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First Drive: Is the updated BMW 5 Series still a class leader?

Darren Cassey, PA Motoring Reporter
·5-min read

What is it?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

In the car market there are a few iconic models that are the easy answer when people ask ‘what car should I buy?’ If you want an affordable roadster, for instance, you should buy a Mazda MX-5, if you want a supermini you buy a Ford Fiesta, and if you want a mid-sized executive car you get a BMW 5 Series.

The model is nearly 50 years old and is now in its seventh-generation. BMW has dealt the model a mid-life facelift, giving an already excellent car a little nip and tuck as well as updated powertrains.

What’s new?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

BMW has made sweeping changes to the exterior styling, though the many updates are admittedly subtle, with an updated front grille and headlights being the most obvious. There’s also a new highly specified trim level at launch called M Sport Edition, while the plug-in hybrid range has expanded to five models and mild hybrid technology is offered on all four- and six-cylinder engines.

In exciting news for performance car enthusiasts, the M550i is now available in the UK. It bridges the gap between the standard 5 Series models and the ultra-fast M5.

What’s under the bonnet?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

There are almost too many engine and body style configurations to list, with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options available. We had the chance to test the two ends of the spectrum in the form of the 520d (the entry-level diesel) and the aforementioned M550i.

The 520d uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine making 187bhp, returning fuel economy of 65.7 – 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 112 – 108g/km in saloon form. Despite being the entry model, it’s a decent engine that doesn’t feel overwhelmed at pulling around the big 5. In fact, it’s surprisingly responsive, so if you’re looking to keep costs fairly low there are few compromises to be made.

The M550i is a completely different beast. The 4.4-litre V8 makes 523bhp and 750Nm of torque, accelerating from 0-60mph in about 3.6 seconds. It lacks the outright ferocity of the M5, but therein lies its appeal, providing more than enough kick for everyday driving and a sonorous soundtrack to go with it.

What’s it like to drive?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

This is the best 5 Series generation for a while, because BMW has managed to make up the distance to its rivals on the comfort front while retaining much of what made them so great to drive.

Opt for more mainstream engine choices and you’ve got a sweet handling executive saloon that feels much smaller to drive than it really is. The 520d we tested was hardly fast, but it had just enough about it to make the most of the car’s fun handling while also being smooth and refined when you want to settle down.

The M550i is a revelation, though. With 523bhp it’s no slouch, but BMW has refrained from giving it the lairy styling or stiff suspension and other performance-focused upgrades seen on the M5. It’s therefore more subtle, both in looks and driving experience, encouraging you to put your foot down from time to time while remaining in sumptuous comfort.

How does it look?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

The 5 Series plays on its subtle premium appeal, with nothing particularly standing out on the exterior, preferring instead to blend into its scenery. It’s a handsome thing, though, with updates including a wider, taller front grille and slimmer LED headlights up front.

Some of the car’s lines have been tweaked to give it a more muscular appearance, and those who want something a bit more exciting can specify a sporty body kit and big alloy wheels that elevate the design nicely.

What’s it like inside?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

Inside, it’s a similar story, with subtle, minimalist design making the 5 Series a relaxing place to be. There’s a good compromise between touchscreens and physical buttons, too, with BMW refraining from putting climate controls deep within infotainment menus.

The updates work well, with a new leather steering wheel fitted with rearranged multifunction buttons and updated trim strips on the dashboard. Meanwhile, the infotainment screen and digital instruments are some of the best in the business, being easy to operate through the central controller dial.

What’s the spec like?

BMW M550i
(BMW)

The 520d M Sport Touring model we tested started at £45,150, which included velour floor mats, heated front seats, air conditioning, sporty body kit and BMW’s connected services. Our test car had over £10,000 of extra equipment, with highlights including adaptive LED headlights (£1,000), panoramic glass sunroof (£1,495) and a Technology Pack (£2,495).

The M550i starts at £68,590 and includes 20-inch alloy wheels, four-zone climate control, and M styling packages inside and out. This test model had an incredible £20,000 of options, including a £4,995 Technology Plus Pack with a £2,500 upgraded Bowers and Wilkins surround sound system, adaptive M suspension (£3,695) and an electric glass sunroof (£1,095).

Verdict

BMW M550i
(BMW)

It’s boringly predictable, but the new BMW 5 Series is probably the best in class. It might not have the comfort or styling prowess of some of its rivals, but as an all-rounder it’s tough to beat.

With so many engine options there’s something for everyone, while the addition of the M550i at the top of the range provides a fantastic alternative to the hardcore M5. The best value is to be found at the lower end of the range, though, where fuel economy is decent, equipment lists are acceptable, and the driving experience is just as impressive.

  • Model as tested: BMW M550i xDrive Saloon

  • Price: £68,590

  • Engine: 4.4-litre petrol V8

  • Power: 523bhp

  • Torque: 750Nm

  • Max speed: 155mph

  • 0-60mph: 3.6 seconds

  • MPG: 26.4 - 27.3

  • Emissions: 243 - 238g/km CO2