Parkers overall rating: 4.7 out of 5 4.7
  • Turbocharged petrol, diesel and hybrid options
  • Diesels are all strong, refined performers
  • Petrols are smooth, but will be costly to run

All versions of this 5 Series are powered by engines from BMW's ‘modular’ family – which means regardless of the number of cylinder and whether they drink petrol or diesel, they’re all fundamentally related and all fitted with turbochargers for increased performance and efficiency.

All models come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and, as with most BMWs, when it decides to change gear is extremely well calibrated, changing down instinctively when you just need that moment of acceleration. In sportier drive modes, the transmissions keeps the engine spinning at slightly higher revs as well, to keep you in the power band. It's rarely caught out and certainly a lot more responsive than the one found in the Audi A6.

Petrol BMW 5 Series models

Kicking off the petrol line-up is the 520i, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit producing 184hp and 290Nm of torque.

This engine is capable of going from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 146mph.

At the top of the regular petrol line-up is the M550i xDrive. It’s a 530hp 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 exclusively paired with the xDrive all-wheel drive system to rein in the 750Nm of torque.

The 0-62mph sprint takes just 3.8 seconds while top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.

This muscular engine is silky smooth and requires very little effort to get up to speed. Select Sport mode and the engine will hover around 4,000rpm to give you access to more power, but then you simply pop it back into Comfort and it all quietens down again.

The performance is accompanied by some artificial noise piped into the cabin - which becomes pronounced in the sportier driving modes - but it works well. Considering the refinement levels are so high that you can’t hear the exhaust in the cabin, this does work well as a means of introducing a bit of aural theatre.

Diesel BMW 5 Series models

The four-cylinder 520d is a well-known option in the 5 Series range, and historically has sold in huge numbers as the entry-level diesel.

It’s more than adequate for the job for the majority of 5 Series customers. It lacks the smoothness the 530d’s extra pair of cylinders offers, but for most, the savings made in purchase and running costs more than make up for this.

Power is a generous 190hp, while a 400Nm torque figure is more than adequate for getting up to motorway speeds.

With a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 146mph (144mph for xDrive), it’s hardly what you’d call slow, but such is the level of refinement, there's not much sensation of speed, either.

The 286hp 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel of the 530d may well be the pick of the bunch, blending brisk performance with reasonable running costs.

With 650Nm, it packs an even bigger slug of torque, but as the xDrive system distributes the power delivery between the front and rear wheels, there's a notable absence of being pushed into the seat whenever you have a sudden need to accelerate; progress remains effortlessly smooth and relaxed, with a hint of artifical noise piped into the cabin.

For some, the lack of drama may be disappointing, as the 530d remains calm, collected - and in some ways, a little underwhelming. You'd perhaps think this was an incorrectly badged 525d.

Despite that, it takes just 5.4 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint, and the immense traction from the all-wheel drive system is truly impressive making for an exceptionally quick and reassuring way of driving on all roads, especially in rainy conditions. It’s very difficult to detect the torque being shuffled between the axles in the hunt for grip, making it a very effective car in a range of situations. Top speed is again electronically limited to 155mph.

Two plug-in hybrids available

Since November 2020, a choice of two petrol-engined plug-in hybrids were made available: a 530e and 545e xDrive.

The former offers a seemingly impossible combination of frugality and performance, the hybrid 5 Series uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor to channel a combined output of 292hp and 420Nm of torque through the rear wheels - the all-wheel drive xDrive system is also available.

This promises comparable acceleration to the 530d, sprinting from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 146mph (142mph for xDrive). Top electric-only speed is 86mph

It’s a convincing alternative to diesel if you do a lot of short journeys or endure a lot of stop-start traffic in cities – driven sedately it’s quiet and efficient and hard to tell which power source you’re using. Less smooth throttle inputs seem to take the petrol engine by surprise, however, resulting in a noticeable changeover from electric mode to the conventional powertrain.

Figures for the 545e xDrive are yet to be published, but we suspect it will be close to what's found under the bonnet of the X5 xDrive45e - meaning a 340hp six-cylinder engine with 450Nm of torque combined with an electric motor producing 113hp and 265Nm of torque.

Previously available engines

The 530i petrol engine consisted of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder set-up offering 252hp and 350Nm of torque. The 0-62mph sprint is taken care of in 6.1 seconds, and it will reach 155mph.

A 525d with 231hp and 500Nm of torque, bridging the gap between the 520d and 530d, was initially offered by BMW. It took just 6.6 seconds to go from 0-62mph, and could reach a 155mph top end.

High-performance BMW M5 Competition: what’s it like to drive?

The M5 uses a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine, producing a not-inconsiderable 625hp and whopping 750Nm of torque.

Standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox help to put all of that power down on to the road, meaning the 0-62mph time is just 3.3 seconds. Top speed is electronically-limited to 155mph, but if you go for the M Driver’s package, 190mph is possible.

Put simply, the drivetrain in the M5 is brilliant. There’s a huge amount of performance on offer from almost anywhere in the rev range, it sounds fantastic – if a little false thanks to its synthesised note in-cabin – and the eight-speed automatic gearbox always seems to be in the correct gear for the road ahead.

Its breadth of ability extends to slower driving too, though, with power delivery you can soften using the Comfort drive mode to make for smoother progress for longer journeys.

We love the facility to switch between the M5’s character from Comfort instantly on the steering wheel using the configurable M1 and M2 modes, too. This takes a car with a huge amount of adjustment on offer and distils its talents into three easily accessible personalities.

Previously a standard M5 with 600hp was available, which took an extra tenth to get from 0-62mph. Now all UK models are the faster M5 Competition.

Handling

  • A very satisfying saloon to drive
  • Handling is great for such a big car
  • Options designed to make it handle even better

The way in which the 5 Series handles depends heavily on what tick (or don’t tick) from the options list.

BMWs handle well in their standard set-ups as a general rule, but buyers are able to specify adaptive dampers with a choice of driving modes, four-wheel steering and different suspension settings. The 530e plug-in hybrid doesn't handle quite as sweetly, due to the added electrical hardware bringing the kerbweight towards two tonnes.

Driven back-to-back, we found the 520d’s doesn't grip as hard as the 530d xDrive – presumably because of the extra weight over the latter car’s nose. That isn’t to say that either car is bad in this respect, but the more powerful model is noticeably more reassuring because its front end communicates more about how much grip you’ve got in corners. Traction levels are also high. The former, being a little lighter, feels a little more agile.

What we can confirm, though, is that all 5 Series models deliver an involving driving experience (if that’s what you’re in the mood for), with impressive body control, that manages to settle down and be civilised when the mood suits.

The steering is responsive and effortlessly light, building up a little more weight in sportier drive modes – with enough to feel a little more connected to the front wheels, but without ever getting artifically heavy; something that can spoil other BMWs in the range. The brake pedal is also positively weighted and responsive upon application.

Sportier-looking M Sport trims come with 10mm-lower suspension than SE cars, but adaptive suspension is also available.

Variable Damper Control

What’s especially impressive about BMW’s VDC adaptive damping system is the degree of flexibility between comfort and sportiness it offers.

In handling terms this means you no longer have to choose between a car that’s great fun in the corners and a car that’s comfortable on a long journey – especially since there’s an Adaptive setting that instantly changes the character of the 5 Series as soon as it detects the kind of driving you’re doing at that moment.

Most of the time you’ll just leave it in its normal Comfort setting, and the car will do its own thing, but the flexibility it offers means the 5 Series is very adaptable depending on the road conditions.

Integral Active Steering

The Integral Active Steering, meanwhile, is designed to make the car turn more quickly at low speeds and feel more stable at high speeds – a trick it achieves by electronically varying the angle of the rear wheels up to three degrees. Yes, the rear wheels steer as well as the fronts.

The stunning part about this is not so much that it works in exactly the manner described, but rather that you can’t really detect the changes – the 5 Series continuing simply to feel natural at all times.

As a result, so equipped this car absolutely lives up to BMW’s reputation for putting driver enjoyment at the forefront of its products. Add in xDrive as well, and you’ve got an all-weather executive express that certainly has the potential to leave many a sports car driver feeling very sorry for themselves.

BMW M5: handling

It won’t surprise you to learn that the M5 is by far the best-handling car in the 5 Series line-up, and it’s arguably also among the best in its class.

It uses a specific version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system that can be set to sent engine output to all four corners, or just to the rear axle for purer, more exciting handling.

On top of that, there’s an electrically controlled locking rear differential that optimises in-corner traction depending on the drive mode and style of driving currently employed.

Variable-ratio steering BMW calls Servotronic is on hand to sharpen responses where it matters, while the adaptive dampers are incorporated into the wider handling set-up to provide extra assistance when turning into a bend. This is carried out by stiffening the front outside shock to give the inside more bite when you first turn the steering wheel.

The result of all this trickery is an impressive thing to behold. The chassis in effect gets three settings, because there are normal and Sport configurations for all-wheel drive alongside the unruly rear-wheel drive setup that should probably be left for racetrack only, given the huge 750Nm of torque those back tyres have to contend with.

But we found it best leaving the M5 in its Sport all-wheel drive setting for road use. You’re then able to turn up the engine and gearbox response and add weight to the steering for thrilling handling performance. The chassis in this mode sends a decent chunk of performance towards the rear end without completely disengaging the front axle, so there’s always a safety net there to catch you if you’re a little over-excitable with the accelerator.

In this set-up you’ve got monumental levels of grip before anything exciting happens, though, making it easy to stitch together sweeping bends and make the most of that excellent V8.

BMW M5 Competition handling

There's been a fair amount of work the Competition's chassis compared with the normal M5. Stiffer engine mounts, a 7mm ride height drop, specially developed spring and dampers and lightweight 20-inch alloys all change the car's character quite considerably.

On the track, the Competition's pace devours sections of the track, while the 4WD Sport mode provides impeccable traction in the corners - but with a dose of rotation from the rear for fun. It's chiefly when it comes to braking does the M5's weight really starts to show - the brakes are undoubtedly strong, but it still takes a while to shed speed - at which point the body of the car starts and pitch back and forth.

For the UK, we found the changes a little bit too much. The car has transformed from a useable daily driver to more of a track-focused monster, and in that it's lost some of its appeal. Sure, more is often considered better, but the recipe wasn't broken. We wish BMW hadn't tried to fix it. You barely scratch the surface on the Competition's talents on the roads and we'd question whether you'd have a different vehicle for the track if you frequented there often enough to benefit from these upgrades.