BMW 5 Series saloon (2010 – ) expert review

By Ivan Aistrop, 13th August 2010

The verdict

Choose the right version of the 5 Series, and the right optional extras, and it’s the finest car in the executive class. Make the wrong choices, though, and you could end up being slightly disappointed.

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Expert rating:

4.3

Pros

  • Range of sensational engines
  • Superb quality inside and out
  • Can be absolutely cracking to drive

Cons

  • Only cracking to drive if you add expensive suspension options
  • Split-folding rear seats cost extra
  • BMW’s reliability record should be better

Full Review

1. Exterior

Some people might accuse the 5 Series of looking a little conservative, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a smart-looking car. The powerful creases through the bonnet and down the sides of the car deliver a muscular appearance, and the standard xenon headlamps and LED tail lights mean that other road-users will definitely see you coming. The aesthetic finish of your 5 Series will depend on which trim level you select. Luxury and Modern trims have more external chrome trims than SE models, while M Sport versions have a sporty body kit.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The interior of the 5 Series is every bit as sumptuous as you’d expect – and then some. Everywhere you look, the materials are stunning to look at and pleasant to touch, and the quality of the assembly is pretty much flawless. The various switches and dials feel slick and sturdy, too, which adds to the high quality feel. The 5 Series comes with BMW’s iDrive interface as standard, which allows you to operate the car’s numerous functions by scrolling though on-screen menus with a central dial. The system is simply brilliant thanks to clear, logical menus and sharp graphics. The massive amount of adjustment makes it easy to find a comfy driving position, and all-round visibility is clear. The offset pedals on models with a manual gearbox are the only black mark, but most cars will be specced with an automatic ‘box anyway.

Our rating: 5

3. Practicality

There’s no shortage of passenger space inside the 5 Series, with plentiful headroom and legroom in both the front and the back. There’s enough shoulder room for three to fit across the rear bench, too, but it’s not the most comfortable car to travel five-up in. The guy in the middle has to sit on a hard-raised seat and straddle a wide transmission tunnel, while those either side will have to sit partly on an awkwardly angled bolster on the side of the seat. The boot is big, if not class-leading, at 520 litres. However, you’ll have to pay extra if you want split-folding rear seats, and that’s a bit stingy.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

Stick with the standard suspension setup, and you might be rather disappointed in your 5 Series. The ride has a slightly clunky quality, particularly on the back end, while body control isn’t as tight as it should be. Choose one of the optional suspension packages, though, (called Variable Damper Control on four-cylinder models and Adaptive Drive on six-cylinder cars), and the car is truly transformed. It rides with a suppleness that’d put most luxury limousines to shame, yet feels crisp and agile in bends. These aren’t cheap options, but we’d definitely recommend spending the extra.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

As with all BMWs, the 5 Series comes with a dizzying choice of engines. There isn’t a bad option anywhere in the lineup, but some make more sense than others. Most people will choose diesel, specifically the 181bhp 520d, and for good reason. It gives strong, eager performance and impressively low running costs. The 141bhp 18d is no cleaner, but it is considerably cheaper to buy and still perfectly flexible enough. The big six-cylinder diesels, particularly the one in the 535d, deliver performance that’s seriously rapid and exceptionally smooth. We wouldn’t advise going for a petrol engine unless you’re going for the smallest one (520i) to keep things cheap, or one of the bigger ones (35i or M5) to get rip-snorting performance. Some versions come with a brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and it can be added to cars with smaller engines for an additional fee.

Our rating: 5

6. Running costs

The star performers for efficiency are the 518d and 520d, both of which will return an official average of almost 63mpg, and release CO2 at a rate of just 119g/km, placing them in an impressively low band for company car tax. Plus, those same figures are achieved with both the standard six-speed manual gearbox and the optional eight-speed automatic. All the other engines are impressively efficient compared with like-for-like offerings from other manufacturers, too. Purchase prices are generally on a par with those of the Audi A6, and cheaper than those of the Mercedes E-Class. The Beemer’s strong image and desirable badge will also ensure that resale values will remain strong.

Our rating: 5

7. Reliability

Such is the feeling of quality and solidity given by the 5 Series’ gorgeous cabin, you’d think the car would last forever. We haven’t heard any particularly alarming horror stories about the reliability of the 5 Series, but BMW’s reputation isn’t as strong as you’d think – the company currently languishes in the bottom half of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The 5 Series comes with all the safety aids you expect. You get six airbags as standard, plus a host of electronic assistance systems that includes stability control. In fact, the 5 Series scored 100% in the Safety Assist section of Euro NCAP’s crash test, and achieved the full five-star rating overall.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

Base-level SE trim comes with all the stuff you really need, including alloys, climate control air-conditioning,  front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, part-electric front seats, leather upholstery and an infotainment system that comprises Bluetooth, a DAB radio and satellite navigation. Modern models comes with a range of styling touches inside and out, while Luxury models also add an upgraded sat-nav, a 20GB hard drive and voice control. M Sport cars get a bunch of sportier aesthetic upgrades, plus a sports suspension.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The BMW 5 Series gives you undeniable desirability and exemplary quality whichever version you buy. Choose the right engine, and you’ll also get a brilliant balance of performance and economy. Choose the right suspension options, and your car will be the finest driving car in the class, too, with a slick ride and sharp handling. So, there are important choices to be made, then, but get it right, and you’ll absolutely love your car.

Our rating: 5

Expert review 4.3stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior5
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance5
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?5

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:
518d SE
Cheapest diesel version still has enough punch to make life easy.
Best-seller:
520d M Sport
Best engine, and most buyers spend more for a sporty look.
Blow the budget:
535d M Sport
Goes like the clappers and still has reasonable running costs.

The interior of the 5 Series is every bit as sumptuous as you’d expect – and then some. Everywhere you look, the materials are stunning to look at and pleasant to touch, and the quality of the assembly is pretty much flawless.