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Buying a 5-series was always a no-brainer, and this facelift has cemented its place at the top of the executive class
Autocar
25 November 2014

What is it?

Probably the finest company car that money can buy. The BMW 5-series has been at the top of its game for years, making it an easy target in the continuously shifting race for supremacy in the hard-fought executive saloon class. 

Audi recently fired a shot across the bows with its new range of ‘Ultra’ diesel engines, which were introduced in the A4 and A6 a few months ago. They were smoother, more efficient and – in most cases – cheaper than the equivalent four-pot engines in the 3-series and 5-series models.

However, BMW swiftly struck back, slotting two new engines into the big-selling 518d and 520d and cutting the CO2 emissions back to an impressive 109g/km. This is our first chance to try them here in the UK.

What's it like?

Our test car came in exactly the sort of humdrum spec you’re likely to see flying up and down the motorways of Britain: an unassuming silver SE Auto, mercifully free from the avalanche of optional extras that usually come fitted to every car delivered by a premium manufacturer. Even stripped of this tinsel, though, the 520d feels great.

A new turbocharger, higher-pressure fuel injectors and tweaked balancer shafts have helped to free up an extra 6bhp and 15lb ft of torque, taking the 520d’s totals to 187bhp and a healthy 295lb ft from 1750rpm upwards. 

These might sound like small gains, but given the ingredients of a four-cylinder diesel engine, heavy saloon body and automatic gearbox, the 5-series does an amazing job of feeling like more than just the sum of its parts. Our car came fitted with optional (£985) adaptive dampers, as well as 17-inch wheels, and this combination means it rides beautifully.

Whether you’re cruising the motorway, barrelling down a country lane or purring through town traffic, stick the 520d in Comfort mode and it’ll ease the burden of travel better than any of the other saloons in this class. Yet the pillowy soft ride doesn’t come at the expense of the rest of the dynamic package.

The steering is quick and precise, throttle response is sharp, and although you have to pay extra if you want shift paddles on the steering wheel (trust us, you do) the eight-speed ZF gearbox affords the driver a great level of control, banging quickly up through the gears when required, or slurring the changes to keep the revs down.

We’ll admit that the lighter, more agile 3-series is probably still the pick of the BMW range if you really want the best-handling car in this class. It’s just that bit grippier at the front, a tad more adjustable at the back and controls its body movements that bit better, but the 520d is a lot more refined than its smaller sibling.

You could drive the 520d all day long without feeling the strain, but you can’t say the same of the 3-series yet; it’ll get these upgrades next year.

Even in this relatively humble (and, more importantly, affordable) trim, the 5-series feels like a high-quality product. All you need to add to the spec list is adaptive dampers, as sat-nav, leather upholstery, cruise control, Bluetooth and DAB are all standard, and the materials and switchgear in the cabin are close to matching those of the plush Audi A6 for quality.

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Should I buy one?

Yes, definitely. Although the 5-series is the obvious choice in this class, it’s thoroughly deserving of that status. No other executive combines its tidy handling, class-leading CO2 emissions, brilliantly supple suspension and kit list.

The changes to the engine are negligible when it comes to performance, but the incredible refinement – especially when combined with the superb ZF auto ’box – makes this facelift a worthy addition to the range and cements the BMW’s place as the benchmark in this tough class.

Paul Bond

BMW 520d SE Saloon Auto

Price £33,515; 0-62mph 7.7 seconds; Top speed 145mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 109g/km; Kerbweight 1705kg; Engine 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 1995cc; Power 187bhp at 4,000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox Eight-speed torque converter auto

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Comments
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drivenfromthere... 26 November 2014

Wollows

Tried one of these without active dampers a few months ago. Driving on a set of very well known roads it wallowed on a great tight motorway stretch near me. No other car I have driven apart from a Golf MkIV has done this. Was not impressed as I had it on top of the Co CAR list. Very noisy too, especially compared to A6 Ultra.
Speccing it correctly (met paint, active dampers, auto, rear fold seats, lumbar support and privacy glass for little one) took it out of the question and off the list as it was out of range. Each of those options needed for me - (ok you can argue the met paint but mrs didn't want white or black). I'm no BM hater as I have had 2 very enjoyable BM's in the past but was thoroughly disappointed.I could get it w/o the dampers as it comes into budget. But no. It was that "humdrum" without. Really not special at all. The car I drove was a 520d SE auto with 17" rims.
I have made my choice now though for a co car and I have gone for a Golf GTD instead....never been a VW fan but best of a bad bunch really - although been able to spec it up a lot and still have change. To be fair it knocks spots off the 520d for me at least. Never ever thought I would say it. Why not the 3 I hear you ask? Well, speccing one up is even worse than the 5! I could not get the right combo/cost either.
I am now going to join the ranks of the usual inconsiderate smug numpties that generally drive VW products...oh well. Been a while now since I've had a rear driver....
405line 26 November 2014

Jaguar xf

You got to be having a laugh at even mentioning Jaguar against BMW.
How many of those s'ite box mondeo's are even still working.
speckyclay 26 November 2014

Time for a comparison then!

Come on Autocar - there's obviously an issue here; BMW insists on providing every press car with Adaptive Dampers, yet the average customer finds it difficult to even find one to test drive, let alone buy. How about providing a bit of a public service and get hold of one of each for an old-fashioned comparison? That way we can see if a) the option is worth the money, and b) the BMW really is top of the class in the spec that most people will buy...
catnip 26 November 2014

speckyclay wrote:Come on

speckyclay wrote:

Come on Autocar - there's obviously an issue here; BMW insists on providing every press car with Adaptive Dampers, yet the average customer finds it difficult to even find one to test drive, let alone buy. How about providing a bit of a public service and get hold of one of each for an old-fashioned comparison? That way we can see if a) the option is worth the money, and b) the BMW really is top of the class in the spec that most people will buy...

That sounds a very reasonable ask. Is anyone from Autocar going to respond?

ludditerider 27 November 2014

BMW Adaptive Dampers

catnip wrote:
speckyclay wrote:

Come on Autocar - there's obviously an issue here; BMW insists on providing every press car with Adaptive Dampers, yet the average customer finds it difficult to even find one to test drive, let alone buy. How about providing a bit of a public service and get hold of one of each for an old-fashioned comparison? That way we can see if a) the option is worth the money, and b) the BMW really is top of the class in the spec that most people will buy...

That sounds a very reasonable ask. Is anyone from Autocar going to respond?

Come on Autocar, the silence is deafening! Your readers are clamouring for a "with and without adaptive damping" comparison test! At least please tell us why not? We'd hate to think that there's a bit of corporate back-scratching going on here.....

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