BMW 5 Series (2010-2017) Review
The BMW 5 Series saloon offers an unbeatable blend of performance, comfort and low running costs
Strengths & weaknesses
- Efficient diesel engines
- Technology still up to date
- Fun to drive
- Less standard equipment than rivals
- Bland design
- Less comfortable than a Mercedes E-Class
It's no longer on sale, but this version of the BMW 5 Series is still one of the finest cars you can buy whatever the price.
There's space for four tall adults - five if one of them is more average-sized, - a smooth, quiet ride that will keep them comfortable, and a solid, interior that feels well made. The best seat of all is behind the wheel where the BMW's grip, fast and agile steering responses, and powerful engines allow it to zip through country lanes like a sports car.
It's a blend of comfort and performance that few cars can match: only the Jaguar XF could come close to the BMW when it was on sale, although the new BMW 5 series, currently on sale, has managed to improve in every area.
A Mercedes E-Class from the same era is more comfortable on rough roads and an Audi A6 feels even more luxurious inside. Taller sport utility vehicles (SUVs) such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Volvo XC90 give the driver a better view and offer more interior space, but none of these are as multi-talented as the 5 Series - as long as the car is fitted with an advanced suspension system called variable damper control (VDC). This was an option available for all cars, and constantly adjusted itself to match the road conditions, helping to keep the car stable and smooth.
The car's class-leading attributes meant that it performed well in showrooms too. So there's plenty of choice for used buyers. The vast majority of 5 Series are diesels, most of which offered power and fuel economy. The range stretches from the least powerful 518d diesel, which is economical but not very fast, to the blisteringly fast petrol-powered M5 that accelerates faster than some Porsche 911s but stil has room for five.
Every 5 Series came with alloy wheels, leather seats, Bluetooth for connecting a smartphone wirelessly and - from May 2013 - sat-nav as standard. Advanced equipment, including a useful head-up display that projects speed and navigation information onto the windscreen, and adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from the car in front, were available too, as well as further luxuries such as heated rear seats and night vision.
A large boot means that the 5 Series is practical, even though it's a saloon - with a boot that's separated from the rest of the interior - which generally offers less flexibility than a hatchback. For more space, choose the BMW 5 Series Touring - the estate version of the car.
A decent reliability record is another plus point, especially considering that BMW repair costs tend to be high if things do go wrong. For a car of its age, the BMW 5 Series is extremely safe. It's got Isofix points to securely mount two child seats and scored five stars out of five in independent Euro NCAP crash tests that were carried out in 2010. However, those tests have become far tougher for the latest models, which need to perform to a higher standard to get the same rating.
|Three years/unlimited miles
|Tax (min to max)
|£20 to £290
Best BMW 5 Series for...
Best for Economy – BMW 520d SE
The 520d engine has an official mpg rating of more than 76mpg and low CO2 emissions, so owners pay just £20 a year to tax it. Performance is still reasonable.
Best for Families – BMW 520d Luxury
When new, Luxury trim cost almost £3,000 than SE but the difference for used cars is narrower, so you can justify the extra cost for sat-nav with live traffic information to avoid jams and larger 18in alloy wheels.
Best for Performance – BMW 535d M Sport
Although there’s a more powerful 550i petrol engine, as well as the fire-breathing M5, the 535d diesel is has the best balance of performance and affordability. It feels fast because it delivers power as soon as you press the accelerator, without the need to rev it. M Sport cars have chunkier bumpers to look sportier, plus firmer suspension that makes the car feel sharper and more responsive in corners. New buyers could opt for the standard suspension for more comfort.
One to Avoid – BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Luxury
The ActiveHybrid 5 lags behind the latest hybrids: it can’t be charged up at home and offers no real electric-only driving capability, just an electric boost for the petrol engine. As a result, its fuel-economy figures aren’t that impressive and its not cheap, even as a used car.
- March 2010 Goes on sale in UK
- July 2010 M Sport trim joins range with firmer suspension and chunky exterior additions for a sportier look.
- September 2010 Powerful 535d diesel engine added to line-up
- July 2011 Frugal ‘EfficientDynamics’ 520d is introduced, returning an official 62.8mpg
- September 2011 520i and 528i petrols introduced
- November 2011 The most powerful 5 Series, the M5, goes on sale
- January 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is launched - with minimal efficiency benefits
- May 2013 An update to the 5 Series range makes sat-nav and an emergency call system standard on all cars. Efficiency tweaks mean all engines meet the latest Euro 6 standards.
- May 2014 New 518d and 520d twin-turbo diesels introduced, with CO2 emissions as low as 109g/km and official fuel economy of more than 65mpg.
- February 2016 Replaced by the new BMW 5 Series
Understanding BMW 5 Series names
Details about the engine are included in the car's model name. The 5 stands for 5 Series, and the two following numbers give a vague indication of the engine's power. The larger the number, the more power. A 'd' means diesel and an 'i' means petrol.
Trim M Sport
The trim levels indicate how much equipment came as standard. SE was the lowest level, followed by Modern (until 2015), Luxury and then M Sport. Used cars may have optional extras fitted as standard, so it's worth checking the full specification.
The gearbox fitted to the car may be included in its description, but is often left out, so you'll need to check the specification to make sure it's fitted with the one that you want.
BMW 5 Series Engines
Diesel: 518d, 520d, 525d, 530d, 535d
Petrol: 520i, 528i, 535i, 550i, M5
Hybrid: ActiveHybrid 5
BMW 5 Series buyers had a lot of choice, but most opted for a diesel. That's because there was a strong case to be made for just ignoring all of them bar the 520d.
With 60mpg+ fuel economy, 0-62mph acceleration in less than eight seconds, and smooth, effortless power when you pressed the accelerator, it’s an impressive engine that will do everything most buyers of this type of car ask of it. As with virtually all other cars, the fuel economy is lower in real-world driving. Estimates from the Equa Index, which is based on public-road tests, suggests that you can expect close to 50mpg which is a respectable result.
Every car built since May 2013 conforms to the latest Euro 6 emissions standards - ahead of schedule - so will avoid the T-Charge and Ultra-Low Emission Charge in London.
There’s a less powerful 518d diesel, too, but this is rendered a bit redundant by the fact that, in their most efficient form (with small wheels and an automatic gearbox), fuel economy is little different to the 520d.
The 525d and 530d offer more power but at the cost of lower efficiency, while the top-of-the-range diesel, the 535d, makes the 5 Series into a seriously swift car that can cover ground at an incredible rate, while still topping 50mpg economy, based on official results and around 40mpg in real-world driving.
The five-strong petrol engine range runs from the 520i, 528i and 535i and 550i before peaking with the M5. None of these engines have anything like the fuel economy of the diesel cars, although performance is strong - particularly from the 535i upwards. The 550i sounds fantastic and delivers incredible performance, but it is very expensive to run. You’re better off with the dedicated high-performance version of the 5 Series, the BMW M5.
There’s also a BMW 5 Series hybrid, known as the ‘ActiveHybrid 5’. Petrol-electric tech has moved on a bit since it was introduced, though: this isn’t a plug-in hybrid that can be driven for a significant distance on electric power alone. That means its CO2 emissions and fuel-economy figures leave a lot to be desired, so there’s little reason to go for it.
2016 BMW 5 Series engine range
|Official fuel economy
BMW 5 Series Trims
SE, Luxury, M Sport
The standard equipment included with the BMW 5 Series changed throughout its life, so the best way to ensure that a car has the equipment you are looking for is to check its specification sheet carefully. This will also highlight any optional extras that it has.
In 2016, 5 Series cars in SE trim offered almost everything that most buyers would want or need. Sat nav was standard, and you also got 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone air-conditioning, Bluetooth for connecting a phone wirelessly, digital radio, a 6.5in dashboard screen, leather seats, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights that switch on when needed, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a leather steering wheel and bright xenon headlights.
Luxury trim makes the 5 Series feel a little bit plusher inside, with illuminated door sills, fine wood trim and extra stitching for the leather seats. Other kit includes a 20GB hard disc for music storage, 18in alloy wheels, bright LED foglights and an upgraded sat-nav system with live traffic information.
M Sport tends to be very popular with BMW 5 Series models thanks to its sporty-looking bodykit and unique alloy-wheel design with five double spokes. There are also M badges inside and out and M Sport lowered suspension (which could be deleted at no cost if you’d prefer a more comfortable ride).
BMW 5 Series Reliability and warranty
For a large, expensive and - for its age - hi-tech car, the BMW 5 Series is quite reliable. It was 77th out of 150 cars for reliability in the 2016 Auto Express Driver Power survey, which is a respectable mid-table result.
Overall owner satisfaction was even higher: respondents voted the car the 53rd best to own out of 150.
If you're a high-mileage driver, then you can buy a recent car with confidence, as it will still have much of its three-year warranty from new, which has an unlimited mileage, so you'll be covered no matter how far you drive.
Used BMW 5 Series
As the BMW is such a strong car in so many respects, it unsurprisingly holds its value pretty well on the second-hand market.
Diesel-engines cars in M Sport specification are the most highly sought after, so if you really want to bag a bargain you may have to look out for one of the less efficient (and rarer) petrol 5 Series in SE or Luxury trim.
It's worth aiming for a car that was built after May 2013 if your budget allows. These have engines that comply with the very latest Euro 6 emissions standards, so you are less likely to be affected by any future diesel charges. Sat-nav was standard across the range, as well as eCall, which can automatically dial the emergency services after a crash.
Very few BMW ActiveHybrid 5s were sold new in the UK, but if you do come across a used example, it's probably best avoided for the same reasons that it was when new: it doesn’t have the latest hybrid technology so it’s not all that efficient – especially compared to the less expensive diesel models.
The best value is probably to be found in year-old 5 Series models, which, although still expensive, will have lost around a third of their list-price value, while still having plenty of warranty cover and usually a fairly low mileage.