What Car? says...
Lionel Messi has won football’s Ballon d'Or a record eight times, but he’s still got nothing on the BMW 5 Series, which has won 27 What Car? Awards over the years – more than any other model.
Part of the reason for the 5 Series' sustained success is that BMW has done a great job of keeping it up to date. The latest version is even available as a fully electric car – the BMW i5 – which you can read about in our separate review. However, here we’re focusing on the other variants.
The cheapest option is the 520i, which uses a 205bhp 2.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol engine, and there are also two plug-in hybrids (PHEVs): the 530e, which produces 295bhp, and the 550e, with a whopping 482bhp.
Rivals include the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class so in this review we’ll look at how the latest BMW 5 Series compares with those cars in key areas. We'll cover everything from the way it drives to how practical it is and how much it will cost to run.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Even in entry-level 520i form, the BMW 5 Series isn’t slow (0-62mph takes 7.5 seconds), but you do have to rev it quite hard if you want to get up to speed in a hurry.
In addition, while its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly and smartly most of the time, if you ask for a sudden burst of pace, it can pause noticeably before changing down with a jolt.
The 520i is the only version we’ve tried so far of the latest 5 Series (aside from the fully electric BMW i5). However, the official figures suggest that the two PHEVs should feel significantly faster. The 530e needs just 6.3 seconds to hit 62mph, while the 550e lops off a further two seconds.
Both have good electric-only ranges, with the 550e officially managing 55 miles on a charge, and the 530e capable of 63 miles. That said, the Mercedes E300e trumps both, managing 72 miles.
BMWs tend to be at their best when specified with adaptive suspension, but even on the standard passive set-up that our test car came with, the 520i handles well. Body movements are more tightly controlled than they are in an Audi A6 or an E-Class, and the precise, well-weighted steering adds to your confidence in corners.
On the downside, you feel some fidget over poorly surfaced roads, although the 5 Series isn’t overly jarring when it hits a larger bump or pothole.
As for refinement, the engine in the 520i is smooth and quiet enough at a steady cruise, with a pleasingly rorty edge when pushed hard. And although there’s more wind noise from around the door mirrors than there is in the E-Class, it’s still a quiet car.
Strengths Composed handling; precise steering; hushed road manners
Weaknesses Ride can be fidgety; auto gearbox not the slickest
The interior layout, fit and finish
Every BMW 5 Series has a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, with electric adjustment for the seat height and backrest angle, plus electrically adjustable lumbar support.
Forward visibility is good. And while the view behind is more restricted, this isn't a huge problem due to the standard rear-view camera and all-round parking sensors (a 360-degree bird’s eye view camera is available as an option).
In addition, all versions of the 5 Series come with adaptive LED headlights – you can leave these on high beam at night, because they automatically shape their output around other road users to avoid dazzling them.
A head-up display that projects sat-nav instructions and your speed on to the windscreen is optional. Meanwhile, the standard 12.3in digital instrument panel sits side by side with a 14.9in central infotainment screen to give the illusion of one huge, curved display.
The infotainment screen is touch-sensitive, so you can control functions by pressing it. However, unlike the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, the 5 Series also has a physical control dial and shortcut buttons between its front seats, which are far less distracting to use while driving than any touchscreen.
Voice control is included too, while a system that allows you to operate certain functions with gestures is optional, although it doesn’t really improve usability, and feels like a bit of a gimmick that’s not worth the extra outlay.
On the other hand, you’re certainly not short-changed by the standard of assembly in the 5 Series, and it’s a match for the rock-solid A6 in this regard. What’s more, all the materials you come into contact with look and feel expensive, whereas the E-Class is disappointingly flimsy in places.
A DAB radio and a Harman Kardon stereo come as standard in the 5 series, with a Bowers & Wilkins upgrade available as an option. Wireless phone-charging is also included, along with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
Strengths Comfortable driving position; user-friendly infotainment system
Weaknesses Rear visibility is restricted
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s loads of leg and head room in the front of the BMW 5 Series, even with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted. Meanwhile, storage includes a pair of cupholders, a cubby beneath the central armrest and large door bins.
As for rear space, this is comparable with what you find in key rivals, meaning two six-footers will be comfortable, but a central rear passenger gets a narrower seat and has to straddle a hump in the floor.
While the BMW i5 has a sizeable 490-litre boot, the mild-hybrid and PHEV versions of the 5 Series give you even more space: 520 litres. That’s still slightly down on the 540-litre capacity the Mercedes E-Class offers in mild-hybrid form, but PHEV versions of that car make do with just 370 litres.
Those looking for even greater practicality should consider the BMW 5 Series Touring estate, which can take 570 litres of luggage below its load cover.
Strengths Spacious for four; boot isn’t compromised on hybrid models
Weaknesses Not very comfortable for a central rear passenger
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The BMW 5 Series looks quite pricey compared with the Audi A6, but it’s significantly cheaper than the Mercedes E-Class on a like-for-like basis, whether you buy on PCP finance or at the discounted price available through our free New Car Deals service.
Similarly, the 530e PHEV version of the 5 Series treads the middle ground when you consider company car tax bills, but here it costs more than the equivalent E-Class (the E-Class's longer electric range gives it a lower BIK tax rating) and less than the A6.
It’s worth noting that if the fully electric BMW i5 is on the list of company cars you’re allowed to choose from (and it might not be due to its high lease price), it will cost less to run than any PHEV – as will its electric car rivals.
M Sport trim is the cheapest available for the 5 Series, and includes 19in alloy wheels, faux-leather upholstery, climate control, adaptive LED headlights, heated front seats and ambient interior lighting.
Upgrading to M Sport Pro brings black exterior highlights, a subtle rear spoiler, an illuminated front grille, red brake callipers and 20in wheels.
Unless these stylistic changes really appeal, we'd recommend you instead spend your money on the Comfort Plus Pack, which includes lots of desirable features, including keyless entry, a powered boot lid, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and four-zone climate control.
In the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, BMW finished 12th out of the 32 manufacturers included – above Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes, but a fair way below Lexus, which came first.
The three-year, unlimited mileage warranty BMW gives you is also inferior to the Lexus equivalent, which can last for up to 10 years or 100,000 miles if you get your car serviced at a Lexus dealer.
All versions of the 5 Series come with a host of electronic driver aids, including blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the standard-fit Driving Assistant Pack.
Strengths Cheaper to buy than an E-Class; 530e makes sense as a company car
Weaknesses Electric cars make even more sense if you pay BIK tax; some kit that should be standard costs extra
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While even the cheapest version of the 5 Series costs more than £50,000, sizeable discounts are already available through our free New Car Deals service.
|RRP price range
|£51,000 - £87,905
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|petrol, petrol parallel phev
|MPG range across all versions
|353.1 - 48.7
|Available doors options
|NaN year / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£832 / £3,720
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£1,663 / £7,440