What Car? says...
What could possibly top the BMW 5 Series? After all, we’ve championed it as one of the best cars on sale. Well, how about a 5 Series with an even bigger boot: the BMW 5 Series Touring perhaps?
After all, you get the panache and luxury of the 5 Series saloon, but with enough space in the back for your dog to enjoy it as well. The 5 Series Touring features a great line-up of engines that come with mild hybrid technology to improve efficiency. There’s a full plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option, too, which offers zero-emissions motoring and very appealing company car tax rates.
BMW has kept the range of trim levels simple: there's just SE and M Sport to choose from. However, unlike the saloon, there isn’t the option of a high-performance M variant.
Now, the 5 Series is a previous winner of our What Car? Car of the Year award so you know it’s good, but it’s already had a mid-life refresh since then and a replacement is due to arrive later in 2023. So is it still a strong choice?
While it sounds very promising on paper, there are plenty of other big, deluxe wagons to choose from. In this review we’ll be comparing the BMW 5 Series Touring with the Audi A6 Avant, the Mercedes E-Class Estate and the Volvo V90 – and we’ll also explain which engine and trim make the most sense in the range.
That's not all we can help you with. Once you've picked your next new car, you can make sure you get it for the lowest price if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They list lots of new estate car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 187bhp 520d diesel is punchy enough and it's our pick of the BMW 5 Series Touring engine range. Its 0-62mph time of just 7.6sec is plenty for whisking you up to motorway speeds without any fuss. Performance is roughly on a par with the rival Mercedes E-Class Estate E220d's, although in terms of real-world drivability (as opposed to outright acceleration), the Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI has a slightly wider performance window. It's fractionally more flexible as a result.
If you want more grunt, the most powerful version is the 540i petrol. It’s brilliant to drive and offers a scintillating level of pace that gets you to 62mph in a whisker over five seconds, but it's a bit pricey to run. The other petrol in the range, the 520i, is the least recommendable of the engines – it needs revving hard to achieve its best, and that's not ideal in a load-lugging estate car.
What if you want to avoid diesel yet desire efficiency? That's where the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 530e comes in. It's a punchy performer offering a combined 288bhp from its four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor, which is enough for 0-62mph in 6.1sec. On top of that, the electric-only range is up to 35 miles and, while it's a lot less rapid running on the electric motor alone, it'll still power you up to motorway speeds relatively easily.
Suspension and ride comfort
In SE trim, the 5 Series is supple enough over big bumps around town but tends to produce an underlying shimmy through the car on anything other than super-smooth roads. If you want the most comfortable-riding model, it’s best to stick with SE trim and the standard 17in wheels (or 18s on more powerful versions).
M Sport trim comes with larger wheels and suspension that's quite stiff for what's supposed to be a luxury car. That affects the ride on any surface, but most noticeably with a thud over sharper bumps in town. The added firmness is less apparent on motorways unless you hit a ridge in the road.
The optional adaptive suspension cures the firmness, but it's only available on the 530e PHEV as part of the pricey M Sport Pro Pack.
Unlike BMW's traditional strapline, we'll stop short of classing the 5 Series Touring as 'the ultimate driving machine', but it certainly snaps at the class champion's heels. That's the Jaguar XF Sportbrake which feels a little more nimble and has more delicate and informative steering. The 5 Series' steering is accurate and nicely weighted though, and more intuitive than the A6 Avant or Volvo V90.
The 5 Series Touring doesn't have quite as much front-end grip as its key rivals. But drive it at eight-tenths – exploiting its sublime rear-wheel-drive balance, rather than leaning too heavily on its front tyres – and there’s still plenty to savour about pedalling it down a snaking A-road. As you might imagine, going for the four-wheel drive xDrive version improves traction considerably in the wet, but is only available on the 530e PHEV and the 540i.
Noise and vibration
The 5 Series Touring does a brilliant job of keeping wind and road noise at bay, even at high speeds. For library-quiet cruising manners, avoid the 19in and 20in wheels fitted with run-flat tyres that produce more drone and slap over expansion joints.
As far as engine noise goes, the six-cylinder 540i petrol sounds deliciously smooth and sweet even when you hoof it. Our favourite engine, the 520d, is hushed at 70mph but not as smooth as the A6 Avant 40 TDI's diesel engine when accelerating. If you go for the 520i or 530e, both of which use a four-cylinder petrol engine, it's smooth and quiet. The 530e swaps between petrol and electric power seamlessly and it's super quiet in electric-only mode.
All versions come with a superb eight-speed automatic gearbox which is never anything but ultra-slick through its gears.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Every 5 Series Touring has a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat. It includes electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment, along with electrically adjustable lumbar support. M Sport models have bigger side bolsters that hold you more securely when cornering, and fully electric seats with memory settings are optional on all the trims.
There’s also plenty of steering wheel adjustment, and the driver’s seat drops lower than it does in the rival Mercedes E-Class Estate so you feel as though you’re sitting in, rather than on top of, the car. The enormous, cosseting armrests, positioned perfectly on either side of you, seal the deal for the 5 Series Touring being about as comfortable on a long trip as any car gets.
Digital instruments are standard and can be complemented with an optional head-up display. The dashboard is brilliantly laid out with all the controls reached easily and there are physical buttons for the major functions. That's not the case in the Audi A6 Avant which has a touchscreen for the climate controls that's distracting to use while you’re driving.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The front pillars aren't too big, so you can see out relatively easily at junctions and roundabouts. But with a shallower rear screen than an E-Class Estate and relatively thick rear pillars, reversing the 5 Series Touring might be tricky if it weren’t for the standard parking sensors (front and rear) and the rear-view camera. Parking assistant is also included, which can find an appropriate space and steer you into it.
Bright LED headlights are also a default, which you can upgrade to clever adaptive LED units. These can stay on main beam by creating shadows around the cars in front to avoid dazzling other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every 5 Series Touring comes with BMW’s Professional Multimedia system. This packs a whopping 12.3in widescreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, built-in sat-nav, various online services, and a DAB radio. It’s one of the best systems going, with easy-to-follow menus and responsive software – more so than the E-Class Estate's occasionally dim-witted system.
It's easy to use as well, either from the touchscreen if you're the passenger, or the rotary iDrive controller and shortcut buttons between the front seats if you’re the driver. This is so much easier (and safer) to use than the touchscreen; you just twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to make selections. With a touchscreen-only system – like you get with the A6 Avant and Jaguar XF Sportbrake – you're always looking away from the road to find the icons.
A concierge service is standard, while on the options list you’ll find a range of increasingly powerful sound systems (the 16-speaker Harman Kardon system will be appreciated by music fans), a wi-fi hotspot and a digital TV. There’s even a gesture control feature, which lets you operate certain functions using mid-air hand signals, but it's more of a gimmick than a useful gadget.
There’s no danger of you feeling short-changed on quality when climbing into the 5 Series Touring. All the materials, even those lower down that you’ll rarely come into contact with, look and feel of suitably high quality, and most of the metal trims are the real deal and not just silver-coated plastics.
Similarly, most buttons and switches are nicely damped, but the interiors of the A6 Avant and Volvo V90 are just as securely bolted together. The E-Class Estate feels flimsier in places, but arguably it pulls off a bit more visual swagger.
You can choose different trim inserts in the 5 Series – including wood and gloss black – that run the length of the dashboard and around the doors, and they all add to the upmarket feel. The standard ambient lighting obviously doesn’t make any difference to build quality, but it does give the interior an even more salubrious essence after dark.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The 5 Series Touring is a big car in the front. Leg room is on a par with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate and there's a touch more than you'll find in the Audi A6 Avant. There's plenty of head room, too, so even adding the space-zapping optional panoramic roof doesn't make it cramped for six-footers. And it's one of the widest estate cars in the front, which is why it feels airier and less 'fitted' than the more intimate interior of the E-Class.
There's loads of storage space on top of the passenger space. The glovebox is a good size, there’s a lidded cubby behind the gear selector, two generously sized cup holders and big door pockets that'll accommodate a small water bottle each.
If you want the roomiest rear seats in your posh estate, then hands down the Volvo V90 is a better bet than the 5 Series Touring. That said, both head and leg room in the 5 Series are good enough for six-foot adults to sit behind similar-sized folks up front. Indeed, it has a touch more knee room and lots more foot space under its front seats than the E-Class Estate.
That makes the 5 Series Touring a more relaxing place for rear-seat passengers to chill out if they're in the two outer seats. There’s a tall central tunnel along the centre of the floor that the middle passenger has to clamber over and straddle, and, if you’re trying to fit three burly fellas side by side, shoulder room will be tight. That said, it’s the same story in any of its rivals.
Seat folding and flexibility
Just like the driver’s seat, the front passenger seat has electrically adjustable height and backrest angle as standard, making it easy to fine-tune the perfect position. It gets electrically adjustable lumbar support, too, for fending off lower back pain on longer journeys.
With handy electric release buttons just inside the tailgate opening, you can flip down the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats very easily. It's worth noting that V90 owners have to make do with less flexible 60/40 split-folding rear seats.
The 5 Series Touring has a good, square-shaped boot with a 560-litre capacity (with the rear seats in place). It’s marginally bigger than the A6 Avant's and V90's. There’s enough extra luggage space under the boot floor for shallower items such as laptop bags. Even so, it’s still a bit smaller than ‘the king of boots’ that is the E-Class Estate. The 5 Series Touring's boot can take eight carry-on cases under the tonneau cover, while the E-Class trumps that with 10.
With the rear seats folded down, you get a long, flat load bay all the way through to the front seats, and the boot floor comes flush to the tailgate opening, so there’s no lip to lift heavy items over. It has some neat features, too: the standard powered tailgate automatically retracts the tonneau cover as it lifts, and if you’ve backed up so close to a wall that you can’t open the whole tailgate, you can still gain access to the boot by popping open the rear window, which is hinged separately.
The 530e has a smaller boot because the battery sits under the boot floor – capacity drops to 430 litres.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Broadly speaking, the BMW 5 Series Touring is priced in line with its closest rivals – the Audi A6 Avant and the Mercedes E-Class Estate – and costs more than the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. The 520d is by far the most popular version, mainly due to its mid-fifties official average fuel economy and competitive CO2, which equate to a lower band of company car tax than the Audi A4 Avant 40 TDI. And the 520d is RDE2 compliment, so you won't need to pay the 4% diesel surcharge.
Then again, the 530e Touring plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is the best for company car users, with tax breaks that cut your company car tax rate by roughly a third. If you can keep the battery charged up and make use of its electric range, you’ll save a fortune on fuel. Just remember that if you don’t charge the battery and you're running on the petrol engine alone, fuel economy will be a lot lower than with the diesel. The E-Class is available as a diesel PHEV with a similar battery range and tax rate, but better fuel economy for those covering longer distances.
The desirability of the BMW badge helps keep other costs down. Resale values are among the best in the class, so if you're a private buyer you'll get back a decent chunk of the list price when you part exchange. Leasing and PCP finance rates are usually highly competitive, too, and discounts are available if you're prepared to haggle. Or, to avoid haggling altogether and still get a hefty discount, check out our New Car Deals service.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level SE trim is the one we’d go for. It’s the cheapest and still comes with plenty of luxuries. These include leather seat trim, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, cruise control, a powered tailgate, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 17in alloy wheels (18in on the more powerful engines), along with the infotainment system, LED headlights, the front and rear parking sensors and the rear-view camera we mentioned earlier.
M Sport trim is extremely popular, thanks largely to its more aggressive body styling and bigger alloys. You don't get a lot of extra substance for the added cost, apart from sports front seats, privacy glass and a much stiffer ride courtesy of the M Suspension. A Pro Pack can be added to M Sport models that adds even more visual garnish, including 20in wheels, black rather than chrome exterior trim and blue M Sport brake calipers. On more powerful versions, it also adds adaptive suspension that improves the ride.
BMW finished 16th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. Lexus came top, while Audi was 21st, Jaguar 26th, Mercedes joint 23rd and Volvo 17th.
Every BMW 5 Series comes with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, which is similar to the cover provided by most of its rivals.
Safety and security
All versions come with a minimum of six airbags and a host of electronic driver aids, including stability control. Automatic emergency braking (AEB), with pedestrian detection, is also standard to reduce the chances of you accidentally running into the car (or person) in front. E-Call emergency phone response is also standard, which dials up the emergency services after an accident if you don't respond. Optional safety kit includes lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beam assist for the headlights, a driver fatigue detector and speed limit recognition. It's all part of the Driving Assistant Professional package, which forms part of the Technology Plus Pack.
In 2017, the 5 Series scored the full five-star Euro NCAP rating for safety, but it got a poor score for driver leg protection and weaker scores for child chest protection than either the Mercedes E-Class or Volvo V90. Pedestrian protection was deemed better with the 5 Series, though.
An alarm, engine immobiliser, deadlocks, which prevent the doors being opened even if the window is smashed, and locking wheel nuts are fitted to every 5 Series to ward off thieves. Security expert Thatcham awarded the car five out of five for its resistance to being stolen and four out of five for its resistance to being broken into.
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|RRP price range||£45,955 - £68,620|
|Number of trims (see all)||8|
|Number of engines (see all)||4|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, hybrid, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||156.9 - 55.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,233 / £4,998|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,466 / £9,995|