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It's not an overstatement to say that the BMW 5 Series has set the standard for premium sport sedans -- and wagons, too, at least until the sedan-only current generation debuted. Introduced in the United States for 1972, the midsize 5 Series has long offered a near-perfect blend of performance, luxury and interior room.
Most BMW 5 Series cars you'll come across are rear-wheel drive; however, all-wheel drive has been optional in recent years. Traditionally, the 5 Series featured an inline six-cylinder gasoline engine, but BMW has offered V8 versions since 1994, and the current generation now offers both a turbocharged four-cylinder and a diesel-powered inline-6. When people ask us to recommend luxury cars, BMW's 5 Series is invariably high on the list, new or used. Many will gravitate toward newer models loaded with technology, but older 5 Series cars can be just as satisfying to drive and own.
Current BMW 5 Series
The current BMW 5 Series sedan is available in four trim levels. The base 528i features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Stepping up to the 535i gets you a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The 535d boasts a 3.0-liter diesel inline-6 rated at 255 hp and 413 lb-ft. Finally, the 550i has a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that pumps out 443 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque.
Each 5 Series model comes standard with rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional. An eight-speed automatic transmission is mandatory across the board.
Standard features on the current 5 Series include adaptive xenon headlights, a sunroof, power seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker sound system and the iDrive electronics interface with navigation. The lengthy options list includes parking sensors, a night-vision camera, adaptive cruise control, an automatic parallel parking system, a dual-screen rear entertainment system, premium audio and heavenly 20-way "multicontour" front seats.
In reviews, we've found that the current 5 Series doesn't have the same level of sport sedan zest as its predecessors. But the upside is that the car is more comfortable, spacious, efficient and luxurious. Although some may scoff at a four-cylinder midsize luxury sedan, the 528i's engine is superb, providing both strong acceleration and frugal fuel consumption. Still, the added oomph of the 535i and especially the 550i can be breathtaking, while the 535d's torque-rich engine offers a unique combination of thrust and fuel economy. Downsides are few, and really only the lofty price and stiff competition prevent the 5 Series from being an easy choice.
Used BMW 5 Series Models
The current-generation BMW 5 Series debuted for 2011. Compared to the previous-generation 5, it marks a return to a more conservative appearance, with a stronger family resemblance to other BMW sedans. It is also bigger and heavier, as it shares many mechanical components with the 7 Series. Interior controls and electronics have been upgraded to the latest BMW norm, but the dashboard design returns to a classic driver-centric layout. Overall, the latest 5 Series represents a visual return to the past while embracing the technological advancements of the present and future.
For 2011, the 528i was rear-wheel-drive only and powered by a 3.0-liter naturally aspirated six-cylinder that produced 240 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque. Its fuel economy wasn't nearly as impressive as the turbocharged four-cylinder that replaced it, but it did offer a six-speed manual transmission for those so inclined. Shoppers considering this first model year should note that every 5 Series engine suffered from significant throttle lag -- i.e., delayed response from the gas pedal -- that could make the car difficult and irritating to drive. Complaints from consumers and critics alike were common, though this issue is reportedly resolvable via a software update.
The 528i switched to four-cylinder power for 2012 with a mandatory automatic transmission, and new throttle programming corrected the lag issue from the previous year. Split-folding rear seats became standard equipment for 2013. The diesel 535d debuted for 2014 -- as did mild exterior styling revisions, a revised iDrive controller and standard navigation -- while the 550i added extra helpings of power and torque. Sadly for stick-shift enthusiasts, the 535i and 550i lost their previously available six-speed manual transmissions for 2014.
The previous, fifth-generation 5 Series was produced from 2004-'10. On the surface, this 5 Series incorporated bold styling cues that departed from BMW's traditional styling language established over the preceding four generations. Inside, the 5 boasted one of the most spacious and comfortable cabins in its class, particularly when optioned with the fantastic multicontour front seats.
There were a number of different model designations used for this generation, as well as a wagon body style. For 2004 and '05, it was offered only in sedan form and only with rear-wheel drive. There were two six-cylinder models, the 184-hp 525i and 225-hp 530i, along with a top-line V8 version, the 325-hp 545i. Throughout this generation, a six-speed manual transmission was standard and a six-speed automatic optional. For 2006, the entire engine and model lineup was refreshed. The six-cylinders both displaced 3.0 liters, resulting in a more spirited 215-hp 525i and a 255-hp 530i. The top-of-the-line sedan became the 550i and featured a 360-hp 4.8-liter V8.
The 5 Series wagon also arrived for 2006. It was offered in a single 530xi model and all-wheel drive came standard. Additionally, all-wheel drive became optional for the 530 sedan. For 2007, additional standard equipment like an auxiliary input jack and BMW Assist was provided, while new options include high-definition radio, BMW's Night Vision system and 20-way-adjustable front seats.
For 2008, the six-cylinder engines were replaced. The base engine was now found in the 528i, which featured a 3.0-liter 230-hp inline-6. The midgrade choice became the 535i with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp. We'd argue this was in fact the best choice, as it offered similar performance for less money than the unchanged 550i. The xDrive all-wheel-drive system was now optional on the 528i and 535i sedans, while the wagon could only be had in 535i xDrive form.
A significant new feature for the fifth-generation 5 Series was the iDrive electronics interface, which corralled audio, climate, navigation and communication functions using a central LCD screen and console-mounted control dial. Originally, this system was rather cumbersome to use and could make seemingly simple tasks a confusing, multistep affair. For 2009, the 5 Series received an updated iDrive control knob and menu buttons, but the old cumbersome menu structure remained the same. For 2010, the entire iDrive system was updated with the menu structure of newer BMWs as long as you ordered the navigation system.
In reviews, we reported that this BMW 5 Series was an exceptionally well-balanced machine, handling aggressive driving on winding back roads just as easily as it dispatched weekday commutes on crumbling expressways. Its blend of comfort and control bordered on the amazing. The steering was equally sublime, with perfect weighting and a near-telepathic feel; however, it could be rather stiff in parking lots. If you like the styling and aren't irritated by its electronics interface, this 5 Series is an excellent choice for a used luxury car.
The fourth-generation BMW 5 Series was produced from 1997-2003. Many purists consider this the finest era for the BMW 5 Series, as exceptional on-road dynamics, premium furnishings and unparalleled refinement came together in one classically styled package. Provided it's well-maintained, any car from this generation is worth your consideration.
For 1997 and '98, only sedans were offered: a 528i with a 190-hp 2.8-liter inline-6 and a 540i with a 282-hp 4.4-liter V8. The wagon joined the lineup in 1999 and was available with either engine, both of which gained variable valve timing that year. In 2001, the 528i sedan got a new 225-hp 3.0-liter six and became the 530i, while the 528 wagon was dropped. BMW also added an entry-level 184-hp 525i sedan and wagon to the lineup.
Third-generation BMW 5 Series cars (1989-'95) were also highly regarded. Although not as finely balanced as its successor, this 5 Series still represented the pinnacle of German sport-sedan engineering at the time. If you find one in good condition, you'll almost certainly find it enjoyable to own. The best years were 1994 and '95 when BMW offered V8 power in two 5 Series with the 530i sedan and wagon (215 hp) and the 540i sedan (282 hp).
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new BMW 5 Series page.
For more on past BMW 5 Series models, view our BMW 5 Series history page.