The diesels are most popular, and rightly so. The entry-level 520d and 520d ED versions both have 181bhp, and they're plenty powerful enough. The 525d makes for easier performance, while the six-cylinder units in the 530d and 535d turn the Five into a diesel-engined performance car. Petrol choices include two 2.0-litre and two 3.0-litre units, plus there’s a hybrid that combines the more powerful 3.0-litre with a 54bhp electric motor. A couple of superfast V8s complete the line-up.
On standard suspension, the Five’s ride and handling are nowhere near as good as they should be. However, you can add Variable Damper Control to four-cylinder models and Adaptive Drive to six-cylinder models, and these options transform the car. They aren’t cheap, but they’re essential, as they make the ride more cosseting and the handling sharper. The range-topping M5 is a different matter; the bespoke suspension provides sharp handling and a cosseting ride.
Engine-, tyre- and suspension noise are brilliantly suppressed, but you do notice a bit of wind noise over the door mirrors. The eight-speed automatic is superb and has a bit of a split personality: stroke the accelerator pedal and the shifts are baby-bottom smooth, but jump on it hard and the shifts become clinically precise.
As a business proposition it's a clear winner, with Efficient Dynamics systems helping to deliver class-leading economy. For example, the 520d ED averages 62.8mpg, and its CO2 output of just 119g/km places it in a low company car tax bracket. Even the most powerful diesel makes more financial sense than the hybrid.
The Five has high-quality materials and exemplary attention to fit and finish throughout its cabin – it's debatable whether any other manufacturer is making better cabins than BMW. The previous 5 Series didn't score well for reliability in the 2012 JD Power survey, but the faults owners experienced were mostly minor ones.
All Fives come with a minimum of six airbags and a host of electronic driver aids, including stability control and a system that primes the safety kit if a crash looks inevitable. The Five is also kind to pedestrians thanks to a spring-loaded bonnet that provides additional cushioning in the event of a collision. Deadlocks, locking wheelnuts and an alarm are on hand to ward off thieves.
The dashboard on the Five is the epitome of clarity. There are lots of functions available through the iDrive rotary controller, and they can be viewed on the central widescreen monitor. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you're familiar with the system, it's much easier to use than a touch-screen set-up. Every model has electric adjustment for the seat height and backrest angle, but you have to slide yourself back and forth manually.
Effectively, the Five is a shortened version of the 7 Series luxury car, so there's plenty of space for all occupants. BMW's claim that the Five is a genuine five-seater is a little optimistic, though, as a hefty transmission tunnel running through the centre of the car means those sitting in the middle of the rear bench will certainly feel they've drawn the short straw. At least the 520-litre boot provides plenty of space for luggage.
All models come with four electric windows, climate control, steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo, cruise control, and a CD player. The options list is almost endless, with a head-up display that projects vital information on to the windscreen in the driver's line of sight, and, of course, the suspension upgrades that transform the 5 Series into the car it should be.
Order a brochure, find your nearest dealer or book a test drive
No other executive car can rival the BMW 5 Series 520d SE for refinement, quality or efficiency. Adding Variable Damper Control makes it great to drive, too, but be warned - it’s not nearly as good without.