For a long time, the BMW 5 Series has hovered around the top of the executive saloon pile and this current generation is no exception. A difficult car to fault, it's as comfortable pounding up and down motorways as it is being driven ‘exuberantly’ along a meandering country road. It's quiet, handsome (if a little unadventurous) well equipped and reasonably cheap to run, too (as long as you pick the right engine).
The 5 Series doesn’t have things all its own way, however, and its rivals are stronger than ever. The recently revamped Mercedes E-Class moves the game on in terms of comfort, technology and interior luxury, while the latest Jaguar XF is just as good as, if not better than, the 5 Series to drive.
The Audi A6, however, is beginning to feel its age (a new one is on its way) and the Lexus GS has always been a slightly left-field choice, although the latest iteration of that car is the best it's ever been, too. You may also want to consider the Skoda Superb, which offers comparable space and comfort as these cars, but for considerably less money.
Under the BMW's bonnet, there's a huge range of engines, comprising everything from fuel-sipping four-cylinder diesels to monstrous turbocharged petrol V8s. Our pick of the range – especially if you’re a company-car driver – is the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel in the 520d.
Running costs compared to the less powerful 518d are identical and the extra performance really is a boon. You’ll get nearly 70mpg from a 520d fitted with an automatic gearbox and CO2 emissions of just 109g/km means a £20 tax bill each year. This also means company-car drivers will only be liable for a 21% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company car tax contribution, too.
You can also get more powerful diesel engines, as well as a range of four, six and eight-cylinder petrols, topped off by the hugely fast 550i and the ballistic M5 high-performance saloon, which we’ve reviewed separately.
If you go for a 520d in SE trim, you should be pretty happy. You’ll get all the essential equipment, such as sat nav, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, parking sensors, DAB radio, leather upholstery and alloy wheels. If you step up to Luxury trim, you unsurprisingly get some more comfort-orientated features, while the M Sport model has bigger wheels (which hurt CO2 emissions) and a sporty body kit.
We’d recommend mostly leaving the options list alone, as it can get very expensive very quickly, but we would recommend adding adaptive suspension, as it absolutely transforms the car. It's quite pricey, but it's worth it.
There's no doubting the quality of the BMW's interior, but it's all very dark and staid, with very few design touches to mark it out from the rest of the class. In this respect, the Audi A6 has it beaten for design, while the new Mercedes E-Class is exceptionally luxurious and packs in an awful lot of technology, too.
Safety shouldn’t be much of a concern, either, as Euro NCAP awarded the BMW 5 series the full five stars when it was tested in 2010. It scored 95 and 83% for adult and child occupant protection respectively, while it managed 78% protection for pedestrian safety, too. You get a vast number of airbags as standard, as well as tyre-pressure monitoring, ISOFIX child-seat mounting points, stability control and anti-lock brakes. You can also add adaptive cruise control and a huge number of other features to make your 5 Series even safer.
As an ownership proposition, the BMW 5 Series should be pretty good. Readers judged it to be the 47th (out of 200) best car to own in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey and came 50th in terms of build quality. A 119th-place finish for reliability is something of a concern, however.