The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Every BMW 5 Series has a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, with electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment as standard. 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, 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, unsurprisingly, an optional extra, but what is disappointing on a car such as this is that you also have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support. This important feature really should be standard on a luxury car at this price point, but the saving grace is it doesn't cost the earth to add. It's well worth doing so.
Beyond that, it's hard to fault. You get digital instruments as 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, which uses a touchscreen for the climate controls, and while that looks great, it's distracting to use while driving. The enormous, cosseting armrests, positioned ideally either side of you, seal the deal for the 5 Series being about as comfortable on a long trip as any car gets.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Seeing out of the 5 Series forwards and over its bonnet is no problem at all, thanks to relatively slender front pillars and tall, wide windscreen. It’s the same story when looking sideways to the right and left at roundabouts and junctions.
Getting a good view of what’s going on behind isn’t quite so easy, but many rival saloons have similarly restricted over-the-shoulder visibility; indeed, the E-Class's thicker rear pillars make it even tougher to park. At least every 5 Series comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard, so judging distances forwards and backwards is never a chore. A rear-view camera is a worthy addition if you're still concerned about parking.
At night, bright LED headlights are standard, and LED foglights are added to M Sport trim. 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 comes with BMW’s range-topping Professional Multimedia system, which packs a whopping 12.3in widescreen, Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto), sat-nav, various online services, a DAB radio and even a built-in 20GB hard drive on which to store your music. It’s one of the best systems going, with easy-to-follow menus and responsive software – more so than the Mercedes E-Class'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 – such as you get in the Jaguar XF and Audi A6 – you have to look away from the road to find the icons.
A concierge service is standard and helps with tasks such as finding parking places and service areas, 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 new 5 Series. 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 Audi A6's interior feels just as securely bolted together, while you could argue that the Mercedes E-Class's carries a heap more visual swagger, but 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.