Class leader that’s difficult to fault

THERE can be no higher praise for the way this BMW cossets passengers than the ability to send them to sleep in the back in minutes.

More than two hours and 100 unruffled miles later, the leather clad rear seat was pronounced perfect by my passenger, who emerged from its nicely sculpted clutches with the contented look of a well rested man.

But, I hear you ask, BMWs are supposed to be drivers’ cars; what’s the latest 5 Series like to drive?

We’ll get there in a minute, but first a briefing about the latest in a range of mid-size BMW executive motors that have formed a staple of the range and generated enormous profits for its Bavarian maker.

The last 5 Series was the almost automatic default choice of a class of senior managers across Europe who wanted a mix of driving pleasure and prestige in their company car.

It was so good that it remained top of the pile, even towards the end of its production. Which made it a very hard act to follow.

And after 800 miles in the new model I rather think BMW didn’t try – deliberately.

I don’t mean the designers and engineers have produced a car that’s not worth a glance, far from it.

But the latest 5 Series is a different sort of drive than before. It’s sort of grown up; replacing the older car’s immediacy behind the wheel with the more mature feel of something tilted towards comfort.

It’s a path chosen by lots of other car makers, prestige and everyday, and most of the time you’d say it was the right move. Except that on the right road, at the right time...

There have been more visible changes than the way it drives. The old 5 Series started with controversial looks that mellowed with age, until it seemed actually rather smart.

I’d venture that the new car starts off looking good and will age better still. It may be the most handsome new BMW for some time and lacks the deliberate oddness built into some of its recent siblings.

It also feels every centimetre a quality act, from thick leather upholstery as standard, to an immaculately designed and finished dashboard that’s both easy on the eye and easy to read. Difficult to fault, indeed.

It’s also a roomy car, with a huge boot and rear passenger compartment enjoying enough space for a six-footer to lounge, or nod off to the soothing sounds coming from the fine sound system up ahead.

Then there’s the price. The test car actually kicks off the range (which stretches to more than £47,000) but doesn’t ever feel the poor relation.

Once BMW was famous for its ability to tempt buyers with a well stuffed options’ list; but this range-starter comes pretty well kitted out as standard.

As well as the leather already mentioned, there’s automatic air conditioning, 17 inch alloy wheels, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and auto lights and wipers.

The engine never feels out of its depth in such a large-ish car and gave me an amazing 51mpg overall. That’s a figure undreamt of in a car like this only a few years ago.

Dislikes? Not many, but including a gearbox that was a heave to put into reverse and an electronic parking brake that you have to release manually, making it a bit pointless.

Small gripes for a car that’s still a class leader.