- The car: BMW 520d SE
- Run by: Steve Huntingford, editor
- Why it’s here: To see if this class-leading luxury saloon also makes a great family car
- Needs to: Offer outstanding comfort and refinement, a sumptuous and practical interior, and low fuel consumption
Price £36,815 Price as tested £42,815 Miles 9940 Official economy 68.8mpg Test economy 47.0 Options fitted 18in multi-spoke alloy wheels (£995), Electronic Damper Control (£985), electric front seats with driver’s memory (£895), Glacier Silver paint (£675), enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging (£475), sports front seats (£475), reversing camera (£375), folding, anti-dazzle door mirrors (£335), split-folding rear seats (£335), Anthracite headlining (£265), Apple CarPlay (£235), Display Key (£235), adjustable lumbar support (£225), Gesture Control (£160), online entertainment (£160), High-beam Assistant (£95), run-flat tyres (£0), wi-fi hotspot (£0)
19 April 2018 – saying goodbye to the BMW 5 Series
Sales of saloons are on the slide as an ever-greater number of people are seduced by SUVs. But do these butch, high-riding hatchbacks really offer superior practicality, or are the best modern four-doors as good at coping with family duties as they are at soothing their drivers on the daily commute?
Over the past eight months, we’ve been finding out with the help of the latest BMW 5 Series. Going in, we knew that if any car was going to advance the saloon’s case, it would be this one, because it stands out by being quieter, classier and comfier than any rival.
Specifically, we chose the 520d diesel version, because this is the biggest seller. Or, to be more accurate, it’s the most popular version among the company car drivers that make up the bulk of 5 Series ‘owners’, due to its low CO2 emissions and correspondingly low benefit-in-kind tax bills.
Where we broke from groupthink was in overlooking the near-ubiquitous M Sport trim in favour of entry-level SE, which has smaller wheels that improve the ride and still comes equipped with everything from sat-nav and leather upholstery to front and rear parking sensors and an automatic gearbox.
Our car also had a long list of options fitted, ranging from the advisable (Electronic Damper Control, for £986), to the practical (split-folding rear seats, £335) and the just plain gimmicky (Gesture Control, £160). But on reflection, not specifying the £225 head-up display was a mistake, because the regular speedometer isn’t particularly clearly marked unless you put the 5 Series in its Sport mode.
Fortunately, the rest of the driving experience is hard to fault, with the car feeling remarkably taut and responsive for such a big beast and gliding across poorly surfaced roads. And where BMW’s four-cylinder diesel engines have previously been a bit grumbly and prone to vibration when cold, the latest 520d is so smooth and hushed that you question the point of upgrading to the six-cylinder 530d.
The infotainment system is another strength, being as intuitive as it is quick to respond, while the interior remained rattle-free and looked especially stunning at night, thanks to the ambient interior lighting that lets you choose from 11 colours.
However, the big surprise was the practicality. Yes, tall adults would probably be a bit more comfortable in the back of similar-priced luxury SUVs, thanks to their higher rooflines and more upright seating, but as someone more worried about fitting my toddler’s enormous rear-facing child seat in the back of the car, the 5 Series actually suited my needs better, thanks to the greater distance between its front and rear seats.
Similarly, while SUV’s have larger boot openings, few offer as long a load space as the 5 Series – something that’s welcome when you need to transport a baby buggy or golf clubs.
The final piece of good news came when I calculated the fuel economy I’d been getting. The 520d averaged 47mpg during my time with it, despite my daily commute involving plenty of congested urban roads, while on long motorway runs it was hitting 64mpg without me trying particularly hard.
Okay, the latter figure still falls slightly short of the official average, but it was put into perspective for me recently when I swapped into a plug-in hybrid SUV for a few days and averaged just 24.4mpg in similar conditions. Maybe we shouldn’t be in such a rush to get out of our diesels or our saloons after all.
BMW 5 Series – test data
Dealer price now: £28,745 Private price now: £27,560 Trade-in price now: £25,985 Cost per mile: 11.9 pence Total running costs: £1143.24 Insurance group 32 Typical insurance quote: £849
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