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.