Astonishing value for money.
Was actually looking for a 3-series initially, but with used 5-series prices plummeting, the sheer value of the thing won me over.
Bought this immaculate one owner, Titanium Silver, full BMW historied example in Jan 05 with 49,000 miles and a few months manufacturers warranty left on it for the same price as new, mid-spec Vauxhall Astra. Apart from some creasing on the leather on the drivers seat, the interior looks, feels and smells new, and the bodywork is mint.
As a package, I cannot seriously fault the car. It's quick, the 3.0 engine is both grunty and economical (and sounds fabulous), the gearbox is slick, the handling superb, the accommodation generous, the build quality beyond criticism and the equipment levels generous. I don't know what on my car was standard and what was optional, but it has a great sound system, full leather, climate control, a full complement of airbags, electric mirrors and cruise control.
The interior is a lovely place to be with BMW's trademark big, clear dials and logical control layout (no daft i-Drive nonsense on these older shape models thankfully). The black leather contrasts well with the silver aluminium trim strip that runs around the door trim and across the middle of the dash, and around the gear lever gaiter on the console. It's stylish without being over the top, and a lot more airy than a typical German car interior. One of the cars I looked at had wood effect trim instead of the aluminium which looked awful, but there are a lot of options to choose from. The seats, driving position and the weighting of the controls have clearly been very carefully designed. I can (and occasionally have to) drive this car all day without feeling tired or uncomfortable.
If I had to nit pick, the ride is a little on the firm side thanks to 18" wheels and the sports suspension, but it's nothing I can't live with. The trade off is superb handling with very little body roll, lots of steering feel and plenty of traditional RWD throttle adjustability on offer. This is the only car of this size I have ever driven that feels happy being taken by the scruff of the neck and driven like a hot hatch. Body control, poise and balance remain near faultless whatever you ask of the car.
In more practical terms, and as a day to day car, I would argue this car does almost nothing wrong. It's beautifully engineered and finished, the six cylinder engine is silky smooth, the handling, as mentioned before is first class, "between refills" fuel economy has never dropped below 28 mpg (and almost always exceeds 30 mpg, the kids love the rear seat accommodation, the boot is huge and it's cracking value on the second hand market.
I managed to negotiate a discount from the seller due to an Inspection 2 service being due when I purchased the car. This was carried out by a local independent specialist (using genuine BMW parts) for £185. The staff are all ex-BMW dealer technicians, and only service BMW's, so they really know their stuff.
To summarise, if you want a classic example of solid German executive motoring, the 5-series almost chooses itself. I did try an E class also, but it lacked not only the dynamic qualities of the 5, but more worryingly the build quality too. Year for year, a used 5-series is not only cheaper than a 3-series, but represents a staggering amount of ability, quality and engineering for the money. They can be looked after properly for surprisingly little outlay, and have a far nicer image than a 3.
This car has opened my eyes quite considerably, and I would recommend it to anybody.