With the launch of the all-new G30 BMW 5 Series yesterday, BMW Malaysia also brought along all six previous generations of Munich’s benchmark executive sedan. So we thought it would be a good idea to have a look through time, from the 1972 E12 to the 2010 F10.

Launched 45 years ago, the first-generation 5 Series took over from the popular New Class, a range of midsize sedans which defined BMW as a maker of no-nonsense sports sedans. Building on this success, the 5 Series introduced a new styling language that would define the brand for decades, with the Paul Bracq design featuring a wedge profile, a shark nose front end, quad round headlights and a Hofmeister kink.

The E12 was also the first car to feature BMW’s current naming nomenclature, with the first digit determining the series and the second and third digit denoting the car’s engine capacity. The use of the number 5 for the series left space for future models, including the 3, 6 and 7 Series.

Although the car was only available with a 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine from launch in carbureted 520 and fuel-injected 520i forms, a 2.5 litre straight-six from the New Six luxury sedans and coupés was introduced in the 525 a year later, followed by a 1.8 litre four-pot in the 518 in 1974. The 528 followed in 1975 with 168 hp, with fuel injection fitted in 1978 to give the 528i 181 hp.

In 1979, the 533i model was introduced with a 3.2 litre fuel-injected straight-six producing a stonking 197 hp. Also offered on the same year was the M-fettled M535i, which used a detuned version of the motorsport-derived 3.5 litre mill from the M1 mid-engined supercar, taking power to 210 hp. This became the forerunner to the legendary M5 models that would come.

The E12 gave way to the E28 in 1981, providing new levels of space, luxury and sportiness. Although the exterior was fairly similar to the car that came before it, the interior featured a new design with a centre console angled towards the driver, a cue taken from the 3 Series. Elsewhere, ABS was offered as an option.

Four- and six-cylinder engines were offered as before, but the E28 was also available with BMW’s first diesel engine in the 524td – a 2.4 litre turbodiesel that produced 114 hp. BMW also experimented with efficiency-minded models with the 525e which, unlike the latest 530e, wasn’t a plug-in hybrid.

Instead, it was simply a more frugal variant – the e representing eta, a Greek letter typically used as a symbol of efficiency – with a larger, lower-revving 2.7 litre straight-six tuned for fuel economy rather than performance. At the other end of the spectrum was the M5, which used an uprated version of the previous M535i’s 3.5 litre engine, punching out 282 hp.

Replacing the E28 in 1988 was the E34, which was developed in tandem with the E32 7 Series; both were also styled by the same designer, Ercole Spada. This meant the two cars shared plenty, not least the design – which featured details such as the double kidney grille integrated into the body, as well as the L-shaped tail lights now synonymous with the brand. The drag coefficient was just 0.30 Cd, impressive at the time.

Plenty of firsts, too, including a driver airbag, Automatic Stability Control (ASC, later ASC+T with traction control), Electronic Damper Control (EDC) and all-wheel drive on the 525iX. A Touring wagon bodystyle was also introduced, featuring a rear windscreen that could be opened separately, as well as a full-length sunroof.

Significantly larger than its predecessor, the E34 was offered for the first time with a V8 on the later 215 hp 530i and 282 hp 540i models. The M5 retained the use of a straight-six – initially a 3.6 litre unit with 311 hp, later bored out to 3.8 litres to produce 340 hp.

In 1995 came the E39, which redefined the 5 Series for the modern era. Designed by Joji Nagashima, who later went on to pen the E36 and E90 3 Series models, it was more rounded and elegant – and more aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of just 0.27 Cd. The interior was also more spacious and luxurious than before, and featured such niceties as a multifunction steering wheel, a in-car telephone and a trip computer.

Under the skin, aluminium chassis and front suspension components saved as much as 65 kg compared to the E34 – despite the added comfort and safety features – with the aluminium block on the straight-sixes shaving another 30 kg. Rack-and-pinion was also used on variants equipped with the four- and six-cylinder engines, while Touring models utilised a compact aluminium rear axle to provide a flat cargo area.

A new M5 came in 1998, equipped with a 4.0 litre V8 that produced an astounding 400 hp. The Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) facelift in 2000 brought along a colour navigation display and the distinctive corona ring headlights which remain a signature BMW design cue until today. A four-cylinder diesel engine was also introduced for the first time in the 134 hp/280 Nm 520d.

The year 2003 carried with it a sea change in terms of design. Styled under the direction of Chris Bangle, the E60 was certainly controversial, with curvaceous “flame surfacing”, bold lines, sweptback headlights with “eyebrows” and tail lights that stretch across the sides of the car.

Inside, the flatter dashboard featured a high-mounted centre display and the new iDrive user interface with a central rotary controller, setting the tone for BMW’s in-car entertainment going forward. There were plenty of other technological advances, including adaptive headlights, active cruise control and a head-up display. The 2007 LCI brought along with it a new electronic gearlever that is still being used today.

The E60’s body featured aluminium construction at the front end to create a 50:50 weight distribution. Variable-ratio Active Steering was introduced as an option for the first time, along with active anti-roll bars. The M5 debuted a new 507 hp 5.0 litre V10, derived from BMW’s foray into Formula One, along with a seven-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG) with paddle shifters.

Direct-injection engines were introduced with the LCI, along with a 3.0 litre turbocharged straight-six in the 535i that marked the beginning of the end for naturally-aspirated engines. Other features added were stop-and-go functionality to the active cruise control, lane departure warning and regenerative braking as part of BMW’s EfficientDynamics strategy.

After the outlandish E60, the F10 was more elegant and laid back in its design, with an imposing upright grille, sweeping roofline and the return of the L-shaped tail lights. The interior returns to its roots with a centre console once again angled towards the driver.

Based on the F01 7 Series, the car was significantly larger than before, and featured new chassis technologies such as a double wishbone front suspension, a rear multilink axle, rear-wheel steering and electromechanical power steering – the latter made it possible to incorporate automated parking. Other new features include collision warning with auto braking, night vision and a powered tailgate for the Touring.

Preceding the sedan by a year was the Gran Turismo model, which was designed to combine the qualities of a luxury sedan with the practicality of a crossover and the style of a coupé. Hideous as it was, you’ve got to hand it to BMW for sticking with the formula – which is set to move to the 6 Series in the next generation.

An ActiveHybrid 5 variant was introduced in 2011, combining the 535i’s turbo straight-six with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery to produce 340 hp. The M5, on the other hand, featured a 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 that produced 560 hp, along with a seven-speed M dual-clutch transmission (DCT). The year 2012 saw the introduction of an M550d xDrive with a 381 hp tri-turbo diesel straight-six.

The LCI update in 2013 brought a minor styling update, but also introduced a number of key features, including LED headlights and a Traffic Jam Assistant that kept the car in the centre of the lane autonomously. Also added was a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine in the 520i and 528i, meaning that the whole range featured force induction.

Last year, the F10 gave way to the new G30, now up to 100 kg lighter than before, with available features such as semi-autonomous driving, Remote Parking, Remote View 3D and a touchscreen Display Key. Aside from the usual four-, six- and eight-cylinder engines, there’s also a 530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid with 252 hp, fuel consumption of 2.0 litres per 100 km and 45 km of all-electric range.

So, which is your favourite BMW 5 Series? Sound off in the comments section after the jump.


GALLERY: E12 BMW 5 Series

GALLERY: E28 BMW 5 Series
GALLERY: E34 BMW 5 Series
GALLERY: E39 BMW 5 Series
GALLERY: E60 BMW 5 Series
GALLERY: F10 BMW 5 Series
GALLERY: G30 BMW 5 Series