By Jonathan Crouch
Once merely a bigger 3 Series sports saloon, BMW's Five Series has in more recent times become more of a shortened 7 series luxury limo. That was obvious when it came to the sixth generation version, though with the right spec, this model could still be a good driver's choice in the full sized executive class. Here, we're evaluating the post-2013 facelifted MK6 version of this car as a used buy, a model which brought buyers more engine options, higher-tech equipment, greater efficiency and a subtle restyle. There's very little not to like.
For well over four decades, the question facing customers in the segment for full-sized executive cars has less been why they should choose a BMW 5 Series but why they shouldn't. This was the car that ruled its marketplace, the business buyer's 'ultimate driving machine'. It's dangerous to meddle with such an enduring success story, but the Bavarians did just that in 2010 with the launch of the sixth generation 'F10' version.
Faced with stronger competition from the Audi A6, the Mercedes E-Class and the Jaguar XF, BMW decided that this car needed wider appeal, an approach requiring a few changes to the way it was presented. A 5 Series could still be a dominant driving machine - but with this MK6 model, you had to specify lots of costly extras to make it so. And it could still be a class leader for running costs - but you had to pay extra for a green-focused 'EfficientDynamics' version to achieve it. Those not prioritising these things could save their money - or spend it on less sensible attributes.
You might have expected these changes to frustrate the 5 Series faithful but the sales figures didn't reflect that. Indeed, this model quickly became the most successful car of its kind that BMW had ever made, racking up over a million sales in its first three years on sale. By 2013 though, rivals had upped their game, so to keep the MK6 model 5 Series sales momentum going, it was necessary for the Bavarian brand to do the same. Hence the need for this revised model with its extra engine options, additional equipment and subtle restyle. Hardly the most far-reaching package of changes - but then you don't dramatically update a winning formula, then do so once again after just a few years on sale. No, you create a car, well, much like this one. It sold until the all-new seventh generation 5 Series model was announced, late in 2016.
What You Get
This shape of the 'F10' sixth generation 5 Series, with its short overhangs, heavily contoured bonnet and strong side creases, caused a lot less controversy than that of its angular pre-2010 predecessor. Apparently, this model was styled to match its weight distribution, the bonnet, front wings and doors being fashioned from aluminium to help maintain the 50:50 weight distribution over the axles that the Bavarians feel is so important.
Here, we're looking at the facelifted MK6 model launched in 2013. BMW rarely makes radical mid-life changes to its mainstream models - and didn't do so here. As part of the updates, all models got either xenon headlights or extra cost Adaptive LED lamps. There were additional contour lines around the trademark BMW kidney grille and a restricted lower air intake, plus the indicator repeaters were moved into the door mirrors. Moving further back, the revised tail lights got slender, elegant LED strips and there was an additional crease in the rear apron supposed to emphasise the car's width and sporting stance.
One of the major changes made to the sixth generation 5 Series when it was originally launched was the increase in size over its predecessor. This was brought about by an 80mm increase in its wheelbase and the installation of a platform originally developed for much bigger models like the large 7 Series luxury saloon and the huge 5-door 5 Series Gran Turismo. That gave this car a slight advantage over its rivals, something you most keenly feel when sat in the back.
If your only experience of 5 Series motoring dates back to the old pre-2010 'E60' MK5 model, then you'll find that this car is far more spacious with significantly more leg and shoulder-room. Indeed, were it not for the prominent central transmission tunnel, you'd probably have reasonably comfortable long distance room for three adults.
At the wheel, the changes made to this revised post-2013 MK6 5 Series model were even more subtle than those made outside. Owners of the original version of this design might notice chromed strips bordering the central Control Display, while those who specified the optional Professional Media Package infotainment system got a larger rotary iDrive controller with a touchpad that allowed occupants to 'write' addresses with their fingertips. That was about it - but then few changes were needed. Even today, the sweeping dash still looks modern and the sensible layout means that you'll quickly feel at home. And the iDrive infotainment system, once hopelessly clunky and complex to use, is clever and intuitive.
As is the big, clear typically BMW instrument display that on an M Sport model, you view through a lovely grippy three-spoke leather-trimmed wheel. Next to the shard-like gearlever, you'll find the buttons to operate the Drive Performance Control system which enables you to adapt the behaviour of the car to the mood you're in and the road you're on. As you flick between the various modes, the digital display on the large screen that dominates the top centre part of the dash graphically changes to suit. It's all very slick.
And luggage space? Well, you can get to it a little more easily on post-2013 MK6 models fitted with the 'Comfort Access' option which, if the key is in your pocket, enables you to open the bootlid by merely waving your foot beneath the bumper. A great boon if you're approaching the car laden down with bags or boxes. Once revealed, the 520-litre cargo area of the saloon variant is actually a touch smaller than obvious rivals - all that extra wheelbase space went to benefit folk in the rear. Still, we're only talking 10 or 20-litres less than a rival A6 or an E-Class, which won't be a large enough margin to matter very much to many potential buyers. More of an issue is that BMW, like Mercedes, insisted on charging extra for the folding rear backrests that really help if you've got exceptionally bulky loads to carry. That means some cars you'll come across won't have this feature. If you're likely to be needing it on a regular basis of course, you're more likely to be considering the Touring estate 5 Series variant where the 560-litre boot (already large enough for a washing machine) can be extended to 1,670-litres. Or perhaps the Gran Turismo five-door hatch where the respective figures are 440 and 1,700-litres.
What to Look For
Most of the 5 Series drivers owning models from the 2013 to 2016 era seemed to be pretty happy with their cars on the evidence of our survey. However, inevitably, there were issues. One owner found his engine jerking at 40-50mph, this issue traced to a computer fault. Another reported steering wheel rattles, while yet another said the steering wheel squeaked, this latter problem traced to a slip ring that needed replacing. There were some issues with the sunroof assembly too. One owner found that it came apart on his car: another said the whole area just rattled. Look for that on your test drive.
One owner found that the driver's electric window went down every time he switched the engine on, while another said the radio kept turning itself on for no reason. On that subject, the useful mobile data element of the iDrive system was only provided to owners from new for the first three years of ownership and many didn't pay the money to renew it: find out from the seller if this has been done.
One owner found that the cruise control kept switching on by itself. And there were issues reported with worn alternator bushes and a faulty screen washer pump. On owner complained about the lack of an oil dipstick on the car, which does seem to be an omission. Apparently, dealers say you just wait for the low oil light to illuminate on the dashboard, then chuck a litre of oil in. There are also issues with the surfaces of the alloy wheels pitting: check the rims carefully on the car you're looking at.
(approx prices based on a 2014 520d ex VAT) An air filter costs in the £47 to £63 bracket, an oil filter costs around £14 and a fuel filter costs in the £27 to £30 bracket. Brake pads sit in the £33 to £50 bracket for a set. Brake discs sits in the £195 to £205 bracket. You'll pay around £19 to £26 for a drive belt, around £35 for a thermostat, around £85 for a water pump and around £500 for a radiator. Tyres sit in the £35 to £45 bracket. Wiper blades cost in the £4 to £18 bracket, though you could pay up to around £38 for pricier brands. The wing mirror glass is priced at around £13. Shock absorbers cost in the £80 to £85 bracket, though you could pay up to around £125 for a pricier brand. A cylinder head gasket costs in the £30 to £47 bracket, though you could pay up to around £67 to £125 for a pricier brand.
On The Road
On the Road
You come to any 5 Series with high expectations when it comes to the driving experience it'll offer. Previous versions, after all, have leaned heavily on the company's competition heritage and benefitted hugely from all the weeks BMW insisted they had to spend pounding round the Nurburgring. Yet this is at odds with the kind of driving most owners do. Over 90% of 'Fives' are, after all, bought with auto gearboxes by older customers who spend most of their lives on the motorway. Mindful of that, the engineers had a re-think for the original version of this 'F10' sixth generation model. It was time, they decided, to get a bit more real.
Which is why in completely standard form, even with the few minor suspension tweaks made to this revised post-2013 design, you may not feel this car to enjoy quite the sporting advantage over its rivals that older 5 Series models have had. But that depends a little on the way that the example you have in mind has been configured. By that, we mean the spec that was chosen for it at time of purchase and the set-up you select once out on the road.
Let us explain what we mean. Down by the gearstick, you'll find the rocker switch for the Munich maker's clever 'Drive Performance Control' system. It'll tweak the steering, throttle, gearchange response and stability control system thresholds depending on the operating mode you select. Ignore it, or select the relaxed 'Comfort' or efficient 'ECO PRO' settings, and the travelling experience in this car, though very comfortable, isn't especially memorable. Push the rocker switch forward into 'Sport' though and the reaction you get immediately feels keener and more alert. More like the kind of 5 Series enthusiasts used to love.
To really create that kind of car though, original buyers had to spend a bit of extra money on a few extra key features. First, and we'd say most important, is the 'VDC' 'Variable Damper Control' set-up. The object of VDC is to tweak the suspension so that it even better suits the 'Sport' and 'Comfort' Drive Performance Control settings you select. In each case, VDC also allows you to get a step more extreme, with ''Sport+' and 'Comfort+' options.
The second important dynamic option that original owners of this BMW could specify from new was the 'Integral Active Steering' system. When you're travelling above 37mph, this set-up is able to turn the rear wheels very slightly in the same direction as those at the front as you pitch the car into a corner, which means a sharper turn-in with extra stability. The system also has the extra bonus of being able to work in reverse at lower speeds, so below 37mph, the rear wheels move very slightly in the opposite direction to those at the front as you turn, tightening the turning circle and improving low speed response.
The final key dynamic option that buyers from new could consider was limited to those who'd selected a 5 Series with more than four cylinders. Pricier variants allowed customers to specify an 'Adaptive Drive' option, there to reduce lean in the corners by actively twisting the anti-roll bars.
Three key items then, and if you're fortunate enough to find yourself a post-2013 MK6 model 5 Series fitted with all of them, you'll get yourself a car that really comes alive, its lane-changing fluid and accurate with cornering akin to a shark turning towards a meal. Brilliant. Just as a BMW should be.
Of course, you may not want your car to be like that. For you, it may be enough for your 5 Series to merely be a luxurious, comfortable and user-friendly means of executive transport - essentially the shortened 7 Series that a detailed examination of the underpinnings suggests it is. If that's the case, then even the standard version is unlikely to disappoint, with its exceptionally high standards of refinement that are less due to copious soundproofing and more down to careful engineering at source. A polished ride too, further aided on Touring and Gran Turismo models by the standard fitment of air suspension. You'll also like the seamless elegance of the 8-speed auto gearbox that's optional on four cylinder models and standard on larger-engined ones. We're not surprised that virtually all buyers from new tended to specify it. No rival transmission is smoother or more efficient, always ready with the right gear at the right moment.
So. There are two distinct characters this car could assume - laid back or sporty. But what kind of engine should drive the set-up chosen? Let's start with petrol power. There's a 2.0-litre four cylinder unit that develops 184bhp in the 520i and 245bhp in the pokier 528i, the power increase able to reduce the 0-62mph sprint time from 7.9s to 6.2s in the case of the faster car. If you want more, there's a six cylinder 306bhp 535i model that powers to 62mph in just 5.7s, a V8 449bhp twin scroll turbo 550i variant that trims that to 4.6s and a flagship M5 super saloon that ups the output of that V8 to at least 560bhp and launches itself to the 62mph benchmark in just 4.3s. M5 buyers might find themselves a car that was specified with the optional 'Competition Package' that tweaked the handling for track heroics and boosted power to 575bhp.
All very interesting - and largely irrelevant to the vast majority of buyers who'll be wanting a diesel. The version the vast majority of them will choose is the 184bhp 520d. It uses the same four cylinder 2.0-litre diesel you can get with less power in the 143bhp 518d or with more grunt in the 218bhp 525d. For most people most of the time though, the performance the 520d offers - rest to 62mph in 8.1s en route to 141mph - is quite sufficient. A 518d needs 9.7s for the sprint, while a 525d manages that in 7s dead. But, as we said, the 520d offers a good balance between the two.
If you do need more pulling power than that, then one of the 3.0-litre six cylinder diesels will probably fit the bill, either the 258bhp unit from the popular 530d, good for 62mph from rest in 5.8s. Or the 313bhp powerplant from the potent 535d, a car able to trim that sprint figure back to 5.3s. Both variants must be artificially restrained at 155mph. If you're looking at either of these, an intriguing alternative option is the petrol/electric Active Hybrid5 model which mates the 306bhp petrol engine from the 535i with a 40KW electric motor to offer a decent balance between performance and parsimony.
Despite its enormous success over nearly half a century, BMW's 5 Series remains a car that's often underestimated. That's a little unfair, for if properly specified, this revised MK6 model can not only be the most efficient contender in its class from its era but also the best one to drive, a combination that takes some beating. Bear in mind that in developing this car, BMW's design team had not only to manage that but had also to cover off the build integrity segment buyers expected from an Audi and the gadgetry and ride quality such people would want from a Mercedes-Benz. An enormous task.
But not an impossible one, as this improved F10 generation 5 Series proved. True, it's a pity that in buying this model, if you're to really get yourself 'the ultimate driving machine', you've to find an example optioned up with pricey dynamic driving options. But even in standard guise, this is a hugely accomplished car, if one requiring familiarity and plenty of mileage over varying roads before its true qualities really begin to shine through. As you'd expect, it's quiet and roomy and in this post-2013 guise, it's also smarter, cleaner and even better on the balance sheet. A benchmark business BMW then. Just as a 5 Series has always been.