The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Every BMW 5 Series has a comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, with electric seat height and backrest angle adjustment as standard. The M Sport models have bigger side bolsters to hold you in place more securely when cornering quickly. There’s also plenty of steering wheel adjustment, and the driver’s seat drops lower than it does in the rival Mercedes E-Class, so you feel as though you’re sitting in, rather than on top of, the car.
Fully electrically adjustable seats – with a memory for different driving positions – are, unsurprisingly, an optional extra. What's disappointing on a car such as this, though, is that you also have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support. This important feature really should be standard on a luxury car at this price point, but the saving grace is it doesn't cost the earth to add. It's well worth doing so.
Beyond that, the 5 Series is hard to fault. You get digital instruments as standard (a head-up display is optional), the dashboard is clearly laid out and all the controls are within easy reach, with physical buttons for all its major controls. That's not the case in the Audi A6, which uses a touchscreen for the climate controls, and, while that looks great, it's distracting to use while driving. The enormous, cosseting armrests, positioned ideally either side of you, seal the deal for the 5 Series being about as comfortable on a long trip as any car can be.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Seeing forwards out of the 5 Series, over its bonnet, is no problem at all, thanks to relatively slender front pillars and a tall, wide windscreen. It’s the same story looking sideways – you get a good view out at roundabouts and T-junctions.
Seeing what’s going on behind isn’t quite as easy, but many rival saloons have similarly restricted over-the-shoulder visibility; indeed, the E-Class's thicker rear pillars make it even tougher to park. Fortunately every 5 Series comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard, so judging distances – forwards or backwards – is never that tricky. A rear-view camera is a worthy addition if you're still concerned about parking, and it's not very expensive.
At night, bright LED headlights are standard, and LED foglights are added to M Sport trim. You can upgrade the headlights to clever adaptive LED units; these can stay on main beams but shape their light field around any cars in front to avoid dazzling other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every 5 Series comes with BMW’s range-topping Professional Multimedia system, which packs a whopping 12.3in widescreen, Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto), sat-nav, various online services, a DAB radio and even a built-in 20GB hard drive on which to store your music. It’s one of the best systems going, with easy-to-follow menus and responsive software – more so than the Mercedes E-Class's occasionally dim-witted system.
The 5 Series' screen is touch-sensitive, so you can control it by pressing it, in much the same way you would an iPad. However, between the front seats, there’s also a rotary dial that's surrounded by shortcut buttons. If you're driving, using this is much easier (and safer) to use than the touchscreen, because you just twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to make selections. With touchscreen-only systems – such as you get in the Jaguar XF and Audi A6 – you have to look away from the road to find and hit the icons.
A concierge service is standard, and helps with tasks such as finding parking places and service areas, while on the options list you’ll find a range of increasingly powerful sound systems (the 16-speaker Harman Kardon system will be appreciated by music fans), a wi-fi hotspot and a digital TV. There’s even a gesture control feature, which lets you operate certain functions using mid-air hand signals; it's more of a gimmick than a useful gadget, though.
There’s no danger of you feeling short-changed when climbing into a new 5 Series. All the materials, even those lower down and that you’ll rarely come into contact with, look and feel of suitably high quality, and most of the metal trims are the real thing – although there are also some silver-coated plastics. Similarly, most of the buttons and switches are nicely damped.
You can choose different trim inserts – including wood and gloss black – that run the length of the dashboard and around the doors, and they all look and feel upmarket. The standard ambient lighting obviously doesn’t make any difference to build quality, but it does make the interior look even more salubrious after dark.
The Audi A6's interior feels just as securely bolted together as the 5 Series', but the Mercedes E-Class, which arguably has a heap more visual swagger in the eyes of some, is flimsier-feeling in places.
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