First UK drive

The BMW 5 Series has been a stalwart for the Munich car maker over the past 25 years, sitting at the summit of the executive car market for much of this time.

With the current generation about to be replaced, we took the most popular model – the BMW 520d – on loan for a week to see if can still cut it amongst its rivals.

Despite being six years old, the BMW 5 Series still has an unmistakeably striking look. Many have criticised the Chris Bangle design but it has stood the test of time.

While the look is of a mature, executive car there are still parts which excite the inner child – the row of LEDs in the rear headlights is a beautiful piece of automotive engineering.

Inside, the 5 Series is basic and functional, lagging behind newer rivals such as the Jaguar XF in terms of the way it makes you feel. It gives you the impression you’re in the car to munch up the miles, and not for the driving experience.

The BMW 520d is fitted with a 2-litre diesel engine which develops 177bhp and 258lb/ft of pulling power. For a large executive car, this may appear a little weak on paper but BMW claims the 520d will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds and is capable of 144mph.

Under initial acceleration the 520d is quite sluggish but it’s perfectly suited to motorway and A-road cruising thanks to the quiet and refined engine.

Sporty, however, it isn’t. The soft suspension fitted to our SE model makes it an incredibly comfortable car to drive but if you want it to feel more focussed and engaged through bends then it won’t be the spec for you.

But munching miles is what the 5 Series diesel does best. In just four days we covered almost 1,300 miles and the BMW didn’t flinch.

The major trip in the Beemer was a 420 mile journey from London to Edinburgh in torrential rain and 80mph winds. During this drive the 520d was stable on the open motorway, despite the crosswinds.

It was our intention to see if the 840 mile round trip to the Scottish capital could be done on one tank – this would mean averaging 54mpg. With a claimed average fuel consumption of 55.4mpg there was definitely a chance but it would require extremely vigilant ‘hyper-miling’.

So we failed. The BMW managed ‘just’ 730 miles averaging 51.3mpg, which is still a very impressive achievement for the 1.5-ton car because throughout the trip the air-conditioning, lights and radio were on.

It’s also a very practical car; the 520-litre boot opens automatically at a touch of a button and there’s plenty of room in the back for adult passengers. The 5 Series is also very easy to park and manoeuvre thanks to light steering and excellent parking sensors.

Despite being replaced next March, the BMW 5 Series is still a very good car and there are clear reasons why the 520d is the most popular model in the range. It’s one of the cheapest ways into a 5 Series and it has very low running costs, making it an attractive option to those on the company car scheme looking for a premium model. Used prices for the 5 Series now start at around £10,000 for a 2004 car.

With the new model on sale soon, now will be the best time to get a good deal on the current shape too.

Key facts:

Model tested: BMW 5 Series 520d
On the road price: £27,430
Date tested: November 2009
Road tester: Adrian Hearn