Parkers overall rating: 4.7 out of 5 4.7
  • Beautifully finished inside the 5 Series
  • Design evolution increases spaciousness
  • Optional extras include HUD and Gesture Control

BMW’s traditional driver-orientated interior layout has stepped up a notch with the latest 5 Series, taking inspiration from the more expensive 7 Series luxury saloon.

It’s still recognisably a BMW inside, while the free-standing central display screen is now 12.3-inches in size for all models. Otherwise the 5 Series remains spacious and airy up front, while a significant increase in design intricacy helps give the dashboard a first-class impression of quality without making its features more difficult to use.

The rotary controller remains the principle – and most intuitive – way of interacting with the iDrive infotainment system. The software has also been redesigned to make it easier to use the optional touchscreen capability, and the 5 Series now offers Gesture Control as well. As part of the mid-2020 update, Apple Carplay and Android Auto is also now fitted as standard.

Gesture Control: don’t bother

This has been improved since its introduction in the 7 Series, and now reacts more quickly and with greater consistency to the small number of hand and finger movements it understands, allowing you to do things such as dismiss on-screen notifications and change the volume without touching anything at all.

It’s a bit of a gimmick still, though, so we’d probably save the cash for something more useful. It’s still quicker to just turn the volume up or down using the buttons on the steering wheel or the volume knob itself.

Head-up display: do bother

The (also optional) head-up display is more useful. This projects information onto the lower portion of the windscreen in front of the driver so you no longer have to look away from the road to see – for example – the speed you’re travelling at or the satellite-navigation instructions, and with a 70% larger area it’s now handier than ever.

BMW has always been one of the pioneers of this technology, and it shows, with crisp graphics that aren’t too distracting.

Top quality (almost) everywhere

Emphasising the attention to detail BMW is now going to in order to compete with the quality of its rivals’ interiors, some elements of the dashboard in the 5 Series are individually laser scanned so that adjoining pieces can be made to exactly match them – for every individual car.

It’s a shame then that the knobs for the climate control feel just a little bit cheap. This aside, we have no complaints – while it doesn’t necessarily look as posh as the E-Class inside, it definitely feels more solid than the Merc, but will have some competition in the form of the Audi A6, while the Volvo S90’s simple and stylish interior also takes some beating.

Specific dials for the hybrid

Pick the 530e hybrid and you’ll notice a few changes to the instrument cluster – chiefly, there's the blue colour theme, but also the small secondary number showing battery range and a remodelled rev counter.

The speedometer dial remains on one side of the screen while the right dial switches to show how much power (in both electric and hybrid mode) you have in reserve as a percentage, related to how flat your right foot is.

Floor it and the needle rushes past the 40% mark denoting the maximum amount of electric drive available, and the petrol engine will start up. Using this gauge it’s possible to keep the 530e in all-electric mode without firing up the conventional motor.

BMW M5: behind the wheel

As you’d expect from a range-topping M car, the M5 has a lot of kit and high-quality parts for its interior. There’s a specially configured instrument display, showing parameters such as a gearshift indicator for optimum performance, all-wheel drive and adaptive damper settings, and drive mode information.

This information can also be projected onto the windscreen with an optional head-up display, though in some low-light conditions it’s so busy you can barely see what’s going on on the road in front of the car.

An M Sport multifunction steering wheel can be used to control the multimedia system but also features M1 and M2 buttons adjacent to the shift paddles, which allow the driver to switch to a pair of pre-configurable drive modes instantly. This handy feature means the M5 can instantly switch between an all-wheel drive long-distance cruising machine and a rear-wheel drive, traction-limited track-ready monster.

The front seats are electrically adjustable sports items finished in fine grain leather. Our only slight criticism is the driving position, which feels a touch too high to us, resulting in occasionally feeling like you’re sat on the M5, rather than inside it. This only becomes evident when you’re driving rather too quickly for most situations, though.

The M5 Competition's cabin benefits from added carbonfibre trim, but not a huge amount else.

Comfort

  • Exceptionally good ride quality with adaptive suspension
  • Very comfortable seats are supportive at the same time
  • Brilliant long-distance mile-muncher, but also good around town

Paired with 18-inch wheels (and smaller 17-inch wheels are standard on SE) the ride quality is exceptional. This is a big step forward over the preceding generation of 5 Series, and doesn’t even affect larger-wheeled models as much as you might think.

The 520d M Sport we’ve tested continues to ride beautifully, despite the optional 20-inch wheels fitted, sending only the occasional small ripples into the cabin. The standard 19-inch items should be even better and that's what we’d stick with, as it can begin to thump over bad surfaces.

However, compared with the tinny sensations you get from the latest Mercedes E-Class over lumps and bumps, the BMW always feels reassuringly solid and substantial. Despite being a pricey option, the flexibility and comfort offered by the Variable Damper Control system is also well worth considering.

Curiously, the 530d M Sport with the same wheel and suspension setup felt noticeably firmer, which, we may deduce down to the added weight of the all-wheel drive system resulting in a bumpier ride.

The standard-fit adaptive suspension on the M550i xDrive glides beautifully over road surfaces, making for one of the most comfortable models in the range as it isolates you from the road in a luxurious way, despite the 20-inch wheels fitted.

Even on Sport Plus mode the ride remains smooth - if anything, it simply quells the sensation of the body sometimes floating over bumps.

As a result, despite the added performance and glorious soundtrack on offer, the M550i xDrive isn't as compromising on comfort as you may think. View it as a wafting M5 and you may love the combination of comfort and pace.

In short, the 5 Series is a soothing long-distance cruiser all round, whicever one you choose. The seats are very comfy, with lots of adjustment – and an optional massaging function that actually feels like it’s doing you some good – while the straight-line stability makes it a relaxing partner for lengthy motorway journeys.

Refinement is also a strong point, with minimal vibrations in the cabin and just the right amount of engine noise to remind you that you’re driving a car from a sporty brand. Road noise is minimal, even on the larger wheels, and you barely notice notice the diesels when starting up - only when you work them hard do you tune into the faint diesel clatter.

While the 530e hybrid is whisper-quiet when operating in all-electric mode, the four-cylinder petrol engine gets a little noisy and coarse when pushed hard.

What’s more, the build quality is such that it suggests the 5 Series will continue to feel this good for a long time to come.

BMW M5: is it comfortable?

Given its startling performance, the M5 surprised us with just how comfortable it can be in full cruising specification and the dampers turned down to Comfort. It’s built for long-distance driving as well as those days when you’re on your favourite road and feel like dialling the speed up a little.

Of course, switch those dampers into Sport or Sport Plus modes and things firm up considerably, with an almost eradication of bodyroll at the expense of sharper bumps jolting through the car.

The M5 Competition is a harsher, less forgiving beast all around. If you're after comfort, it's best avoided.