What is it?
Don’t worry, we haven’t gone blind. While the side gills, imposing front grille and conservative profile might scream 7 Series, this is in fact the latest 5 Series. We have already published a couple of drives covering six-cylinder petrol and diesel variants, but it’s the linchpin of the range we’re covering here - the 520d.
A quick flick through the spec sheet reveals that while the 5 Series might sit on an all-new platform, its 2.0-litre diesel engine is the same 1995cc lump that sits in everything from the Mini Cooper D upwards. In the 520d, it produces 188bhp - enough for brisk performance - and is mated as standard to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
More interestingly, there’s the option of four-wheel steering (dubbed Integral Active Steering, costing £995) to improve manoeuvrability at low speeds, and stability as the pace ramps up. It’s also possible to have all four wheels driving should you want the added traction of BMW's xDrive system, at the cost of £2000.
What's it like?
Explaining how the 5 Series copes with UK roads is a little trickier than you might expect. Opt for an M Sport car on 19in wheels and non-adaptive suspension, and you might be more than a little disappointed, because it'll pick up on most of the surface imperfections you'll find on a typically tortured stretch of British blacktop.
The trick is to avoid the temptation of speccing wheelarch-filling rims, and stick to 17in or at most 18in wheels. Combine the thicker sidewalls these bring with the optional £985 adaptive dampers, and you suddenly have a car that all but floats down the road when left in Comfort mode.
Where the 5 Series really impresses is in its ability to combine this fantastically comfortable ride with good body control. Drive a Mercedes-Benz E-Class and you’ll notice plenty of wallow and roll instead of the upright stance and tight damping of the BMW.
That’s not to say it’s perfect; a Jaguar XF responds even more keenly, and filters far more feel up from the front tyres. In comparison, the 5 Series has slower and less feelsome steering, although it does make for more relaxed progress when you’re not going for it, and it's precise enough to allow you to place the nose of the car very accurately. BMW being BMW has also delivered 50/50 weight distribution, leading to well-balanced handling.
As for the engine, it may not be the newest unit out there, but it’s certainly effective. Performance is strong enough for full-throttle to rarely be required and BMW’s mastery of the eight-speed ZF auto 'box continues. Shifts are smooth when they should be and swift when you start playing with the manual mode.
Refinement is impressive, too; it isn’t quite as hushed and vibration-free as the equivalent Audi A6, but it manages to be quieter than the E-Class and XF during normal use. Yes, it gets a bit coarser when you’re pushing on, but what four-cylinder diesel engine doesn’t?