The BMW 5 Series is the executive car everyone wants to beat. It's been around for over 40 years and seen off all comers, especially the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Jaguar XF. Its secret has always been a mix of great qualities: sporty handling, supple suspension, powerful yet efficient engines, a roomy cabin, excellent build quality and an aspirational image.
It was once quite poorly equipped as standard, but these days even the basic SE model comes loaded with kit. Of course, all of this comes at a price and the 5 Series is not a cheap car. However, that won’t worry most customers, who tend to be business users with a keen eye on their annual tax bill.
The star of the engine line-up is the 520d diesel, which can go from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds but now returns 65.7mpg and costs just £30 a year to tax. The less powerful 518d takes 9.5 seconds to do 0-62mph, but returns the same fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures. For these reasons, and because it's only around £1,500 cheaper than the 520d, the 518d doesn’t seem worth bothering with.
For comparison's sake, the 520i petrol (which surprisingly, costs more than the 520d) manages just 44.1mpg economy and will set you back £145 a year in road tax. All that and it's still only as fast from 0-62mph as the diesel.
Lovers of BMW's smooth and refined six-cylinder engines are still well served higher up the engine range by the 530d diesel and 535i petrol. Higher still sits the V8-engined 550i and above that, the supercar-baiting M5.
Fortunately, these models don’t have a monopoly on driving pleasure. All versions of the 5 Series are great to drive, with direct steering that's full of feel, a sporty rear-wheel-drive chassis, powerful brakes and excellent high-speed handling. They’ll also transport you along the motorway all day long in total comfort.
BMW recently tweaked the 5 Series trim levels so there are now just three versions: SE, Luxury and M Sport. SE is so well equipped that it's hard to make a case for the others. Its highlights include sat nav, leather trim and DAB digital radio. Luxury trim adds larger wheels and smarter detailing, while M Sport goes all-out with sporty add-ons and firmer suspension (fortunately you can choose softer SE springs as a no-cost option).
The 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, but if you have any lingering doubts, you can take comfort from the fact that it also has a suite of advanced braking, traction and cornering systems and hill-start assistance, as well as front and rear parking sensors.