The 2016 BMW 5-Series lineup keeps its classic sport-sedan essence but gives you a whole lot of choices—including a limo-like Gran Turismo.
The 2016 BMW 5-Series family may be ripe for an all-new generation next year, but it remains right in tune with its sport-sedan roots—offering classic mid-size sport-sedan proportions, sharp, responsive driving dynamics, and just the right amount of luxury as you need it. And it's all without compromise, thanks to some of the world's leading powertrain, chassis, and safety technology, of course.
Yet the 5-Series doesn't have it as easy today as it did a decade or two ago. Today enthusiasts' hearts and minds are also being won by models like the Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XF, and Audi S6 and S7.
To that, we'd say that the current 5-Series does a pretty great job countering its rivals, and the prevailing currents of complex, sometimes overwrought sport-sedan designs, with this current generation of the 5-Series, which fights the bloat and returns to a traditional, almost retro look, with a lowered belt line, more greenhouse space, and less of a wedge-like profile. The Bangle Butt and BMW's dabbling with modern, more malleable cues are distant memories; this generation has been a return to form—one that most people will agree has aged very well, with the current car now into its sixth year.
Two years ago, the 5-Series received a series of minor improvements, with a more strongly outlined kidney grille, a sharper taillight design, and LED headlights that are now optional across the range.
The lineup for 2016 remains a well-coordinated family of sedans and more upright Gran Turismo hatches, with variants that span from economical turbo fours and sixes up to a turbo V-8, or to frugal hybrid and clean-diesel models. They all deliver a nuanced ride-and-handling package that eludes lots of other luxury mid-size sedans, good performance, and some impressive driver-oriented technology.
At the base level, the 528i includes a frugal yet surprisingly strong turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. It responds quite brilliantly with the 8-speed automatic transmission, reacting quickly when needed, and lugging along happily at low rpm for fuel efficiency when the revs aren't warranted. BMW 535i models step up to the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft, while a twin-turbocharged V-8 in the 550i makes 445 hp and 480 lb-ft. The 0-60 mph sprint in V-8 model takes just 4.5 seconds, which isn’t far off the pace of the M5. In 535d guise, the 5-Series gets a 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6, which makes 255 hp and 433 lb-ft of torque and gives the 5-Series a relaxed and confident driving feel.
The ActiveHybrid5, with a 300-hp turbocharged 6-cylinder engine plus a 54-hp electric-motor system and 1.3-kwh lithium-ion battery pack, remains a strong-performing option for those who want to put give their conspicuous consumption a hall pass. It delivers its power through the eight-speed automatic transmission, and can get to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds (which is about as quick as the 535i).
Manual transmissions are becoming very rare in this class, but the 5-Series offers plenty of them. Most of the 5-Series models (except for the ActiveHybrid5, 535d, and xDrive all-wheel-drive versions) can be had with a manual.
The BMW M5 continues to be the performance leader of the lineup, and really one of the performance icons of the world car market. This generation makes 560 hp, though it’s now available with a Competition Package that lifts output to a heady 575 horsepower. It’s available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed M-DCT dual-clutch transmission, and performance is thrilling, if a bit detached and digital.
Inside, the 5-Series isn't quite cockpit-like, but it's driver-centered, and we like the pushed-out corners and low, horizontal dash. Front seats are excellent, and the ride is firm but supple and quiet. About the only thing you might find off-putting is the lack of back-seat space in the sedans. And then you'll want to consider the 5-Series Gran Turismo (available only as a 550i; there's no 528i GT, or diesel, or hybrid) that offers limo-like rear seats, and a flexible cargo area that feels first-class.
The 5-Series offers safety features like blind-spot monitors, a lane-departure warning system, xenon headlights with automatic high beams, and a new second-generation night-vision system with pedestrian detection. Occupant safety is great, too, and the 5-Series sedans have earned almost entirely top-tier scores from the IIHS and federal government—except for a "Marginal" result in the IIHS small overlap frontal test
BMW recognizes that not everyone wants the same kind of 5-Series, so it gives you the choice to get either a traditional sport sedan, a sporty luxury sedan, or a technology-rich powerhouse. To get those three cars—luxurious and lavishly equipped—it's mostly a matter of checking the right option boxes and being okay with an additional $10,000—or even $20,000—tagged onto the bottom-line price.
But the base 528i sure isn't a bad pick as it is, without any options. There you'll find rain-sensing wipers, power heated mirrors, xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, and dynamic cruise control all included. Last year BMW sweetened the standard kit with steering wheel, LED fog lamps, and enhanced Bluetooth/USB/smartphone integration standard across the lineup. As well, the Comfort Access system is now included in 550i models. Across the rest of the lineup, provided you're willing to spend that extra money, the softer Dakota leather, dynamic multi-contour front seats, Harman Kardon premium audio, and upgraded trims put the 5-Series in line with most rivals in terms of equipment.
For 2016, a power tailgate is now standard on 550i models and a standalone option for most other models in the lineup, while Harman Kardon surround sound is standard on the 550i and a Bang & Olufsen sound system is offered as a standalone option for the 550i exclusively.
Most of the 5-Series models manage better-than-expected fuel economy—there's hardly a pick outside of the ultra-performance M5 that doesn't achieve at least 20 mpg combined, according to the EPA. Smaller-engined 5-Series and turbodiesel models can boast highway figures into the low 30s.