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It set the benchmark for executive saloons when it launched, but does it still hold its own years later?

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The first BMW 5 Series was launched more than 50 years ago, so by the time this sixth-generation F10 saloon version of 2010-17 landed, Munich had the recipe just about right.

We liked this car for its performance and economy, quality cabin and refinement, but less so for its bland styling, below-par suspension and expensive options.

Even so, it sold well to ambitious executives, with the result that today the classifieds are stuffed with F10s at prices starting from £3000 for an early 520d with a starship mileage, rising to £19,000 for a late 535d with around 45,000 miles – not that diesel is the only choice.

The petrols didn’t sell anything like as well as the tax-efficient diesels, but there’s a wide selection of options ranging from 2.0-litre turbo fours and 3.0-litre sixes to the 4.4-litre V8 in the 550i (the V8 M5 is covered in a separate guide). Our testers were particularly enamoured by the 528i: its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot produces 242bhp, and the car can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.2sec.

Back to the diesels, and for good reason the undisputed best-seller was the 520d. It was great value new, powerful, refined (unless pushed too hard) and very economical. The version from 2014 with twin turbos (look for TwinPower Turbo on the engine cover) is the best.

There is a lower-powered 518d, but if you can afford it buy the 520d. Next up the range is the 530d, which does 0-62mph in just 5.8sec. The 535d blitzes it in 5.3sec, although we were more impressed by its real-world responsiveness.

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From mid-2013 all diesels became Euro 6-compliant. This was the year of the facelift, the 5 Series gaining some styling tweaks and, more significantly, bi-xenon headlights and improvements to the stop/start system, electronic handbrake, driver assistance systems and the automatic transmission.

Talking of which, the eight-speed automatic was an option on most engines, but we found the standard manual gearbox to be pleasant enough: it’s light but positive. Other options included Active Steer (it feels artificial), rear-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars: all expensive then and not worth a premium now.

Instead, it’s worth seeking out an F10 with adaptive dampers, which, especially when combined with smaller wheels, take the ride and handling up to a new level.

The model shares its platform with the 7 Series so, despite having a shorter wheelbase than that car, the cabin is roomy, especially in the rear. It’s beautifully finished, too, and the car has lots of standard equipment.

For example, entry-level SE trim has dual-zone climate control, a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system, leather seats and parking sensors. Luxury, the next one up, adds the BMW Professional Multimedia system and M Sport trim, powered front sports seats, M Sport alloys, sports suspension and a bodykit.

Strangely, for a car from the makers of the ‘ultimate driving machine’, the F10’s driving position is spoiled by the pedals being offset to the right. It’s a cross on an otherwise reasonably clean sheet.

True, you have to be careful to get the suspension and wheel combination right and be sure to pick the right engine for your needs and your wallet, but that’s what test drives were invented for.

RELIABILITY

Is the BMW 5 Series (F10) a reliable car?

A refined, spacious and economical car it may be, but the 5 Series isn't without its flaws and foibles. As with all German machines, if you look after it, it will look after you. So here are some of the things you should check before you buy:

Diesel engines: Those up to 2014 can suffer a sticky turbo wastegate and premature chain tensioner wear – listen for telltale rattling or tapping noises. Check that the 2011 recall concerning the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler has been actioned.

Petrol engines: The Vanos variable valve timing system can give trouble, flagged up by rattling at idle and poor performance. The high-pressure fuel pump and direct-injection modules are other weak spots.

Gearbox: On a car with an automatic gearbox, feel for jerky low-speed shifts and shuddering. Abused cars can suffer worn engine mounts that knock the manual gearbox out of gear. A high-mileage car may require a new clutch and dual-mass flywheel.

Steering and suspension: If the car is fitted with variable damper control, check the different settings are discernible on the test drive. Check the condition of the suspension springs and listen for unusual noises from the electric power steering system and for knocks and creaks from the suspension.

Tyres, wheels and brakes: Check for alloy corrosion, irregular tyre wear and that the brakes have plenty of life and aren’t binding.

Body: BMW 5 Series have a strong image and even older examples are worth repairing. For this reason, check the body for signs of painting and repair.

Interior: Check the air-con blows cold, because condenser failures are not 

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW 5 Series rear

To gain economies of scale, this BMW 5 Series is built on the same basic platform that sits beneath the BMW 7 Series (2008-2015), BMW 5 Series GT (2009-2017) and BMW 6 Series. BMW called it a backbone strategy. The most obvious result of this is that this 5 Series was larger than any that went before it; although the wheelbase was shortened by 100mm compared with the 7 Series and 5 GT, and at 2968mm it is longer than the then Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6.

The shared foundations also meant this 5 Series came packed with technology. Or at least, it did if your pockets were deep enough. Four-wheel steering, adjustable dampers and active anti-roll bars were all available on the options list.

Spoiler lip and trailing edges on rear lamps are both designed specifically to help achieve the 5 Series’ 0.28 drag coefficient

So what did you get with the basic car? For starters, it uses a conventional monocoque construction instead of the hybrid construction of the previous model (E60), while the body is a mix of steel and aluminium (bonnet, front wings and doors). The front suspension uses double wishbones and the rear a multi-link arrangement; both use steel springs and lots of aluminium components.

The Touring version is bigger than its predecessor, too. The estate’s 2968mm wheelbase is 82mm longer and the overall length grew by 64mm to 4907mm. Visually, despite creases in the bodywork and a sloping roofline that’s designed to make the 5 Series Touring look sleek, its significant dimensions are obvious from every angle – albeit not in an unattractive way.

The front of the Touring, from the grille right the way back to the B-pillar, is identical to the saloon. The rear lights are unique to the Touring. Contour lines run through them and join above the number plate to make the tail of the car appear wider.

The M Sport package was available on all 5 Series models and included a sports chassis and body kit.

INTERIOR

BMW 5 Series dashboard

As with exterior, the BMW 5 Series’ cabin is all about restraint. Beyond the joystick-style gearlever, there is little here that is likely to offend.

The Mercedes E-Class' dashboard was then dominated by two 12.3in large screens and the virtue of fewer and larger buttons, but once you’re familiar with it the 5 Series presents no problems to navigate. And for what it’s worth, in our opinion it is the BMW that has the more attractive appearance and upmarket feel.

Ergonomically there is just one fault: the pedals are slightly offset to the right. In other respects the seating position offers adequate space and adjustment for most shapes, and the major controls are well sited.

But it is in the rear of the cabin that the 5 Series’ extended wheelbase pays most dividends, with more shoulder and legroom than the previous model. There’s enough to accommodate two full-size adults in comfort (three at a push), and enough to trouble the E-Class.

Luggage space of 520 litres is fractionally less than the then class average, but by only a few litres; the E-Class holds 540 litres. Although the space is uniformly shaped, it is quite narrow between the rear arches.

The boot in the 5 Series Touring is a way off the best in class for load capacity. With a load bay that can take at least 560 litres, or up to 1760 litres with the seats folded, it can certainly swallow more than most would ever usually want to carry around. But the Mercedes E-Class betters it by no small margin, with a capacity of 695 litres (seats up) and up to 1950 litres (seats folded).

In general use, the 5 Series is a pleasantly convenient car to use thanks to touches such as the hydraulically operated cover that hides a compartment under the boot floor, a rear windscreen that can open independently of the tailgate and a rear bench that splits 40/20/40 as standard.

You got a generous amount of equipment as standard on the 5 Series SE, including dual-zone climate control, a 6.5in touchscreen iDrive system with sat nav and DAB, front and rear parking sensors and auto headlights and wipers.

Stepping up to Luxury granted you BMW's Professional Multimedia system which saw the iDrive gain a 20GB hard drive and real-time traffic updates, while the range-topping M-Sport models got partially electrically adjustable front sport seats, M-Sport alloys, suspension and bodykit, plus dark chrome exhaust tailpipes.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

BMW 5 Series diesel engine

Whatever you think of the way a BMW 5 Series looks and feels, there’s one thing that is virtually guaranteed to impress: the way it goes.

The best-selling 520d is a pleasant motor to use. It can become gruff if pushed very hard, but in general it has plenty of punch for overtaking and never feels overwhelmed by the 1625kg kerb weight, settling into an easy gait for cruising around at motorway and urban speeds. In 2013 BMW introduced a 518d to sit beneath it in the range, but we'd recommend the 520d instead, which returns the same economy, almost every time.

You’ll have to work the gearbox a bit for fast progress – many come with the eight-speed automatic – but the manual has the typically tight BMW shift, so it’s no chore to use.

The 530d 3.0-litre diesel’s headline figure of 254bhp is impressive enough on its own, but when it’s coupled to nigh on 400lb ft of torque, flat-lining from only 1500rpm, one can realistically expect fireworks.

They arrive in the order of a claimed 0-62mph time of 5.8sec, which is in the same ballpark as the Jaguar XF 3.0D S and the Mercedes E-Class E 350 CDI.

With two turbochargers, the 535d engine has been comprehensively re-engineered and produces 309bhp. The performance for a diesel saloon car is extraordinary; if anything, the claimed 0-62mph time of 5.3sec undersells the real-world, on-demand response. Perhaps of more relevance, though, is that this new 535d is significantly more refined than any previous big diesel of the period.

At the time of the F10's launch, CO2-driven company car choices were all the rage, so the petrols sold in smaller numbers. This resulted in investment made by BMW to downsize its petrol engines. The 528i, powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, offers 242bhp.

This combination of small capacity and forced induction results in a 0-62mph time of just 6.2sec and fuel economy of 43.5mpg combined. There is also the 300bhp 535i and the 442bhp 550i petrol options to choose from. The BMW M5, with 552bhp from its twin-turbo V8, will get from 0-62mph in 4.4sec.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW 5 Series rear cornering

It’s important to note that when we make comparisons between the BMW 5 Series and its competitors in terms of ride and handling, we are talking about differences you could only measure in nths of degrees, when tested back to back on the same stretch of demanding road or ride-and-handling test track.

Note, too, that the 5 Series is, in general, an excellent car to drive; it is quiet, it is comfortable and it soothes miles away with the same crushing ease with which it approaches going around corners. We would very happily recommend a 5 Series to anyone who wants one to drive 50,000 miles a year and occasionally enjoy themselves while they are doing it.

However, to maximise its potential it’s important to optimise the specification, of which the choices are many. And even then, in some areas the 5 Series is a touch weaker than its best rivals.

First, we’d avoid choosing anything larger than the 18in wheels. Smaller wheels are standard and, if you can bear their appearance, will be better still at providing a truly isolated ride. As it is, the 18-inchers mated to the standard (passive and non-adjustable) suspension let sharper road imperfections affect the cabin in a way that a Mercedes E-Class on 17s does not.

Adaptive dampers are optional on all models. With them fitted, small ripples are far better dealt with. Brake, turn (even modestly) and introduce a broken surface into the equation and the 5 Series fails to prevent noisy thumps with the same aplomb as an adaptively suspended car (even on 19in wheels) or an E-Class.

In SE spec and without the active chassis, the 5 Series also rolls more and has looser body control – surprisingly so at times, but hit the right specification (for example, the 518d with adaptive dampers but on 17in wheels we tried) and there's a lovely blend of ride and handling.

The BMW’s electrically assisted power steering is fine in its own regard (avoid the artificial-feeling Active Steer), but lacks the Jaguar XF’s fluidity.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW 5 Series

This is the area where the BMW 5 Series gained the clearest advantage over its rivals.

Take the 520d, as many thousands of company users will. It is more economical than a Mercedes E-Class 200 CDI. The Audi A6 2.0 TDI may match the BMW’s economy figures, but the BMW is 0.6sec quicker to 60mph. 

Notes of warning? The more powerful diesels’ economy disappoints when compared with the 520d (and the Audi A6), but still offer impressive figures given the level of performance on offer.

VERDICT

4 star BMW 5 Series

Be in no doubt, the F10 BMW 5 Series is a very accomplished car – arguably more for the breadth of its abilities than a strength in any single area. But it is also refined, spacious, economical and (for the most part) comfortable. If you are looking for an all-rounder, it's hard not to recommend it.

The Touring model is an estate car that offers a blend of refinement, performance, usability, unruffled dynamics and high-quality cabin finish that’s hard to fault.

And there is still pleasure to be had winding the 5 Series, regardless of bodystyle, down an appropriate B-road. Granted, the 5 Series feels most at home on a motorway, but it is not devoid of reward, provided you’re happy to enjoy a sense of fluidity rather than any immediacy. It’s a very usable, if not overly large, estate car.

You can’t fail to be impressed by the quality of the cabin and the amount of space on offer; the benefits of the 5 Series growth spurt can be clearly seen in the rear accommodation, if not the boot space.

More importantly, the 5 Series, especially in 520d form, makes better financial sense than any rival, and that makes it easier to overlook its shortfalls.

But somehow we are left wanting more. And the surprise is that we find ourselves wishing the Five was a little more engaging to drive. In standard SE trim there is more body roll than we expect, and yet the ride is not without fault. And the steering, although good, is obviously not hydraulic. While it is possible to remedy some of these issues with options, the new Five still feels a touch artificial rather than naturally right.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

BMW 5 Series 2010-2017 First drives