The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Every 5 Series Touring has a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, with electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment as standard along with electrically adjustable lumbar support. The M Sport models have bigger side bolsters to hold you in place more securely when cornering quickly. 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's, so you feel as though you’re sitting in, rather than on top of, the car. Fully electric seats with a memory for different driving positions are optional.
Digital instruments are standard (a head-up display is optional), the dashboard is clearly laid out and all the controls are within easy reach, with physical buttons for all its major controls. That's not the case in the Audi A6 Avant, which uses a touchscreen for the climate controls: it looks great, but is distracting to use while driving. The enormous, cosseting armrests, positioned perfectly either side of you, seal the deal for the 5 Series Touring being about as comfortable on a long trip as any car gets.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Seeing out of the 5 Series Touring forwards, over its bonnet, is no problem at all thanks to relatively slender front pillars and the tall, wide windscreen. It’s the same story when looking sideways to the right and left at roundabouts and junctions.
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 parking assistant system which can steer the car into spaces for you and reverse it distances of up to 50 metres; these make parking reasonably drama free. A rear-view camera is a worthy addition if you're still concerned about parking.
Bright LED headlights are standard or you can upgrade the headlights to clever adaptive LED units that can maintain main beam but shape their light field around the cars in front, to avoid dazzling other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every 5 Series Touring comes with BMW’s range-topping Professional Multimedia system, which packs a whopping 12.3in widescreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat-nav, various online services, and DAB radio. It’s one of the best systems going, with easy-to-follow menus and responsive software – more so than the Mercedes E-Class Estate's occasionally dim-witted system.
The 5 Series' screen is touch-sensitive, so you can control it by pressing it in much the same way you would an iPad. However, there’s also a rotary dial between the front seats that's surrounded by shortcut buttons. If you're driving, this is so much easier (and safer) to use than the touchscreen, because you just twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to make selections. With a touchscreen-only system – as you get with a Jaguar XF Sportbrake and Audi A6 Avant – you have to look 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; it's more of a gimmick than a useful gadget, though.
There’s no danger of you feeling short-changed when climbing into a 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 thing – although there are also some silver-coated plastics.
Similarly, most buttons and switches are nicely damped, but the interiors of the Audi A6 Avant and Volvo V90 feel just as securely bolted together; while you could argue that the Mercedes E-Class Estate's carries a heap more visual swagger, it's flimsier in places.
You can choose different trim inserts – including wood and gloss black – that run the length of the dashboard and around the doors, and they all look and feel upmarket. The standard ambient lighting obviously doesn’t make any difference to build quality, but it does make the interior look even more salubrious after dark.
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