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What is the BMW 5 Series?

The BMW 5 Series is a staple of the executive car market. Said to be one of BMW’s most profitable cars, it has been part of the Munich firm’s range since 1972, and more than eight million have been sold since then.

Now in its seventh generation, the current 5 Series (codenamed G30) was launched in 2017, tackling two familiar arch-rivals, the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Other competitors include the Jaguar XF and Volvo S90. Always one of BMW’s most well-crafted cars, the latest 5 Series ranks as one of the finest iterations yet, with smart styling, a rich interior and the best driving experience in the sector.

At-a-glance 2019 BMW 5 Series specs

  • Top-speed: 137-155mph
  • 0-62mph: 3.2-8.5 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 26-62mpg
  • Emissions: 49-246g/km CO2
  • Boot space: 530-1,700 litres

Which versions of the BMW 5 Series are available?

As ever, it is available in two derivatives, a four-door Saloon or five-door Touring estate. It is also offered in iPerformance plug-in hybrid and M5 performance guises, but both of these only come in saloon form. By far the best-selling 5 Series are the four-cylinder versions, particularly the 518d and 520d, both of which use 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines.

BMW 5 Series: 520d SE rear

The 530e, which pairs a 2.0-litre turbo petrol with electric hybrid drive, is also proving popular. The 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol and diesel models are lovely, but these days are niche offerings. Only 520d, 530d and 540i versions are available with xDrive four-wheel drive; other versions are rear-wheel-drive only. Model variants open with SE, and the alternative is M Sport: BMW keeping things simple with just two core models. M Sport is easily the best-seller in the UK.

What is the BMW M5?

The sublime BMW M5 sits at the top of the 5 Series range. Only available as a saloon, it packs a 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 engine that produces a remarkable 600hp. Because it has so much power, four-wheel drive was deemed necessary, for the first time on an M5. To please the purists, it has a two-wheel-drive mode so you can still enjoy rear-drive, tail-out action on a track. It’s faster in four-wheel drive mode, though: 0-62mph takes just 3.4 seconds.

BMW M5

A staggeringly accomplished driver’s car, the latest M5 is a real return to form after its slightly disappointing predecessor. And if the standard car isn’t quite fast or focused enough for you, an M5 Competition version adds 25hp and even more excitement.

BMW 5 Series styling and engineering

The BMW 5 Series is based on a platform used on a number of BMWs, including the high-end 7 Series. The 5 Series doesn’t contain the exotic carbon fibre used in the 7 Series, but it’s otherwise closely related. Pleasingly, BMW hasn’t (yet) spoiled the 5 Series by adding on the gigantic front kidney grilles introduced on the 2019 7 Series. Hopefully, it will continue to refrain, because the current 5er is a very refined and stylish car, with appealing lines and an elegant profile.

It looks particularly distinctive in M Sport guise, with bigger wheels and more aggressive bumpers. The interior is built to a very high standard and premium materials give a luxurious finish. BMW’s infotainment system is made even easier to use these days with touchscreen capability, while comfort front and rear is top notch (even if rivals are still a little larger in the back).

How does the BMW 5 Series drive?

The 5 Series has a tradition for setting the standard in the executive car class for driver satisfaction. The latest car is no exception. Even the core 518d and 520d are enjoyable, with effective and rattle-free diesel engines, plus a chassis that is standard-setting through the corners and impressively comfortable and confident on the motorway. Go for the 520d if you can: it’s no less economical but 1.5 seconds faster from 0-62mph.

Adding yet more power adds to the appeal, and xDrive models feel little different to cheaper rear-drive versions – apart from the extra confidence and ability they bring in the winter. As mentioned, the M5 is virtually flawless and when driven in full electric guise, the 530e iPerformance is the epitome of smooth-rolling refinement.

How much does the BMW 5 Series cost?

BMW 5 Series prices start from less than £37,000; that’s for the 518d SE – an extra £1,610 for the 190hp 520d seems good value to us. M Sport trim costs £3,000 more and, where available, xDrive is £2,000 extra. These days, all 5 Series are well equipped as standard, with LED headlights, leather interior and automatic transmission all standard. M Sport upgrades focus on interior and exterior styling, including an M-branded bodykit.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class costs roughly £1,000 more than a comparable 5 Series. Surprisingly, Audi A6 prices currently start from almost £2,000 more than the 5 Series; it’s traditionally been a bit cheaper, but Audi has yet to roll out a sub-200hp version to compete with the 150hp 518d.

Find out what 5 Series drivers think of their cars with our comprehensive owners’ reviews.

BMW 5-Series Model History

Current generation BMW 5 Series

October 2016 – Seventh-generation 5 Series Saloon available to order for February 2017 delivery. Only SE and M Sport specifications are available, each paired with the launch range of 520d, 520d xDrive, 530i, 530d, 530d xDrive and 540i xDrive.
December 2016 – Plug-in hybrid 530e available to order in SE and M Sport specification. Claimed range of up to 29 miles on electric-only power, the official efficiency rating is 141.2mpg and 46g/km of CO2 for the SE version.
January 2017 – Available to order for March delivery is the 520d EfficientDynamics, only paired with SE specification. Official claims of 72.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 102g/km.
February 2018 – The BMW M5 is added to the range with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 600hp and 750Nm of torque. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox are both standard.
September 2018 - BMW M5 Competition available for delivery, with 625hp and revised chassis for keen drivers. 0-62mph sprint takes just 3.3 seconds.

Sixth-generation BMW 5 Series (2010-2018) 

BMW 5 Series Mk6

After several generations of highs, the F10 5 Series was a more forgettable car. It was still a very able machine, but the styling didn’t stand out and the drive didn’t quite have the edge of some of its predecessors.

It was offered, as the 5 had been for years, as a Saloon or Touring, along with a new hatchback called Gran Turismo. This model wasn’t as popular as BMW had hoped, but it sold well enough to warrant being replaced by the 6 Series Gran Turismo.

As for the M5, this reverted to a V8, now with turbocharging for the first time. Again, it was a nice car, but not as memorable as previous versions.

Fifth-generation BMW 5 Series (2003-2010) 

BMW 5 Series Mk5

It was all change for the fifth generation 5 Series, codenamed E60. The work of designer Chris Bangle, it is one of his most successful BMWs, with crisp, clean-cut styling that was free from the gimmicks of some of his other designs.

The first iteration of BMW’s iDrive control system featured within, while a number of sophisticated gadgets would be made available, including night vision. As for the M5, this reached a technological zenith with the launch of an F1-inspired 5.0-litre V10 engine. Fearsomely complicated (and disastrously uneconomical), it remains a jaw-dropping car to experience.

Fourth-generation BMW 5 Series (1996-2004) 

BMW 5 Series Mk4

The sophisticated and fanatically-developed E39 5 Series is another landmark model. One of the final models to introduced prior to the design revolution of designer Chris Bangle, it remains elegant and pleasing to the eye even two decades after its introduction.

Inside, it was appreciably more luxurious than its predecessor, and it was an incredibly sophisticated car to drive – contemporary road tests were effusive in their praise. The E39 M5, introduced in 1998, was the first to use a V8 engine. It is a bona fide classic – and values are skyrocketing.

Third-generation BMW 5 Series (1988-1996) 

BMW 5 Series Mk3

Many consider the 1988 E34 a design classic. It was the epitome of 1980s executive car sophistication, enhanced further from 1990 with the introduction of the first Touring estate 5 Series.

The engine range grew throughout the life of the E34 5 Series, to include top-end V8 petrol versions alongside four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, and a six-cylinder turbodiesel. An M5 was again offered, using a high-performance six-cylinder.

Second-generation BMW 5 Series (1981-1988) 

BMW 5 Series Mk2

Evolution rather than revolution was the name of the game for the E28 5 Series. The second-generation 5 Series had a much improved interior and crisper lines, plus an engine range that put more focus on six-cylinder versions.

BMW built upon the success of the earlier M535i version with the first M5 performance iteration. This generation of 5 Series also introduced diesel engines and ABS brakes to the model line.

First-generation BMW 5 Series (1972-1981) 

BMW 5 Series Mk1

The original 5 Series was codenamed E12 and was the first BMW to use a three-letter ‘model and engine’ code: it was thus the first ‘series’ BMW.

A larger car than its ‘new-class’ predecessors, the 5 Series gave early evidence of BMW’s growing ambitions as a luxury car manufacturer. Initially offered with four-cylinder engines, the famed six-cylinder versions followed soon after.

The 5 Series was a success straight out of the box and immediately had Mercedes-Benz worried. The 1976 W123, the mid-size predecessor to today’s E-Class range, arguably wouldn’t have been such a classic all-rounder if it weren’t for the newfound competition from BMW.