The BMW 5-Series is more than a status symbol for company directors and top management. June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the world of the executive car is a rather macho one. All those business high flyers struggling to out do each other with a bigger engine, a more sumptuous cabin or a higher gadget count, it can all appear very unseemly when viewed from afar. There's little doubt that the one-upmanship which creeps into the thinking of so many car buyers is more prevalent when we're talking about these executive expresses thanks to the burning desire to keep up appearances for the benefit of colleagues and rivals but they are just cars and some of the best cars in the world at that. I took a look at BMW's latest 5 Series to see what it has to offer those who aren't jockeying for position on the greasy corporate pole. The 5 is a big executive car that's bigger than ever in its latest form thanks to a basic chassis that's shared with the even more luxurious 7 Series. Its key rivals need little introduction partly because this BMW, the Mercedes E-Class, Audi's A6 and, increasingly, the Jaguar XF have the executive car market virtually sewn-up between them. The 5 Series has to get itself selected ahead of these very capable rivals whether that's by private buyers or, more importantly, but the business people lucky enough to be offered this kind of vehicle as a company car.
It's important to remember that although it's fiercely competitive, the executive car market is quite conservative. Outlandish styling and left-field ideas don't tend to go down very well as BMW found with the previous generation 5. It was a very advanced car that drew criticism for its unorthodox looks and complex menu-driven control systems. Today's model is much more conformist with handsome but understated looks and controls that have been finessed to improve usability. You'll need to look quite carefully for the cosmetic updates to this latest version and believe me, that's a good thing. There's a maturity and elegance to the F10 generation 5 Series, a certain understatement that speaks of confidence. The wheelbase of this car is 80mm longer than the previous generation model and this is made to count inside where there's lots of rear passenger space, including an extra 13mm of knee-room. The seats split 40:20:40 and fold down but even without them lowered, 520-litres of capacity is on offer beneath the boot lid. The design of the cabin throws up few surprises with much of the switchgear being similar to items seen before on the larger BMW products. The minimalist design is appealing and there's still a button for all the important functions with only the more arcane stuff accessed through the dreaded iDrive menu system which has been greatly simplified since it first reared its head.
Behind the Wheel
BMW has a fantastic line-up of different engines with scope to turn the Five into anything from a snarling performance saloon to a super-economical motorway mile muncher. Across the range, the level of fuel economy you get for the performance on offer really is first class. I tried the 530d diesel model and came away hugely impressed with its powerful performance and particularly with the huge swell of torque that hits home early in the rev range. It makes the car feel effortless under normal driving conditions and properly quick if you elect to put your foot down. As much as most customers would love an M5, reality for many is the 184bhp four cylinder unit in the 520d. Then there's the same engine offered with 218bhp in the 525d before you get to the six cylinder 24v diesel variant that most customers choose, the 258bhp 530d. This sits just below the top 313bhp 535d version. An interesting alternative to diesel is provided by the petrol/electric ActiveHybrid5 model, costing a little more than the top diesel and putting out 306bhp from a 24v six cylinder 3.0-litre petrol powerplant. More conventional petrol Fives start with the 184bhp 520i. Using the same 2.0-litre four cylinder engine is the 245bhp 528i, arguably a better choice than the 272bhp six cylinder 530i. Really quick 5 series motoring starts with the 306bhp turbocharged 535i and the 407bhp 550i before culminating with the aforementioned 4.4-litre V8-powered M5 super saloon. Refinement is very good whatever powerplant you select, as befits an executive car like this. The engine is muted and there's very little wind noise. The suspension can clunk and bump over sudden undulations in the road surface but generally the ride is very comfortable. Options such as the M Sport suspension and the DDC adaptive dampers provide a sharper feel on the road.
Value For Money
More than the prices, it's the specification where BMW is attempting to get ahead of the competition. All models get leather trim, a high quality stereo and a Bluetooth telephone kit along with all the usual features while six-cylinder models gain a USB audio connector and ambient lighting around the cabin. There are SE and M Sport models to choose from and a choice of saloon or Touring estate bodystyles.
Could I Live With One?
That the 5 Series comes across as an extremely good car will be no surprise but it's up against a plethora of similarly capable models in the executive car class. Splitting the leading contenders isn't easy but the latest 5 with its sparkling engine range smart looks and elegantly crafted cabin is a powerful contender.