From £29,2509
Buying a 5-series was always a no-brainer, and this facelift has cemented its place at the top of the executive class

Our Verdict

BMW 5 Series

The BMW 5 Series offers a compelling blend of all-round abilities, but wants specifying carefully

  • First Drive

    BMW 520d SE Saloon Auto review

    Buying a 5-series was always a no-brainer, and this facelift has cemented its place at the top of the executive class
  • First Drive

    BMW 518d saloon first drive review

    New entry-level diesel 5-series is a great car in the right specification but it faces stiff competition from the excellent Audi A6 Ultra
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.

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

Join the debate

Comments
25

25 November 2014
One minute they mentioning the humdum spec they've got the next it mentions "Our car came fitted with optional (£985) adaptive dampers". £1000 extra is hardly humdum in my opinion.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

25 November 2014
Absolutely. £1000 for the adaptive dampers is not a small amount to add to a base spec car. Autocar have also forgotten that the "Sport" automatic gearbox is another £1600 or so as well. So the humdrum spec actually costs around £2600 to achieve. As for "incredible" refinement - it is a four cylinder diesel it is not very refined it would seem added sound-proofing is "refinement" rather than engineering a smooth and quiet engine. But at least the airport taxi drivers of 2024 will get a bargain when cars like this are collapsing in value due to punitive measures against diesel.

25 November 2014
spqr wrote:

Autocar have also forgotten that the "Sport" automatic gearbox is another £1600 or so as well. So the humdrum spec actually costs around £2600 to achieve.

And then there's the rather expensive metallic paint @ £675! Now we've spent £3275 on extras - that's approx 10% of list price. Don't get me wrong, I loved my BMW's, the 325 probably the finest car I've owned, but for my money, I'd expect something that looks like £30k rather than some mainstream Ford. Sorry but that 5 series as tested looks so dull.

25 November 2014
The reviewer made it sound like its the best car ever made and its a must buy ... and not even a single negative point

I got the same and trust me, its not all that great and the same would be said by any honest BMW owner...

"You could drive the 520d all day long without feeling the strain"...
the pedals on the UK spec are offset - thats annoying and will hurt theback on long journeys

"The 5-series feels like a high-quality product"..
Except for the plastics on the dashboard, boot seals, sunroofs which leak water into the boot .. again google bmw water in boot

"Superb ZF auto ’box"
The gearbox itself is very smooth but its not very clever .. doesnt change gears at the optimum intervals/revs

Now the biggest lie of all - "Economy 68.9mpg"

Even whilst driving practising most hypermiling techniques you struggle to make 60 let alone 68.9

25 November 2014
In most respects - All Electrics and Replaced engine after 24,000 miles, my E39 528 SE was the worst purchase of my life.

An absolute lemon,purchased new in Germany, whilst working with Siemens.

Never again another BMW.

Malo Mori Quam Foedari

25 November 2014
I'm on my second 520d in succession. This one has covered 118,000 completely trouble-free miles in 2 years 8 months. It's not an exciting car but it's an excellent mile-muncher, swift enough, extremely quiet (except at idle when you're standing outside it), very comfortable, and cheap to run. I never notice the "offset pedals", even though mine's a manual. Long-term average fuel consumption is 51-52mpg in mixed conditions with plenty of high-speed miles. The interior finish is very good and the car is ageing well.
Interestingly, although the BMWs made available for road test by Autocar have invariably been specced up with the adaptive dampers, it's almost impossible to find cars with this feature as demonstrators in the dealerships or, for that matter, in dealer stock. I'd be curious to try one thus equipped, and see whether the £1,000 premium is worthwhile. Apart from that, the base spec 520d really has all the equipment I need. Factor in the 3-year unlimited-mileage guarantee, and it really does look like the best option again when I next change my car.

25 November 2014
ludditerider wrote:

The BMWs made available for road test by Autocar have invariably been specced up with the adaptive dampers, it's almost impossible to find cars with this feature as demonstrators in the dealerships or, for that matter, in dealer stock. I'd be curious to try one thus equipped, and see whether the £1,000 premium is worthwhile.

Yes, yes, yes - a thousand times - yes. We have a F31 320d M-Sport Estate, and an E89 Z4. Previously we had an E91 M-Sport Estate. Of the three, only the F31 Estate has adaptive dampers. The difference in ride between the F31 and the E91 is incredible - the F31 just rides so much better, it is an incredibly comfortable vehicle. The M-Sport equipped E91, in contrast, was uncomfortable to the point of jarring, even on smooth roads.

I don't agree that the paddles are necessary. I did fork out extra for them, but I have only used them a couple of times. If I was buying my vehicle again, I think I would leave that box unticked. The transmission, though, is an absolute pearl. It is the first time ever in an automatic that I am never left wondering what the hell it is doing - it is always in the right gear for whatever I am doing, to the extend that I don't even think about it. It slips between gears so smoothly and seamlessly, you're not aware it is even changing gear - the experience is completely linear.

26 November 2014
evanstim wrote:
ludditerider wrote:

The BMWs made available for road test by Autocar have invariably been specced up with the adaptive dampers, it's almost impossible to find cars with this feature as demonstrators in the dealerships or, for that matter, in dealer stock. I'd be curious to try one thus equipped, and see whether the £1,000 premium is worthwhile.

Yes, yes, yes - a thousand times - yes. We have a F31 320d M-Sport Estate, and an E89 Z4. Previously we had an E91 M-Sport Estate. Of the three, only the F31 Estate has adaptive dampers. The difference in ride between the F31 and the E91 is incredible - the F31 just rides so much better, it is an incredibly comfortable vehicle. The M-Sport equipped E91, in contrast, was uncomfortable to the point of jarring, even on smooth roads.

I don't agree that the paddles are necessary. I did fork out extra for them, but I have only used them a couple of times. If I was buying my vehicle again, I think I would leave that box unticked. The transmission, though, is an absolute pearl. It is the first time ever in an automatic that I am never left wondering what the hell it is doing - it is always in the right gear for whatever I am doing, to the extend that I don't even think about it. It slips between gears so smoothly and seamlessly, you're not aware it is even changing gear - the experience is completely linear.

I used to have anE90 M Sport and now have an F31. Even on the standard suspension the difference in comfort is huge - BMW has clearly now worked out how to tune the suspension to the latest runflats.

I was lucky enough to test an M Sport on 19 inch wheels with the adaptive suspension. The ride was excellent so I'd recommend it if you go for large wheels but on standard wheels I wouldn't say it's essential.

The mistake I made was going for the not particularly great manual instead of the auto. I won't make that mistake next time.

25 November 2014
More like 50 ,my wife has the latest golf supposed to get 70mpg and averages 42mpg being carefull on decent 10 mile trips is the same on 200 mile trips ie crap.

25 November 2014
Ski Kid wrote:

More like 50 ,my wife has the latest golf supposed to get 70mpg and averages 42mpg being carefull on decent 10 mile trips is the same on 200 mile trips ie crap.

Your wife has no idea how to drive economically.

autocar wrote:

Our 43.9mpg test average on the 2.0 TDI looks unexceptional but it was produced as a result of track testing as well as mixed road testing,

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

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