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Less is more for 5-series

Our Verdict

BMW 5 Series

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

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9 December 2003

You might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve been sending out mixed messages about the new 5-series. Truth is, we have. And not because we don’t know what to think, either. The core car is an excellent tool and, with more on the roads, we’re even starting to like its looks.

But the quality of the experience rests solely on what options BMW HQ has decided to install on its test cars, because the fact is, there’s no new car more spec-sensitive than the Five.

The latest Five to pitch up at the office, the new 525i, was in our least favourite spec: Active Steering, Dynamic Drive and ride-crippling 18in alloys. It didn’t offer the cosseting refinement or feel anywhere near as agile as we know the 5-series is capable of.

So is the new engine any good? Essentially, it’s the same 2.5-litre straight six fitted to the last car, so it’s still good for 192bhp and 181lb ft of torque. It still feels the business, too. A little lazy low down, maybe, and sixth gear on our manual test car was too tall for real urgency at motorway speeds, but piling on a few revs rewards you with a deliciously linear response and one of the finest six-cylinder soundtracks around.

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But how good is it compared to the 530d? In the real world, not a patch on it, not for ease of use or for economy. Though if you do have an unyielding love of unleaded, it’s probably the Five to go for. Far more user friendly than the 170bhp 520i, yet only a whiff away from the 530i’s pace in everyday use.

Choosing 525i over 530i saves higher-rate taxpayers around £556 a year (assuming none of those nasty options are fitted), and it will save the company coffers about £90 a month on a typical contract hire scheme.

So while we still think derv is the best fuel for a 5-series, if you want a petrol one, the 525i is now the way to go. Just don’t get too busy with the options list.

Chas Hallett

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