Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 520d is punchy enough for most people and is our pick of the range. If you don't believe us, check out its claimed 0-62mph time of just 7.6sec, which is plenty for whisking you up to motorway speeds without any fuss. Performance is roughly on a par with the rival Mercedes E220d Estate's, although in terms of real-world drivability (as opposed to outright 0-62mph acceleration), the Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI has a slightly wider performance window, and is fractionally more flexible as a result.
If you want more grunt, then the brawnier six-cylinder 530d Touring has it in spades; it’s effortlessly quick and, in everyday driving, just as rapid as the more powerful 540i petrol. That, by the way, is the most powerful 5 Series Touring you can buy, and is brilliant to drive, delivering scintillating pace that gets you to 62mph in a whisker over five seconds. The only other petrol in the range, the 520i, is the least recommendable – it needs revving hard to achieve its best; not ideal in a load-lugging estate car.
But what if you want to avoid diesel yet desire efficiency? Well, as part of the 5 Series’ 2020 facelift, you can now get a Touring in plug-in hybrid 530e form. We’ve yet to sample this version, but its claimed all-electric range of 34 miles on the WLTP cycle and 87mph top speed in electric mode will be compelling for those who spend a lot of time in urban environments.
Suspension and ride comfort
The way the BMW 5 Series Touring rides depends largely on whether you go for the standard suspension, the stiffer M Sport version, or do what we’d suggest: tick the box for the reasonably priced optional adaptive suspension (Variable Damper Control). If you do so, and don't specify huge wheels or run-flat tyres, the 5 Series Touring rides superbly. It's forgiving at low speeds, rides pockmarked British A-roads and motorways calmly, and few cars – in any price bracket – ride as smoothly yet still match its composure over wavy crests and falls.
On the SE trim's standard suspension, the 5 Series is supple enough over big bumps around town, but there’s always an underlying shimmy through the car on anything other than super-smooth roads. If you do lots of motorway miles, you’ll probably find that this is quite annoying. Sticking with the SE trim's standard 17in wheels (or 18s on more powerful versions) minimises the issue, but opting for the bigger wheels and run-flat tyres (M Sport introduces 19in wheels, while M Sport Edition cars get massive 20in wheels) exacerbates it.
M Sport suspension is quite stiff for what's supposed to be a luxury car. So if you want this trim, but don't want to spend the money on adaptive suspension, we suggest ticking the no-cost option that de-selects the firmer M Sport suspension.
Unlike BMW's traditional strapline, we'll stop short of classing the current 5 Series Touring as 'the ultimate driving machine', but it certainly snaps at the class champion's heels. That's the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, by the way, which has delicate and informative steering that the 5 Series can't quite match. The 5 Series' steering is accurate and nicely weighted, though, and more intuitive than the Audi A6 Avant's or the Volvo V90's.
The 5 Series Touring doesn't have quite as much front 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 xDrive version (four-wheel drive) improves traction considerably in the wet.
Noise and vibration
The 5 Series Touring does a brilliant job of keeping wind and road noise at bay, even at high speeds; it's designed very much with fast German autobahns in mind, after all. For library-quiet cruising manners, though, avoid noisier 19in and 20in wheels fitted with run-flat tyres that drone or slap more over expansion joints.
The type of noise your 5 Series makes depends, in part, on which engine you go for. The 540i petrol is the best, sounding deliciously smooth and sweet even when you hoof it. The six-cylinder 530d is also remarkably muted, merely taking on a pleasant growl when you work it harder. Our favourite engine, the 520d, is hushed at 70mph but isn't as smooth as the Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI's diesel engine. Finally, the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the 520i is far from coarse.
All engines come with a superb eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is never anything but ultra-smooth through its gears.
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