Fortunately, the Touring actually looks better than the saloon, and the sweeping surfaces help to lift it above the dependable but dour fare this sector normally encourages.
That's because this sector is all about families. According to BMW, on average the Touring will be driven by people in their 40s and 50s, with 90% married and most with a family.
In 2004, BMW expects to sell 1,900 Tourings, with more than 2,500 sales in a full year, the majority of which will be diesels. With the shift away from saloons towards estates, BMW reckons it will sell more Tourings in the UK than ever before.
However, targets for the 5-series as a whole are 15,000-17,000 models sold in a full year, which means the Touring takes a fairly lowly share of overall business. Compare that with Audi, where it is believed the Avant could take a 50% share of all new A6s.
Part of the reason is the strength of the Avant brand, as well as the fact that BMW now has the X3 and X5 to nibble away at core 5-series registrations.
Prices start at £29,415 on-the-road, and residuals are set at around the same mark as the saloons – namely a very healthy 46-47% according to CAP.
At launch, there will be four engine variants available: two petrol and two diesel. On the petrol front, there is a 2.5-litre unit with 192bhp and a 4.5-litre model with 333bhp.
The more popular fuel will no doubt be diesel, with 177bhp 2.5-litre and 218bhp 3.0-litre motors doing the job at launch, followed by the addition of a twin turbo 535d, which should be phenomenal.
Behind the wheel
Unlike the Mercedes-Benz E-class estate, the Touring is unashamedly aimed more at the lifestyle end of the sector than the utilitarian end.
It has a maximum volume of 1,650 litres (while the E-class has 300 litres more), although that's still an 18% increase over the old 5-series Touring model.
The boot space is very clean, though – the sides and floor are flat and the rear wheelarches don't intrude at all. The rear windscreen lifts to make access to the boot simpler for dropping in bits and pieces.
There is also a lockable underfloor storage compartment, although for it to really add value, 17-inch run-flat tyres need to be specified so the empty spare wheel well can be used, adding 35 extra litres of storage space. Like the E-class, it comes with self-levelling rear suspension to deal with those extra heavy loads.
All in all, though, the Touring doesn't feel as useful as the E-class. It has fewer cunning storage holes and extras to strap things down and doesn't feel as though practicality was top of the agenda.
That's probably because it wasn't. Like the 5-series saloon, the Touring is firmly concentrated on being a top-notch driving machine, and it delivers.
We drove the six cylinder 525d, and it felt the same as the saloon version.
The unladen weight of the saloon and the Touring is little different, so there's not much change in performance, while handling, unless you get seriously daft, has identical feel. On a sweeping tour of the Scottish Highlands, I forgot there was a big metal box bolted on the back.
The only grumble with the diesel is the same old one with all BMW diesels and that's a clutch that's snappier than Gordon Ramsay, and it takes some training to tame. Other than that, it's all top quality: steering, brakes, engine, the lot.
The 5-series Touring delivers, particularly in diesel versions. It might not be the most practical car in the class, but it's certainly the most fun.
Engine (cc): 2,497
Max power (bhp/rpm): 177/4,000 Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 295/2,000
Max speed (mph): 140 0-62mph (sec): 8.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 40.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 187
Transmission: 6sp manual/6sp Steptronic auto
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 70/15.4
Service interval (miles): Variable
On sale: Now
Prices (OTR): £30,110