If you need plenty of space and load-lugging ability yet don’t want to sacrifice driver involvement there’s no better machine than an F11 5 Series Touring Words: Bob Harper and Andy Everett Photography: BMW.
Buying Guide The F10 Five is a great car and even better in F11 Touring form. Here’s how to bag a good one.
MW has always had an uncanny knack of doing a great job with its estate models and ever since it first launched its first official 5 Series Touring back in the days of the E34 they’ve made a great fist of being the executive load-lugger of choice. Each generation has refined the theme and while we’re sure that the latest all-singing, all-dancing G31 model that has just been announced will be a stonking machine we can’t see how it’s going to be significantly better than the outgoing F11.
It was announced in March 2010 but didn’t come to market in the UK until September that year but when it did hit the streets it was clear that it brought the traditional BMW driving qualities and elegance to those seeking flexibility, adaptability and versatility from their car. It was packed full of innovative technology that ensured class-leading performance, fuel economy and CO2 emissions, while providing an elegant, comfortable and driver-oriented estate car.
The boot capacity of the F11 was 560 litres, 60 more than the outgoing E61 model, and a huge 1670 litres with all rear seats folded. To increase flexibility still further there were options such as Extended Storage which included a ‘cargo’ function for rear seats. This allowed the rear seat backrests to be fixed in a more upright position thereby increasing luggage capacity by 30 litres and minimising wasted space behind the rear seats. The F11 had the longest wheelbase in its class at 2968mm, creating a greater feeling of interior space and BMW said this translated into an extra 13mm of knee room for rear passengers compared to the previous 5 Series.
When it was announced in early 2010 two diesel-engined models were listed as being available to order, the 520d and the 530d. The 520d Touring was by far and away the best seller in the range and was powered by the familiar 1995cc four-cylinder which featured the latest generation common-rail direct injection and a turbocharger with variable turbine geometry giving an output of 184hp at 4000rpm and a peak torque figure of 280lb ft from just 1900rpm. Performance was impressive for a machine that weighed 1785kg with 62mph arriving in 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 138mph. It was pretty parsimonious with fuel too, returning 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and offering a CO2 rating of just 137g/km. The silky smooth straight-six turbocharged engine of the 530d Touring upped the ante with 245hp at 4000rpm and 398lb ft of torque from just 1750rpm. With the introduction of upgraded piezo-injectors, the 530d emitted just 165g/km of CO2 (if fitted with the optional eight-speed automatic ‘box), while averaging a combined consumption figure of 44.8mpg. It could also accelerate from 0-62mph in just 6.4 seconds and was electronically-limited to a top speed of 155mph.
By the time the car went on sale though two additional diesels were offered, the 525d and the 535d. Both used different versions of the 3.0-litre straight-six with the 525d producing 204hp and 331lb ft of torque while the 535d with its twin-turbo set up could muster a stonking 299hp and a bruising 442lb ft of torque. 0-62mph was knocked off in 7.3 and 5.7 seconds respectively while economy figures were identical at 44.8mpg. All models bar the 535d came as standard with the six-speed manual with the excellent eight-speed auto offered as a cost option (standard on the 535d).
With the UK being a big market for the Five Touring (the third largest in the world) BMW wanted to set things off on the right foot so not only was the car available in the expected SE trim, but M Sport was also offered from the get go. Prices started at £30,380 for the 520d SE and rose to £47,545 for the 535d M Sport.
All models were well spec’d with Dakota leather and two zone air con being standard as were Bluetooth, an electrically operated load cover, a host of air bags and part electric front seats. As with any BMW model range there were plenty of options to choose from and the most popular were offered as packages. There were two Media packages – BMW Business Advanced Media and BMW Professional Multimedia – which included Navigation, ConnectedDrive (Assist and Online) as well as voice control. The Dynamic package included 19-inch alloy wheels, Sport seats, Anthracite headlining, Sport leather steering wheel and High-gloss exterior trim while the Visibility package offered Adaptive xenon headlights, High-beam Assistant and headlight wash.
There was some minor tinkering to the engine line up in mid-2012 with the addition of some more EfficientDynamics technologies. The 525d changed to a four-cylinder with a higher 218hp output, while the 530d swelled to 258hp and the 535d up to 313hp. The 520d remained the same at 184hp, but all models became more fuel efficient as a result of the changes.
May 2013 saw the Touring go through its mid-life face-lift and while the visual changes were of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety there were a couple of useful changes. All Tourings would now come with xenon headlights as standard, and optionally these could be upgraded to full LED lights. The rear tail lights gained LED treatment and externally the easiest way of spotting a face-lift machine was by the side repeater indicators now being located in the door mirror housings. At this time Business Navigation also became standard across the 5 Series range. Now that diesels are being demonised it’s worth noting that all face-lifted Fives comply with the Euro 6 emission standard which will allow them to be driven in London’s soon to be enforced Ultra Low Emission Zone without penalty. The face-lift also saw the arrival of a new entry-level machine, the 518d, which was aimed primarily at the company car market.
The next change occurred in mid-2014 when the 2.0-litre diesel was upgraded to the latest modular unit which added six horsepower to the 520d’s output along with a boost in torque to 295lb ft. At the same time the entry-level 518d was upgraded to 150hp, and this year also saw the arrival of the Luxury trim level, too.
With all these models there really is a 5 Series Touring for just about everyone. Prices of used examples start at just over the £6k mark, but for that sort of money you’re going to be buying a whole host of trouble – these cars do pack a huge amount of technology and putting it right when it goes wrong can be ruinous. There are a huge number available as Approved Used models at BMW dealers and prices are pretty competitive these days and you have the peace of mind of a years’ extended warranty too.
It brought the traditional BMW driving qualities and elegance to those seeking flexibility, adaptability and versatility from their car.
Various units are used in the F11, and as the 520d is the most common (along with the rare 518d version), we’ll deal with that first.
Much improved over the original N47 (now ten years old), the N47N in the F10/11 is a very good engine in terms of what it does. Mechanically, there is still the timing chain to think about – they are much better than they were, but we still see and hear of higher mileage units that have gone wrong. We saw one car on a 2011 plate whose oil pump chain had come off due to a shard of timing chain guide rail falling down at 112,000 miles. The rest of the N47N engine is good enough, but we’d think long and hard about a higher mileage car or at least buy a BMW warranty just in case. The B47 as introduced in January 2015 is basically a revised N47N, and so far it appears to be good. There are quite a few with 60-70 thousand miles that have been no problem at all so we’d hope that given the N47 chain dramas, BMW will have started again and just sorted it out once and for all.
The 525d and 530d are much the same – the N57 is really just an N47 with two extra cylinders and whilst the timing chain problems are not as common, they can still happen. What causes it? In the opinion of many mechanics, the chain just isn’t that beefy – the chain on the old M54 petrol engines in the previous E60 was like something the Bismarck used to haul anchor in comparison. In short? By 100,000 miles, it’s probably a good idea to spend £1000 on having the engine taken out and replacing the chains and guides and some specialists will do it with the engine in situ but the gearbox removed. Be careful where you buy diesel as well – you wouldn’t be the first to buy some cheap diesel somewhere that was diluted with some other muck, quickly ruining the High Pressure pump and some expensive injectors. Turbos are very good on all cars with very few reported failures and at £800 new plus fitting, a new BMW unit isn’t too dear at all.
One thing we would recommend is to follow the Condition Based Servicing, but have an interim oil change – every year or 10,000 miles is more than enough and at £140, it’s hardly expensive. Coolant loss can be caused by a leaking EGR cooler – not that you’ll see any drips because it leaks internally, the coolant getting burnt off in combustion or down the exhaust – these are being replaced under warranty at the moment so you may get some goodwill on an older car.
Both six-speed manual and eight-speed automatics (ZF 8HP) are available on the F11, and both are decent enough by and large. Manuals of course involve a dual mass flywheel and a clutch but these aren’t bad at all and are more robust than they used to be – even so, budget on £1500 if you need both at once – BMW want £1476 for a flywheel (!) and £570 for a clutch. Looking online, we found an LuK (original equipment) flywheel for £794 and an LuK clutch kit for £330 so there’s a massive saving there. Gearbox syncros can fail – a refusal to engage reverse first/second or reverse is the sign that you need another box or a rebuild but it’s quite rare and we’ve seen 150,000-mile motorway cars that are still fine.
However, if you need a gearbox beware – they are difficult to repair due to limited parts availability and a new one is a mere £4400. Used? Possible but it must be exactly the right one because due to the gearing, stop start system etc the old ‘that’ll do’ approach won’t work.
The eight-speed auto is a nicer gearbox for the bulky F11 and they are generally reliable. But when they cause problems, you really know about it. Not many have actually gone bang although early leggy examples can’t be far off now. The problems are normally due to software, Intelligent Battery Sensor (IBS) issues as well as other electrical faults connected with the ABS and DSC, and rectification can be time consuming. It’s not mileage dependent either, just luck of the draw with an incredibly complex bit of machinery that involves electronics. A good test is to reverse the car – if you hear a weird whining sound, that’s a good indicator that the ‘box is on its last legs. Propshafts, diff s and driveshafts are good but diff oil seals can leak and due to the design of the F11/10 driveshaft (now one piece with the diff output shaft), removing the driveshaft to replace the seal is a lot more involved and requires dismantling of the rear suspension that side.
The F11 represented a big step forward in finish over the old E61 5 Series and even the most basic F11 is a very pleasant place to be – basic is an odd word to use when they all have leather, climate control and sat nav. Air con failure is normally due to a holed condenser and BMW are (or were) offering some assistance with this due to a batch of faulty units and may well do the same on a car so afflicted. Apart from that it’s all pretty good – again, make sure everything works and whilst you may find wear on some of the buttons and controls on higher mileage cars, they wear the miles very well. Do check the driver’s seat on high mileage cars as split seams are not unknown.
Steering and suspension
The F11 has the standard rear air suspension but a conventional front end. The front suspension doesn’t really cause much trouble but knocking from worn balljoints isn’t uncommon – it’s the outer balljoint on the lower control arm and it can be quite hard to locate the cause of the noise because with the car jacked up, the balljoint is tensioned and there doesn’t appear to be any play. BMW now offer a value line kit to replace both arms and charge a not unreasonable £210 per side. Dampers are good for 100,000 miles or more and high mileage motorway cars can still be good at 150,000 although they will be getting baggy.
Rear air springs have caused some aggro for owners and the first instances of these failing was around 2014 when the first were just three years old. It’s not known exactly what causes the fault but we’ve seen these with seriously perished rubber outer bellows where water and grit have got into the ‘folds’ in the airbag and damaged the rubber. For a while, new units were on major back order but they are back in supply now – BMW charge just over £500 each and aftermarket springs are about £370 a side. Pray you don’t need a new air pump as whilst they rarely go wrong, they cost £1100.
Some cars had variable damping and the dampers are, of course, expensive – but at £1100 the pair they aren’t as daft as E32 or E34 EDC units were. Even so, adaptive damping might be worth swerving if the standard car is good enough for what you need – they drive well enough so why make potential trouble for yourself?
All cars have electric power steering and again, the rack and relevant electrics have proven reliable enough. There will always be the odd fault but out of the huge number of cars built, the chances of a fault are slim.
These are nowhere near old enough to be rusty, and the way cars are these days they probably won’t get the chance. E60s are cracking on for 15 years old and we’ve yet to see one of those need welding so we can assume the F11 will be fine. As ever, look for repaired accident damage and make sure everything works – door handles, locking, the tailgate and rear glass hatch (WD40 on the hinges and some exercise will prevent them snapping when they seize). Water based paint isn’t as tough as the old stuff so be prepared for lots of stone chips and swirl marks on car wash ex-company cars – Carbon black is a sod to keep nice and Black Sapphire isn’t far behind.
The F10 isn’t a dear car to service
|OIL SERVICE/ALL FILTERS
|FRONT PADS AND DISCS
|Prices courtesy of BMW (UK) and a selection of three specialists.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
There were various 17-, 18- and 19-inch alloys on the F11 and whilst they’re not prone to cracking, they can corrode under the silver paint – we’ve seen them bubbling up around the wheel bolt area as well as around the centre badge – the badges themselves often need replacing and three British winters is enough to see them looking the worse for wear. Tyres aren’t too expensive – a pair of 245/45x18 Continentals are £300.
Brakes cause very few issues – just discs and pads normally. F11s use an electronic parking brake of course and they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Generally reliable, these use the VW system of an electronic motor in the calliper and like older Passats etc, they are just at the age where early ones could be in need of a new calliper – from BMW these are £322 each whilst a TRW unit is a bit less at £209. Be aware that you need diagnostics to retract the pistons when fitting rear pads – leave that to a specialist or dealer.
Discs are expensive – from Ate suppliers they are over £400 a pair for fronts and budget ones are over £200 a pair – how long do they last? Add a set of decent pads at £70, and suddenly the £600 BMW dealer price to supply and fi t discs and pads is looking like value if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.
The F11 is a complex car as it is, and some of the options are gilding the lily somewhat – the electric tow bar, automatic tailgate opening, BMW Apps interface, enhanced Bluetooth telephone function, BMW Connected-Drive-Assist, voice control system, reversing assist camera… there can be a lot of complex stuff on here to go wrong but to be fair, it rarely does and even then it’s generally software related. BMW have come a long way since the 2001 E65 in making all this stuff reliable and they’ve done a good job. As we said in the Interior section just make sure everything works!
The F11 is a very nice car and there are loads about providing sterling service. We’d just avoid high mileage stuff because without the safety net of a BMW warranty, they could be burying you in the thing – the 176,000 mile 2014 car for nearly 10 grand just isn’t a good idea. Given the value of the warranty and the relatively small price difference (especially on finance/ PCP) between a BMW main dealer and an independent, we’d be buying from a dealer – some of the deals on new examples are pretty good. However, £13,500 on a BMW Approved 12 plate 520d Auto Touring with 60,000 miles seems like a deal to us and £15,000 for a 2011 520d manual with just 28k is a proper car for Vauxhall money – we’d recommend the auto every time though. Keep the warranty going and enjoy an absolutely superb car and with depreciation running at less than two grand a year – what’s not to like?