Jack of all trades, master of a few
The car has been owned by my Dad since new and during its first 3 years with him, the following warranty work was carried out.
New stereo - just stopped working.
New headlamps - condensation.
New climate control unit.
New rear suspension bushes.
New rear control arms.
New wiper arms.
New boot struts.
Stereo cover has now jammed shut.
Rattle from B pillar at low speeds and/or rough surfaces.
I have owned the car for 3 months and known and driven the car since new. Quality niggles aside, it is a fantastic machine that does so many things so well. Yes, the list of faults is annoying, but the car never actually broke down and the dealer dealt with them quickly and efficiently under warranty. For the last 15,000 miles, the car has remained trouble free and is running better than ever.
This is a 2001 face-lifted 5 series, so even though it is badged as a 520i, it is actually a 2.2. It produces 170 bhp and is far from bargain basement, apart from being the smoothest engine I have ever driven (and I am including the creamy Jag V8s in the comparison), it doesn't half go well for such a weeny mill. As a manual, the gearing is very low and this helps the performance, as soon as your past 4000 rpm it really does start to shift and the remainder of the rev counter is consumed with vigour. It is easily as quick as a manual 523i when you work it and isn't far off an auto 528i, but the relative lack of torque does show because you really have to work the gears and get the engine in the zone before it start to haul. Having said that, part throttle response in all the gears is impressive and above 60 mph there is no need to change down from 5th as it picks up very well. Fuel economy is excellent, I regularly get 33 mpg on a motorway cruise and my overall average has not fallen below 26 mpg (lots of town driving and full throttle cross country action). The gearchange is well weighted and very precise, but it does take a while to get used to the clutch which is a tad sharp.
The ride and handling balance is superb and I would avoid the M-sport suspension or sport models unless iron clad body control is your thing. I won't pretend that the handling is the best at any price because the 5 series is a big, heavy car biased towards comfort and refinement. However, it still handles very well with great body control, good steering feel and zero under steer. The ride quality is excellent, smooth and fluid with no harshness, although rough tarmac and sharp ridges can make the ride slightly lumpy, however, this is probably more down to the 235/45/17's that the car wears rather than any design flaw. The standard 16 inch wheel cars are even better.
Road noise (especially tyre noise) is very well suppressed and the car is near silent at a 70 mph cruise. The 5 series really does come into its own on the motorway and its ability to shrug off large journeys is brilliant.
The interior is a beautiful place to spend time, everything falls to hand easily and the quality of the materials is beyond reproach. The standard stereo is very good (although not as good as the standard Ford fit stereos) and the SE comes with all the toys you would ever need. Ventilation is effective, the aircon is very powerful and accommodation for the driver is superb.
Passenger space in the back suffers if someone tall is driving, but it would be fine for the average family.
I am not too impressed with the paint work, it is painted well, but the paint chips and scratches far too easily (nowhere near as resilient as my Focus was) and the handbrake isn't very effective.
Overall though, I am very, very pleased with my 5 series which is a super replacement for a much loved 2.0 Focus. It handles and rides better than most things on the market and still looks like 30 grands worth when polished up.
Apart from a face-lifted Jaguar S-type, there is nothing available which is as talented or as fun to drive whilst being so smooth and comfortable.
With prices being at their lowest, treat yourself to some premium motoring.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 1st June, 2004