This is the facelifted BMW 5-series, which you can spot by its more angular headlights and kidney grille shapes, tweaked bumper detailing, and a handful of tech upgrades inside. We’re testing the 530d – the second-most powerful diesel variant on sale in the UK, which boasts a very healthy set of numbers. All the car you’ll ever need? Time to find out.
So the 530d isn’t the top-dog diesel BMW 5-series then?
Far from it: besides the M5, the 535d – with 309bhp and 465lb ft – takes that honour. However, this high-ranking 5-series isn’t embarrassed. It is, after all, packing a 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine, offering more urge than a Premier League manager pushing for an injury-time equaliser. Petrol-powered Fives like the lesser-spotted 535i and 550i look pointless compared with the similarly quick, more economical 530d.
The 530d breaks the monotony of most 5-series you see trudging along the UK network being hauled by four clattery diesel cylinders. The tuneful six-pot is smooth, in the same 144g/km CO2 tax band as a humdrum Toyota Avensis, and boy does it have some grunt.
Just how fast is the 530d?
It’s not the 258bhp power figure, nor the 5.8sec 0-62mph sprint and the limited 155mph top speed that impress. It’s the effortless nature of the 413lb ft torque delivery, which lasts from 1500-3000rpm. Allied as standard to a superb eight-speed automatic gearbox the driver can manipulate with delectable alloy steering wheel paddles (are you listening, Jaguar?), the 530d’s powertrain makes life easy for its driver. Spot an overtaking opportunity? Simply flex the floor-hinged throttle and count to three. An instant for the gearbox to lock in the appropriate ratio, an eye-blink for Porsche 911-crushing torque to fully gird its loins. At ‘three’, the 530d doesn’t lunge for the gap ahead. It simply arrives in it. As twist-and-go, on-demand performance comes, few drivetrains do it better.
All we’d ask is for a slightly less woolly response right at the top of the throttle pedal. Aimed at making minute speed modulations on the autobahn a doddle, it can cause a tardy getaway in town. You stamp harder to get a move on, the turbo fills its lungs and releases more boost than you’d initially asked for. At least the stop-start system is a willing servant, killing and restarting the six-pot swiftly to eke out carbon emission savings. Reining you (and the thick end of 1800kg) back in are powerful 348/330mm anchors, connected to the driver by a superbly calibrated brake pedal.
>> Click here for CAR’s review of the cheapest, most frugal BMW 5-series: the new 518d
Can it still be frugal?
Yes, especially if you adhere to the coaching of the Eco Pro driving mode, which flashes up tips into the head-up display advising when to lift off the throttle if the GPS has detected a roundabout or junction ahead. BMW claims the 530d will achieve 51.4mpg – our brisk, mixed driving average was 38mpg. However, that figure shot up the moment the 530d entered its preferred territory of a motorway cruise. At those higher speeds, it’s the prevalence of wind whistle around the door mirrors and surprisingly intrusive tyre roar from the low-profile run-flat rubber that disappoints from the supportive, comfortable driver’s seat, not the frugality.
Speaking of inside…
We’ve been critical of BMW’s identikit cabins of late, and true, there’s not as much sense of occasion inside the big Five as say, a Maserati Ghibli or Porsche Panamera. But it’s ageing well, and you just know it’ll still look largely fresh and mature in a decade’s time. That said, BMW has done its best to shoehorn in some new tech that’ll date faster than the driver-focused dashboard and fabulously adjustable driving position. The handwrite-compatible iDrive controller appears, allowing you to shortcut typing functions by squiggling letters on the glossy knob’s face. If you can stand the smeary fingerprints, it’s actually a useful function.
The other standout change is an adaptive instrument display. Cycling through the various driving modes tweaks the ambience of the readouts: in Comfort and Comfort Plus, you gaze upon rendered analogue dials not dissimilar to those in a Jaguar XJ. Select Eco Pro and the rev counter is binned for a crisp white and blue ‘power dial’, which adds up all your freewheeling distances and spits out a ‘how much fuel you’ve saved’ tell-tale.
Pity that Sport and Sport Plus are a little more childishly treated: huge typeface rev and speed figures set up shop, and the panel glow an angry red, like you might imagine the radar screens at an under-attack fighter base.
>> Click here to read CAR’s ultimate 5-series verdict: the 552bhp BMW M5
Do the sporty driving modes turn up the 530d’s fun?
Sport mode adds makes the steering feel heavier, helping disguise the dead spot around the straightahead that makes this sizeable machine intimidating on smaller, winding roads. Throttle and gearbox response is sharpened, encouraging you to have a go at flicking those obedient paddleshifters yourself. Sport Plus dials back the traction control, and while a rear-wheel drive saloon with over 400lb ft and no immediate safety net can be a guilty pleasure, the big Five is a little too aloof to be goading in the same way you might a similarly potent (but wieldier) 3-series. We’d like a pick’n’mix setting to team meatier steering with a more relaxed gearbox, as per Audi’s Drive Select interface.
BMW claims that the facelifted 5-series has a more precise, predictable chassis balance than the old car, but you’d have to be very brave with this £43,865 express to clearly isolate the difference. Either way, you’ll have more fun in here than an Audi A6 or a Lexus GS. Jaguar’s XF steers more sweetly, but it’s a much more dated proposition both inside the cabin and under the bonnet.
Special mention goes to the ride quality. M Sport BMWs have (often rightly) taken a pasting for making a dog’s dinner of British tarmac – something that needed addressing given over 50% of UK Beemers are specced with the big wheels, bodykit and ‘M’ accoutrements inside. The near-1800kg 530d M Sport doesn’t glide serenely over bumps – they register in the cabin, but they don’t jar, or upset the balance.
Large imperfections are felt and dealt with in one assured suspension stroke – ideal body control, in other words. Joy of joys – you can pay £2185 for M Sport kudos, get the slim-spoked steering wheel (miles more attractive than the regular SE car’s bus driver helm) and not sacrifice sensible damping in the process.
It’d be harsh to say the 530d lives in no-man’s land between the 60mpg parsimony of the ubiquitous 520d and the flagship 535d’s 5.3sec 0-62mph pace. In fact, the 530d is an accomplished (if detached) example of a cracking sports saloon.
If you’re left wanting more – and we can’t imagine you would be – there’s inevitably another 5-series for that. In isolation, the 530d is a very fine car: beautifully finished, effortless quick, and brilliantly usable.
>> Now click here to check out CAR’s scoop on the all-new 2016 BMW 5-series