Gimme Five! BMW’s 5 Series saloon has come a long way since it first hit the road in 1972. Around 5.5 million cars later, the German firm’s mid-range executive has become the class benchmark
Design-wise, this sixth generation model seems to have changed less radically than its quirky predecessor, but it has still managed to advance the premium executive saloon concept. Efficient Dynamics is in full effect here, along with an optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, adaptive damping and the latest generation of BMW’s active steering system. The controversial flame surfacing design, promoted by the recently departed design director Chris Bangle, has been consigned to history. In its place is a more sculptured approach, which is immediately evident from all angles – inside and out. Fans of the 5 Series will be pleased to see that the car’s fascia has a familiar driver-centric bias, which leaves you in no doubt as to its performance leanings. The switchgear and instruments are familiar – they all work well and exude a premium, quality feel – while the conservative wood and leather trim promotes a distinctly business class ambience.
Along with a number of equipment upgrades, leather upholstery is now standard across the range. Suitably trimmed, the seats are firm, supportive and, in the case of our the test car, electrically adjustable. Space up front is more than adequate, as is storage. In the back, legroom isn’t outstanding but it’s acceptable for an adult sitting behind another adult. Headroom is fine, even in the back, which should please those being chauffeured around.
Keen to stress the car’s potential to entertain, BMW has transferred much of the existing technology from the 7 Series and 5 GT. Active variable assistance steering and adaptive damping options make a noticeable contribution on twisty roads. They cleverly mask the car’s size and improve agility. The 530d is the flagship diesel model, and the 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit might sound a little industrial, but it gives the car levels of thrust to rival a V8 petrol engine. The figures highlight its potential – 398lb ft of torque and 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds – so it’s something of a no-brainer if you’re after performance and sensible economy all wrapped up in a single package.
Only BMW’s optional eight-speed automatic gearbox was available to test, which replaces the standard six-speed manual transmission. We sampled it with the option of steering wheel gearchange paddles, and it delivers smooth changes when left to its own devices. Predictably, the Sport mode adds an increased sense of urgency, while manual shifting in the push-pull style is possible, but the paddles are more convenient and intuitive. Unusually, the auto ’box improves the car’s green credentials – it reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, so BMW expects the vast majority of 530d buyers to specify it. The raw figures tell an impressive tale and prove that BMW’s heavily promoted Efficient Dynamics concept is more than just hype. In manual transmission guise, the 530d has a CO2 rating of 166g/km, while an equivalent auto reduces this to 160g/km. Fuel economy is 44.8mpg and 45.6mpg respectively, again in favour of the automatic gearbox. And with Benefit in Kind tax at 24 per cent, the 530d’s company car prospects look rosy. Better still is the four-cylinder 520d, destined to be a real fleet favourite, with its 132g/km CO2 rating, 56.5mpg and basic £28,165 price tag.
The real surprise is BMW’s generosity in the equipment department. You get leather, front and rear parking sensors, automatic air-con, a decent audio system plus Bluetooth and cruise control all as standard across the range. The automatic gearbox bumps the price up a little, though. It weighs in at £1,495 and £1,605 in plain and paddle-equipped trim respectively. Mature styling signals the new Five’s less confrontational character and brings it upto- date with the rest of BMW’s line-up. On the road it’s hard to fault, but the car really comes alive with the full adaptive ride and active steering packages. Only you can balance the cost and relative benefits, but the economy and comfort savings of the auto make it a must-have for now, and for resale time. The 520d might be the pragmatic choice but the 530d is the star all-rounder.
RIVALS: AUDI A6, JAGUAR XF, LEXUS GS, MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS
- Engine: 2993cc, 6-cylinder, turbodiesel with particulate filter
- Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
- Max power: 242bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max torque: 398lb ft at 1,750 to 3,000rpm
- Max towing weight: 2,000kg
- Max speed: 155mph
- 0-62mph: 6.3secs
- Combined consumption: 45.6mpg
- CO2 emissions (taxband): 162g/km (G)
- Boot space: 520litres
- Insurance group: 40