Used test: BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

Either of these two top-notch, used luxury saloons could be on your driveway for just £17,000, but which one deserves your cash? We have the answer.....

New BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

The Contenders

BMW 5 Series 520d SE

  • List price when new - £36,025
  • Price today - £17,400* 
  • Available from - 2017-present

A perennial favourite of ours and, in our chosen trim, the 5 Series is the one to beat

Mercedes E-Class E220d SE

  • List price when new - £36,230
  • Price today - £17,700*
  • Available from - 2016-present

One of the best premium saloons and a worthy adversary to the 5 Series

*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Pitch two nearly equal adversaries at the top of their game against each other and the outcome is often the stuff of legends – think Federer vs Djokovic, Prost vs Senna or Ali vs Frazier. 

There are many examples from the motoring world, too, but in the luxury saloon car class none stick out like the decades-old rivalry between the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class. Both have enjoyed many generations of evolutionary achievement, each one vying and nudging and overtaking the other for class honours along the way.

New BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

To buy either car new is an undertaking only the well-off or business users can consider, but if you were to shop around for a used one you’d be surprised at the savings you can make: for example, each of the three-year-old cars on test here will now cost you around 50% less than the price they were new. 

But which one makes the most sense? Read on to find out.

What are they like to drive?

Both have 2.0-litre diesel engines that pump out almost identical amounts of power and torque. However, the E-Class edges it for straight-line pace, sprinting from 30mph to 70mph fractionally faster when you plunge the accelerator pedal to the floor.

New BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

You’ll need to call on full power only very occasionally, though, because both cars build speed swiftly with just a gentle squeeze of the right pedal. The eight-speed gearbox in the BMW is slightly smoother with its shifts and has an uncanny knack of always being in the right gear at the right time. Mind you, the nine-speed gearbox in the E-Class isn’t at all fractious.

Luxury saloons are obviously more about pampering you than poking you with a stick, but if you do find yourself on a twisty road and fancy some fun, the 5 Series delivers surprisingly well. You can take control of gearshifts in either car by pulling paddles behind the steering wheel, but hit the brakes on the approach to a corner and the 5 Series scrubs off speed quicker than the E-Class, keeping its body much more level while it does so.

New BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

It’s the same story as you steer through the corner. The 5 Series stays remarkably upright, whereas the E-Class leans over like a sailing boat on a windy day. Don’t expect particularly feelsome steering in either car – both are designed more for high-speed stability than cat-like agility – but the 5 Series again has the edge. It’s easier to place through bends because the amount of steering lock you apply directly relates to how much the front wheels turn, whereas in the E-Class, the speed of the steering increases exponentially the more you turn the wheel. This does mean less arm work when parking and manoeuvring, though.

Ride comfort is arguably the most important trait of a luxury car and our BMW 5 Series test model was hampered slightly by its optional 19in alloy wheels, which picked up on smaller imperfections a little too readily at all speeds.

New BMW 5 Series vs Mercedes E-Class

However, the car is transformed if you can find one equipped with the optional from new Variable Damper Control (VDC) suspension. Shop for a used car with this fitted (and alas very few owners took it up) and you’ll have one that rides the worst of UK roads like it’s floating on air. It smothers potholes and is beautifully controlled on motorways.

The Mercedes E-Class has softer suspension that allows the body to bounce far more along undulating roads and, surprisingly, crash more over potholes. It does ride smoothly on the motorway, though, and is improved significantly if you can find one fitted with the also optional Air Body Control suspension. Again, few owners took this up, but it’s worth shopping around for. 

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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