► Full 2017 BMW 5-series Touring review
► Testing both 520d and 530d versions
► Is the £8k gap between them worth it?
With the scramble to launch SUVs and crossovers, humble estate cars have rather slipped out of the news.
Predictable they might be, but our enthusiasm for estates is far from diminishing: BMW shifted 327,000 units of the last model globally – the highest sales ever – and around 25% of the 20,000 5-series sold in the UK each year are Tourings.
In Germany, the biggest market, that figure rises to 60%.
Now, following the launch of the new 5-series saloon, BMW is introducing the fifth-generation 5-series Touring. We’ve driving it today in both 520d and 530d rear-wheel-drive spec.
Don’t tell me: new, improved, now even more practical…
You’ve got it. The 5-series grows a little all over (+36mm longer, +8mm wider, +10mm taller), so there’s plenty of room for four six footers, and for three child seats to be lined up across the rear bench, as in the saloon (though there are only two sets of Isofix anchors). Despite the increased dimensions, the 5-series is now 100kg lighter than before, the bodyshell accounting for 70kg of that thanks to a mix of steel and aluminium.
The boot capacity has grown to 570 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1700 litres with them folded, small increases of 10 and 30 litres respectively. It can also lug up to 120kg more, depending on model variant, up to a maximum of 730kg. As before, the rear suspension has air springs as standard with automatic self-levelling, helping to compensate for whatever you’re carrying; the suspension is a little softer than a saloon’s too, and re-tuned to compensate for the new body’s altered weight distribution. The rear suspension and lower body structure is also a different design to the saloon, allowing for a deeper boot floor.
The tailgate opens automatically as an option, and BMW has kept the separately opening rear window (like the 3-series and, to digress, the developed-under-BMW Rover 75) – it allows you to quickly drop smaller items into the boot without hoiking up the whole tailgate; that it also allows CAR photographers to sit in the boot and do tracking shots with some degree of safety probably wasn’t on the design brief, but has always endeared it to us nonetheless.
The rear seats fold 40/20/40, and can be dropped remotely by pressing a button in the boot. The load cover automatically retracts and extends when you open the tailgate. Better still, the load cover and luggage partition net can now be stored neatly beneath the boot floor to clear maximum space when the rear seats are folded flat. No longer will you risk damaging it when you leave it in the garage, or suddenly realise you should have left it there when you arrive at Ikea. Though, of course, this space would once have been filled by something called a ‘spare wheel’.
What’s the engine line-up?
At launch we get two petrol and two diesels:
• The 530i is a 2.0-litre turbo petrol with an eight-speed auto as standard. It promises 249bhp, 258lb ft, up to 48.7mpg and as little as 133g/km.
• The 540i is a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six with the eight-speed auto and xDrive all-wheel drive as standard. You get 335bhp/332lb ft, 38.7mpg and 167g/km
• The 520d is a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel available with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic and S-drive (BMW speak for rear-wheel drive). It produces 187bhp and 295lb ft with 65.7mpg and 114g/km.
• Confusingly – but thankfully – given the four-cylinder 530i, the 530d retains a six-cylinder 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, and is available in rear- or all-wheel drive with an eight-speed auto., 261bhp, 457lb ft, up to 60.1mpg and 124g/km. Yes, that is impressively close to the four cylinder efficiency figures.
There’ll be no 535d because previous sales were tiny, but a high-performance M550d xDrive will be along shortly, which puts a greater gulf between itself and the 530d.
What’s the 520d like to drive?
It’s very good. Road- and wind noise is noticeably subdued and creates a big-car luxury feel, and the ride is generally plush on 18-inch alloys with optional adaptive dampers, with the exception of some occasional low-speed patter. The 520d handles neatly enough, but there is some body roll and it feels like a set-up prioritised for comfort over outright dynamism. M Sport suspension is also available in place of the adaptive suspension, and drops the ride height 10mm and firms up the springs and dampers. We didn’t get to try that spec, though.
The steering felt far lighter than we remembered from the 520d M Sport xDrive saloon we drove. In fact, it feels too light in the Comfort setting – more resistance to work against during faster cornering would be welcome. Sport delivers the extra weight that’s missing, but is a little unnatural in the way it self-centres. It also combines with a slightly firmer ride.
The 2.0-litre engine is impressively smooth and quiet during normal driving, and offers enough low- and mid-range torque to feel flexible, if never particularly quick. Drive harder and it loses some of that composure, starting to strain and thrash, before abruptly running out of steam around 4000rpm. But for most journeys, it does the job perfectly well.
How does the 530d compare?
At £46,235 for a 530d SE to the 520d SE’s £38,385, it’s a big step up, but you’d have a cold heart not to think it worth it after a test drive. The performance gain might not sound huge at 261bhp to 187bhp, but it’s the 162lb ft of extra torque (457lb ft) and the added refinement at higher revs that makes it so worthwhile. The performance steps up from acceptable to genuinely, satisfyingly quick with a thumping mid-range. That it also sounds more cultured at idle and stays smoother when really revved seals the deal. Although, of course, it won’t, with around 80% of buyers predicted to buy the 520d.
Interestingly, the steering felt noticeably different on the 530d. BMW engineers were at pains to point out that both the 520d and 530d we drove were on essentially the same adaptive suspension, but the 530d wore larger 19-inch rims, different tyres, and its suspension takes into account the heavier six-cylinder engine. Either way, the result is a firmer, better-defined helm.
Presumably the 5-series Touring is also loaded with tech?
It is. The 8.8-inch touchscreen is standard (10.25 inches optional), and controlled either via the rotary controller, touchscreen, or with ‘gestures’ – you can twirl at the air to wind up the volume, for instance.
BMW Connected also allows you to send sat-nav directions from your smartphone to the car, with your ideal departure time calculated using Real-Time Traffic Information. You can hook up to Apple CarPlay, get a remote 3D view around the car on your smartphone and inductively charge your phone too.
Driver-assistance systems include a remote-control parking function, and semi-autonomous driving capability up to 130mph – the car will self-steer for short periods (after which a yellow steering wheel icon flashes up, you just touch the steering wheel to show the car you haven’t climbed into the back seat and it carries on self-steering) while adaptive cruise control keeps with the traffic flow. That functionality worked okay, but wasn’t as good as the Mercedes system we recently tried.
Those crossovers and SUVs might be stealing the limelight, but the BMW 5-series Touring continues to impress. It’s comfortable, spacious, highly refined, nicely put together and well-equipped. That it can carry so much kit is, of course, key to its appeal. The low boot floor and wide aperture underline its appeal, so too the 40/20/40 folding rear seats that can be dropped at the press of a button, and the parcel shelf that can – at last! – be stowed beneath the boot floor.
Most buyers will opt for the 520d, and it is a great all-rounder. But don’t overlook the 530d. The £8k price hike is substantial, but it’s almost as fuel efficient, far quicker and much more refined.