BMW 5 Series Review
It's not an overstatement to say the BMW 5 Series has set the standard for premium sport sedans — and wagons, too, when they're available — since it was introduced to the United States market in 1972. Since then, the midsize 5 Series has offered a near-perfect blend of performance, luxury and interior room.
Unless you live in inclement parts of the U.S., most BMW 5 Series cars you'll come across have rear-wheel drive; however, all-wheel drive (BMW's xDrive) has been optional in recent years. Traditionally, the 5 Series featured an inline six-cylinder gasoline engine, but BMW has offered four-cylinder and V8 variants in the recent past. Turbocharging has played a big part in the 5 Series engine lineup in newer cars, and the current generation is solely powered by turbocharged engines that offer both fuel efficiency and zippy acceleration. When people ask us to recommend midsize luxury sedans, 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 are even more satisfying to drive.
Current BMW 5 Series
Redesigned for the 2017 model year, the latest 5 Series continues to distance itself from its sport sedan roots in favor of boosting its comfort credentials. The overall cabin design hasn't changed much, but you'll notice improvements that include a reshaped steering wheel, glossy black trim surrounding the center stack and an inch of additional legroom in the back. The floating touchscreen is bigger than before and supports motion controls, so you can alter some settings by simply gesturing with your hands. The iDrive infotainment system has been upgraded and features a tile-based interface and available Apple CarPlay integration.
The base 530i features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The 540i is driven by a twin-turbocharged inline-six that develops a robust 335 hp and 332 lb-ft. Despite the extra power, the 540i isn't much thirstier than the 530i; both achieve good fuel economy for this class. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and AWD is available for both models. All engines and drivetrains utilize an eight-speed automatic transmission. The ultra-high performance M5 model skipped the 2017 model year. It returns for 2018 and is covered in a separate review.
We haven't spent much time in the 5 Series since its full redesign, but our early impressions are optimistic in its ability to deliver sublime passenger comfort. Performance is something of a mixed bag even though the 5 Series has shed more than 100 pounds since the last iteration. There's no doubt the 530i's four-cylinder provides exceptional fuel economy, but it feels strained when you really want to hustle the big sedan. Naturally, this engine feels livelier in the smaller, lighter 330i. There's still plenty of power on tap from the twin-turbo six-cylinder and you won't suffer much at the pump, but it's more expensive to the tune of a few thousand dollars. That said, you'll definitely want the six if you desire universally effortless acceleration.
Used BMW 5 Series Models
The previous, sixth-generation 5 Series was produced from 2011 to '16. Compared to its predecessor, it marked a return to a more conservative appearance, with a stronger familial resemblance to other BMW sedans. It was also bigger and heavier since it shared many mechanical components with the larger 7 Series. Interior controls and electronics were upgraded to the latest BMW norm, but the dashboard design returned to a classic driver-centric layout. Overall, this 5 Series represented a visual return to the past while embracing the technological advancements of the present and future.
Three engines were available at launch. Under the hood of the 528i was a 3.0-liter inline-six rated at 240 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. Powering the 535i was a turbocharged variant of that engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft on display. King of the performance hill was the 550i with a turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 producing 400 hp and 450 lb-ft (increased to 443 hp and 479 lb-ft in 2014 and 445 hp and 480 lb-ft in 2015). Rear-wheel drive was standard across the board, though the 535i and 550i could be equipped with the xDrive AWD system. The 535i and 550i came standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while an eight-speed automatic was optional and standard on the 528i and xDrive models. In 2012, the 528i ditched the six-cylinder in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder making 240 hp and 255 lb-ft. Additionally, the 528i could be ordered with xDrive. The diesel 535d bowed in 2014, offering 255 hp and 413 lb-ft from its turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder. Its 0-60 mph performance nearly equaled the 535i's, and fuel economy estimates exceeded even those of the frugal 528i.
Standard features on the most recent years of the last-generation 5 Series included 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 included 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 of the time, we found that the this 5 Series didn't have the same level of sport sedan zest as its predecessors. Instead, the car was more comfortable, spacious, efficient and luxurious. Although some may scoff at a four-cylinder midsize luxury sedan, the 528i's engine was superb, providing both strong acceleration and frugal fuel consumption. Still, we found the added oomph of the 535i and especially the 550i was breathtaking, while the 535d's torque-rich engine offered a unique combination of thrust and fuel economy. Downsides were few, and really only the lofty price and stiff competition prevented the 5 Series from being an easy choice.
Shoppers considering the 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. In 2012, new throttle programming corrected the lag issue from the previous year. Split rear seats that fold became standard equipment for 2013. In 2014, the 5 Series enjoyed mild exterior styling revisions, a revised iDrive controller and standard navigation. 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 to '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 such as 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 inline-six with 230 hp. The midgrade choice became the 535i with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six good for 300 hp. We'd argue this was in fact the best choice since 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 to 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 2.8-liter inline-six (190 hp) and a 540i with a 4.4-liter V8 (282 hp). 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).
Read the most recent 2018 BMW 5 Series review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used BMW 5 Series page.
For more on past BMW 5 Series models, view our BMW 5 Series history page.