Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The BMW 5 Series' entry-level diesel engine is the 520d and, with a 0-62mph time of just 7.2sec, it's capable of whisking you up to motorway speeds without any fuss. Performance is roughly on a par with the Mercedes E-Class 220d, although in terms of real-world driveability (as opposed to outright acceleration), the Audi A6 40 TDI is fractionally more flexible.
If you want more grunt, the brawnier six-cylinder 282bhp 530d has plenty. It’s effortlessly quick and so smooth you quickly forget it's a diesel. For those who want the ‘ultimate’ iteration of the 5 Series (aside from the outrageous BMW M5), there's the M550i xDrive. With a 523bhp 4.4-litre petrol V8 and a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds, it makes you wonder why you need to spend the extra on the fractionally quicker M5. The other petrol engine in the range, the 520i, is the least recommendable – it needs to be revved hard to achieve its best and is not much cheaper than the 520d.
Suspension and ride comfort
On the standard passive SE suspension, the 5 Series is supple enough around town over big bumps, but there’s a bit of an underlying shimmy through the car on anything other than super-smooth roads. If you do lots of motorway miles, you’ll probably find this quite annoying. Sticking with the SE trim's standard 17in wheels (or 18s on more powerful versions) helps to minimise the problem, but adding bigger wheels with run-flat tyres exacerbates it. M Sport suspension is quite stiff for what's supposed to be a luxury car.
As you might expect, the range-topping M550i is the sharpest member of the regular 5-Series range to drive. It has loads of grip, exhibits very little body lean, and if you slip the stability control into M Sport mode it will even let you exit corners with a little bit of angle. Its steering isn’t quite as sharp as the set-up on the full-fat M5, but the M550i is a better daily proposition for most drivers.