New & Used BMW 5-Series: In Depth
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The BMW 5-Series is a collection of vehicles sharing some running gear, but ranging widely in body styles and powertrain types. Today's 5-Series lineup includes sedans, sports sedans, and a hatchback; with gas engines and turbodiesels, with a plug-in hybrid on the way.
The 5-Series is a core vehicle in the German automaker's lineup. Rivals include the Jaguar XF, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Cadillac CTS.
The high-performance variant of the 5-Series, the M5, is covered in a separate entry. The current M5 is powered by a twin-turbocharged V-8 that makes up to 600 hp.
MORE: Read our 2016 BMW 5-Series review
The 1997-2003 5-Series, known by the E39 chassis code name to insiders and enthusiasts, is considered one of the best examples of the model by those who appreciate a relatively simple but premium-feeling driver's car. BMW had made some major improvements in interior appointments, driving dynamics, and quality/reliability going into this generation.
In 2004, the BMW 5-Series was all-new, and that generation was a radical shift design-wise, incorporating a sleek, rounded front with swept-back headlamps, along with the so-called "Bangle Butt"—incorporating a downward-sweeping belt line and named after its designer, Chris Bangle—in back. This generation of 5-Series, called the E60 within BMW, failed to hit the mark with some longtime BMW fans. It's tough to offer a single criticism, but its swept-back exterior, smooth sheet metal, and more formal, less driver-focused instrument panel never went over very well with Bimmer loyalists. Factor in an armada of new tech features and a more isolated driving experience, and the 5 didn't always feel like the well-honed sport sedan it once was.
Initially, the E60 5-Series used engines carried over from the E39 car. So for the first couple of years, buyers were able to choose between the 525i's 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter in-line-six or the 530i's 225-hp, 3.0-liter six. For 2006, output was upped to 215 hp for the 2.5 and 255 hp for the 3.0, and a new 360-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 arrived in the 550i; it replaced the 4.4-liter used in the 540i.
Overall, this last generation of 5-Series was seen as very tech-focused. Among the features available in the 5 during these years was a Night Vision system, Active Roll Stabilization, Active Steering, High-Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, and a head-up display. To top it all off, the iDrive was judged by most as particularly frustrating here, though for 2010, the 5-Series was updated with the new fourth-generation iDrive system, which was much easier to navigate.
In 2010, BMW added a new body style to the 5-Series line, called the 5-Series GranTurismo (GT). This model is a cross between a hatchback and a sedan, offering a clever trunk/hatch area as well as added rear-seat legroom to rival that of the larger 7-Series. The 5-Series GT is the closest thing that U.S. customers can get to a 5-Series wagon now, as that body style is no longer sold in this market, although available elsewhere.
The new BMW 5-Series
The current F10 5-Series, which was introduced for 2011, marks a return to some of the styling cues abandoned from the E39 and offers more accessible technology and a more direct driving feel. The 5-Series shares a number of components with the latest 7-Series model and again with the expanding 6-Series range. As before, there's a wide variety of models, including rear-wheel-drive 535i (300-hp turbocharged six-cylinder engine) and 550i (440-hp twin-turbo V-8) variants, as well as all-wheel-drive xDrive models, with an entry 528i now part of the lineup.
The new base model was introduced in 2012, called 528i and powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces 240 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, and actually makes the 5-Series a bit quicker than with the previous naturally aspirated six. It also returns better fuel economy ratings—up to 34 mpg highway with the eight-speed automatic.
For 2013, BMW phased in a new twin-turbo V-8 (keeping the 550i name that previous normally aspirated V-8 cars wore) that offered more horsepower and torque (445 hp and 480 lb-ft), along with much-improved fuel economy. Also, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 joined the lineup, combining a 300-hp turbo six with a 54-hp electric-motor system and 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery, and all 2013 5-Series models got a new configurable gauge cluster. A "contactless" trunk opener that lets you open the trunklid with a movement of your foot was newly available that year as well.
Also for 2013, an all-new version of the BMW M5, a performance legend, was offered with a 560-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8 and six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
The 5-Series received a mild visual refresh and some modified infotainment options for 2014. A rear-seat entertainment system was made available, navigation became standard, and the iDrive interface and controller were modified to include a touch-sensitive control knob for written inputs and gesture capability. In what is likely this generation's last or penultimate model year, the 5-Series receives some modest changes for 2015, including the deletion of the Modern Line appearance package.
A plug-in hybrid version of the 5-Series is on the horizon, with the 530Le already announced for the Chinese market. This vehicle will use the same basic plug-in drivetrain that has found its way into the X5 and will be made available in most BMW products within the next few years. It retains its rear-drive layout, but all-wheel drive may also be available, as it is in the X5.