BMW 520d review

Although the smaller 3 Series might be the more famous car, it is the 5 Series that is arguably BMW's best and most important model. Having to combine class-leading driving dynamics, plenty of space, a highly equipped interior, and cross-country mile-munching comfort - all at prices below the exorbitant - is a tricky task, with the mid-sized executive car class one of the toughest around. The latest 5 Series has plenty to live up to then.

Review by Chris Lilly


For many cars, testing the entry-level engine specification can help find out any flaws that might be lurking and papered over with larger engines and more kit. That simply can't be the case for any successful executive saloon though, with each and every model needing to be a cracker for the range to thrive. BMW's 520d is no exception to that rule, especially when you consider the strength of the competition. With 190hp and 400Nm of torque going to all four wheels in this xDrive model, via an eight-speed automatic transmission, the 5 Series will get from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and theoretically hit 144mph. There is plenty of grunt available at any speed, with the number of gears no problem for the car's systems to control. Think of the top two gears as old-fashioned 'overdrive' ratios for high speed, high MPG driving. The rest of the time, the 2.0 litre four-cylinder diesel does all that can be expected of it, and frankly any higher specification 5 Series is just a luxury. Even with a fully loaded car there is no lack of get-up-and-go, and if you ever catch the gearbox in a wrong cog, the kick down is quick. The rest of the time, the engine/transmission combination is smooth and refined, especially at motorway speeds where you could be forgiven for thinking you were driving a 530d or similar. Traction is also excellent with the all-wheel drive xDrive system, though this will only really be noticeably better than the standard rear-wheel drive in wet or slippery conditions.


The 5 Series has long been the executive car of choice for those who demand not just a comfortable ride, but an enjoyable drive too. Consider everything as business as usual then. The 520d - being the least sporty of the 5 Series - wafts along very well. It doesn't have the cruising capabilities of a Mercedes E Class, but it will match the Jaguar XF and Audi A6 in terms of comfort. At the other end of the spectrum, only the Jaguar will come close to keeping up with a 5 Series down a twisty road. The balance between the two different handling traits makes the 5 Series one of the best all-rounders around - not just in its class, but on the market today. That's all out on the open road, but the same fundamentals transfer well to town driving too. The suspension is supple enough to keep the car from jarring over pot holes and speed bumps, but there is enough stiffness there to keep the car from leaning or feeling as though it's not agile. Considering how long the 5 Series, you can easily pilot the car around any environment, aided by precise and well-weighted steering. In terms of driving dynamics then, the 5 Series is just about every car you will ever need.


There is a Touring estate version available but it's the saloon that we've tested, and in stylish M Sport trim. The added styling elements add a welcome bit of sharp design to the 5 Series' looks. The overall design of the 5 Series is very good anyway, though each of its above rivals also do well in that department. Like the driving characteristics, the design departments have very distinctive trends to follow and, in this regard, personal preference is the biggest differentiator. Personally I slightly prefer the XF's styling, but the 5 Series is in a close second. The BMW is a fair old size, but that only helps with interior space. The boot is large enough for a family holiday away, and you'll only really need the Touring if you regularly carry a lot of stuff - the saloon is practical enough for most. Further forward, the cabin is more than large enough for four adults, even if they are all six foot plus. The head and shoulder room is plentiful too, and it's only a passenger in the central rear seat that will feel short changed. As usual, the harder cushion and transmission tunnel restrict space, but the option is there for short trips.


BMW 520d xDrive M Sport interior

Dealing with the first section of the header, the 5 Series is a comfortable car. The seats are supportive and reasonably cossetting, and high-class materials surround the occupants. The cabin is very tidy, and one of the nicest in its class at the moment. There are still a few too many buttons on the centre console for a car in this class, but the wide screen infotainment and instrument binnacle are nicely fashioned into the chiselled dashboard. The transmission tunnel isn't too high to make those in the front feel hemmed in, while the steering wheel is superb for those in the main seat. It's easy to get a good driving position in the 5 Series, and when you get a good sized wheel in front of you, it can make a big difference to the driving experience - an often underrated attribute. BMW's iDrive system controls everything very nicely and remains one of the best around with an intuitive menu lay-out and sturdy controls.


Apart from the 530e PHEV model, the 520d is the most economical of the 5 Series models. That's without the xDrive all-wheel drive set-up though, and in more restrained SE trim. In 520d xDrive M Sport specification, the official fuel economy figure comes in at 60.1 MPG, and you can get pretty close to that stat if you drive carefully. More normal driving around a variety of routes saw me finish with 48.1 MPG after a good few hundred miles with the BMW in my care. Thrashing the engine sees that drop by around 10 MPG, but the fuel costs will be easy to live with should you opt for the 520d. In the all important CO2 stakes, the 520d in this trim emits 124 g/km, for a good but not excellent score. Higher emphasis on CO2 emissions is placed on this type of car than on many others since the 5 Series is a company car favourite, and BIK rates are calculated on CO2 output. This model has a BIK rate of 26%, though that gets down to 22% with the 520d in a different specification. Unsurprisingly, the best on offer is the plug-in 530e with 46 g/km and a BIK rate of 9%.


The 5 Series biggest green feature is the 530e, with the PHEV model offering zero-tailpipe emission motoring for almost 30 miles and high MPG figures. The 5 Series as a whole though has a number of features that help improve efficiency, first of which is a new lightweight platform. Lessons have been learnt from the larger 7 Series - which in turn borrowed from iPerformance models - to use different materials to cut weight but increase strength. Unlike the 7 Series, a carbon-fibre spine isn't used on the grounds of cost, but aluminium, high-tensile steels, and magnesium have been used to shave up to 100kg off when compared to the outgoing model. Engines have been made more efficient across the board thanks to the use of the latest generation of TwinPower turbo units, which all feature stop/start technology and lightweight components. Aerodynamics have been improved too, with the likes of an active grille - which closes off elements when the powertrain doesn't need much cooling - and Air Curtains and Air Breathers that reduce turbulence in the wheel arches. BMW's drive mode select system can be set to Eco, which makes the gearbox change up sooner, restricts throttle response, and limits the impact of the air conditioning and other auxiliary systems. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 41.


The 5 Series is very well kitted out, with the party piece being the touchscreen remote control key-fob that you can use to check driving range, status of windows and air-con, and even make the car park itself while you're outside if you get the right specification. Semi-autonomous driving systems are linked to that capability, and supposedly make motorway driving easier. I dislike switching off while travelling at 70mph, but the system is of huge help in heavy traffic. Standard equipment includes BMW's excellent Professional Navigation system, which uses the also standard 10.25-inch high-res screen. 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, Drive Performance Control, LED headlights, heated front seats, and leather sports steering wheel are also standard across the range. The M Sport model tested boosted the equipment to 18-inch alloys, M Sport body kit inside and out, improved braking system, and M steering wheel. Added to the test car were BMW's head-up display, electric sunroof, variable damper control, soft close doors, 19-inch alloys, reversing camera, electric front seats, WiFi hotspot, gesture control for the infotainment system, leather trim, and remote display key. All in all, it added around £10,000 to the cost of the car.


The BMW 5 Series is quite pricy, even in such executive company. Then again, it is one of the best cars available to buy. The combination of comfort, agility, power, economy, practicality, and refinement are hard to beat. Sharper styling is a big improvement over what was a fairly conservative predecessor, while the levels of equipment available mean the 5 Series can tread on the toes of cars in the class above. Pricy yes, but worth the money.

BMW 520d xDrive M Sport rear

Model tested: BMW 520d M Sport
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre 190hp diesel / 124 g/km
Trim grades: SE, M Sport

On-road price: From £41,835.
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars

Click here for more info about this model range

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:29th Aug 2017

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