaciousness in the BMW 5 Series are borne out in the flesh.

The principal improvement cited by the manufacturer is in the headroom afforded to passengers in the back (we measured it at a deeply admirable 950mm), although most owners will be inclined to better appreciate the lowering of the model’s instrument panel and the gentle enhancement of elbow and shoulder room that confidently invokes roominess.

What is impressive is the semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control. It could be a real game changer for high-mileage drivers

Regardless of the difference between generations, the 5 Series feels every bit a large saloon car – and a luxurious one at that.

The trickle-down of technology and aesthetic previewed in the BMW 7 Series has helped in that respect.

No previous owner of the model would fail to recognise the 5 Series lineage, but it is from the larger car’s glossy styling that most of the new design cues originate.

For the most part, the transference is appealing. Like its larger sibling, the BMW 520d retains physical switchgear in familiar positions (most notably the climate controls) and continues BMW’s tradition of locating drive mode buttons and infotainment controllers on the centre console.

The floating 10.25in touchscreen is a welcome addition to the 5 Series cabin, ditto the instrument cluster and the latest head-up display (the latter being part of the £1495 Technology pack that includes other 7 Series debuts such as the Display Key and Gesture Control functions).

The 5 Series comes with the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive system, meaning that, among other things, it now shares a new menu interface with the 7 Series.

Functionally, the update is mostly an aesthetic and organisational tweak, the software gaining a slightly clearer home screen layout while retaining the same basic navigation rules to which BMW owners have become accustomed.

In fact, use of the iDrive controller is now so intuitive that to familiar drivers the introduction of touchscreen and gesture controls feels almost entirely surplus to requirements. That’s no reason not to include them, though, and that goes double for the extended web-based services of BMW Connected and ConnectedDrive (even if they replicate the functionality most buyers already carry around in their pocket).

The 5 Series comes with the six-speaker Professional audio system as standard. There are several upgrade options, including for the first time a 1400W, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins surround sound set-up.

Elsewhere the car is a thoroughly agreeable amalgam of high-grade plastics and man-made leather.

As you might expect, the embellished rear quarters are commodious enough for adults of all sizes, and only a tall transmission tunnel prevents the 520d from respectably seating three across its rear bench.

The boot remains a capacious affair, with a claimed 530-litre capacity, even if the intrusion of the wheel arches into the load space seems a little excessive. Lowering the back seats (via two pulleys adjacent to the lid) accesses more than two metres of near-flat, if shallow, boot volume. 

As for trim levels, there are two to choose from - SE and M Sport. Entry-level models get 17in alloy wheels (18s on the more powerful versions), cruise control, LED head and brake lights, auto lights and wipers, chrome exhaust trim and parking sensors on the outside as standard. Inside, there is dual-zone climate control, velour floor mats, heated front seats, aluminium interior trim and BMW's superb iDrive infotainment system complete with DAB radio, sat nav, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, BMW's online services and a 20GB hard drive.

Upgrade to M Sport and the 5 Series gets quadrilateral exhausts, LED fog lights, vinyl dashboard trim, a beefy bodykit and a bespoke braking system for all models bar the 520i and 520d. Those choosing the hybrid 530e will find a bunch of charging cables plus various hybrid menus to check battery status, charging time and to locate the nearest charging point.

The hardcore BMW M5 gets much the same equipment as its lesser siblings plus numerous M5 badges, quad-zone climate control, a Merino leather upholstery, head-up display, electrically adjustable front seats, a digital instrument cluster, driving assistant and head-up display. This is alongside the aggressively-styled bodykit, rear spoiler, M specific xDrive set-up and adaptive LED headlights.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

2.0-litre BMW 5 Series diesel engine

It’s almost 20 years since BMW first sent the BMW 5 Series to market with a four-cylinder diesel engine.

In fact, the 520d version of the E39 5 Series was the only model not to feature the pomp and ceremony of a BMW straight six, and consequently it laboured under the suspicion that it wasn’t really up to the job.

Minor understeer into hairpins is easily checked; coming off the throttle keys you straight into the car’s tolerant back axle

How times have changed. The G30 variant is powered by the same 2.0-litre TwinPower Turbo unit as its predecessor, and it has practically the same peak power as the E39’s 3.0-litre diesel six-pot did in 2003.

Mated to the eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox and driving the rear wheels, it equals the acceleration claimed of its larger forbear, too.

That isn’t necessarily extraordinary – a sub-eight-second 0-62mph time is par for the course these days and doesn’t improve on the last generation of BMW 520d – but it helps characterise the level of performance now expected of Europe’s ubiquitous cooking-option engine, no matter the size of the car around it.

Subjectively, the motor lives up to its Swiss Army Knife billing, with its 295lb ft from 1750rpm being sufficient to make the 5 Series feel credibly swift in all circumstances, save perhaps maximum attack.

The exceptional thing about it isn’t located within the engine bay at all but rather around it. BMW has deployed what it calls Synergy Thermoacoustic Capsule (Syntak) to reduce powertrain noise, and the new technology, combined with other volume-lowering measures such as additional soundproofing in the headliner, does an impressive job of stifling the previously conspicuous rattle of BMW’s industrious common-rail diesel engine.

Combine the muffled serenity with the transmission’s supremely well-oiled and adroit gearshifts and it’ll be a miserly critic indeed who doesn’t accept that the 520d has now moved an additional step closer to the BMW 530d’s exalted standard.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW 5 Series cornering

Lighter and leaner the BMW 5 Series may be, but it has lost none of its characteristic big saloon heft, neither proportionally nor in the way it drives.

The upgrade from the BMW 3 Series remains palpable, with its king-sized superiority in scale underscored by a similarly palatial sense of quietness and comfort.

Gently nodding body control through the fierce gradient changes is a reminder of the M Sport’s appreciable road-bias

In the previous generation, the model’s rolling refinement was significantly affected by wheel size and chassis specification.

It matters here, too, with our test car’s lower M Sport suspension proving to be not quite as pillowy as the standard configuration.

That the difference here is less problematic signifies not only the gains made by improvements to component choice and a reduction in unsprung mass, but also in BMW’s dogged pursuit for the 5 Series of a dynamic compromise that is edging progressively closer to that of the cosseting BMW 7 Series  – and a commensurate distance away from the incisiveness of the 3 Series.

Nevertheless, the compromise wrought out of the G30 is by and large a fabulous one, not least because it’ll likely suit most UK buyers – and the shabbily surfaced roads upon which they drive – right down to the ground.

With the revised adaptive dampers in Comfort mode (their default setting), the 520d rides with an aplomb built primarily on a sophisticated sense of isolation. Deeper creases and crevices are not exactly soothed away by the M Sport specification’s sterner settings and larger wheels, yet each intrusion is generally made to seem remarkably distant by the bubble of muffled, long-wave consistency in which the saloon keeps its occupants encased at all speeds. Appropriately enough, this quality makes the 520d a terrific motorway tackler, far in excess of the comparative indulgence meted out by the 3 Series.

The G30’s most notable triumph, however, and one that is a facet of its lower kerb weight and wonderfully fleshy steering, is a persuasive capacity for transferring this long-striding, big-cruising attitude to less conducive stretches of road.

While the result is less invigorating than in the scrupulously nimble BMW 320d, it is enough to feel the 520d’s chassis push satisfyingly back against the greater level of effort, in turn offering a persuasive reminder that claims made of its inherent balance, better rigidity and sharper response are not merely empty rhetoric.

The underlying ability hinted at on the road clearly manifests on the Hill Route. Unsurprisingly, switching the 520d’s sympathetic Comfort mode to Sport is a prerequisite. The latter mode’s more stringent body control is essential for carrying higher speeds through the multiple gradient changes.

Even in this setting on an M Sport model, the obliging road bias is apparent in the noticeable dip of a wing on entry.

The car knuckles down thereafter, by enough to lean confidently on the mechanical grip that is plentiful and rarely challenged at the back axle.

The 520d ultimately feels less rear-driven than it does benignly balanced, and the chassis’ benevolence is made fully exploitable by a much crisper front end and steering rack than appeared previously.

The steering, with a rich seam of credible density away from the straight ahead, confirms the calibre of the 5 Series’s easily accessible ability.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW 5 Series

The BMW 5 Series range kicks off at £35k, and even the entry-level 520d SE you get for that is no meagre offering.

BMW’s pricing sticks close to what a Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class cost throughout the range, but the 5 Series is still more expensive than them on like-for-like models.

The 520d is expected to lead the field three years out — although the margins remain predictably tight

The tech-heavy BMW is well specified at every level, though, so you won’t have to dig too deep into the options list unless you want to (and can afford to).

It’s a shame that Variable Damper Control remains an optional extra (£985), because it’s one we recommend you tick every time.

The trio of diesels are efficient, and the 520d especially so, but the petrols don’t get close to them.

Resale values for the 5 Series aren’t brilliant, but leasing rates are good and you should be able to get a chunk off the asking price with a bit of bartering if you’re a private buyer.

 

VERDICT

4.5 star BMW 5 Series

For anyone sceptical about the future legitimacy of the executive class in a market increasingly dominated by large SUVs and upstart compact saloons, the BMW 5 Series offers a belligerent and often brilliant rationale for the old-fashioned benefits of space, style, convenience, efficiency and dynamism.

It effortlessly upstages its predecessor, which majored on class and practicality but fell short of the sophisticated driving experience that traditionally separates a four-door BMW from the chasing pack.

More advanced and refined 5 Series reasserts its class-leading status

The latest 520d, via a regiment of weight loss and mechanical remodelling, returns just enough of the verve to vindicate the fundamentally softer edge stipulated by countless miles of impending motorway duty.

That it still excels at free-flowing dependability is to be expected; that it rarely lets its steadfastness or refinement lapse into aloofness or indifference of its driver is downright commendable.

Add in the backdrop, an aptly business-class rendition of the showier BMW 7 Series, and BMW’s model of midway compromise starts to look very much like its maker’s current summit.

We are so impressed by the 5 Series, that it tops our top five ahead of the Jaguar XF, Mercedes E-Class, Volvo S90 and the Audi A6.

BMW 5 Series 2017-2023 First drives