When faced with the all-new Mercedes E-class, the apparently new Audi A6 and Jaguar’s XF, it’s all too easy to forget about the executive saloon segment’s benchmark, the BMW 5-series. With a replacement due in 2010, we at CAR thought it time to reappraise the Five. Not least because CAR Online wasn’t around when the current 5-series was first launched, so we don't have many reviews on our site. So read on for our 'first' web drive of the latest BMW 530d and 520d.
I think I know the BMW 5-series pretty well, but remind me what it’s about...
The 5-series is what BMW does best. The 1-series isn’t much better than a Golf and the Three is too ubiquitous for more discerning clientele, while the big 7-series is still beaten by the Mercedes S-class around these parts. But the Five stands proud, arguably the best mainstream car BMW makes.
The current 5-series was originally introduced in 2003 (and the public’s love-hate relationship with the styling seems to have mellowed since then), and we drove the facelifted car in 2007, when BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology was introduced to the range. That means regenerative braking (actually just intelligent charging of the alternator), a gearshift indicator and active aerodynamics – meaning flaps over the air intakes don’t open when the engine’s cold. There's no stop-start technology (or start-stop as BMW calls it) on the current Five though, but the next-gen car will have it.
How does the current car stack up with its engines?
The 530d really is all the car you ever need. Sure, the 535d (really the same 3.0-litre straight six, but with twin turbos to the 530d’s single blower) is faster, but you don’t need that extra grunt. Believe us, 232bhp and 368lb ft is perfectly acceptable. It pushes you along on that wave of torque, and even adds a pleasing (albeit muted) straight six howl.
Our test car was a manual, so it should do a claimed 44.1mpg and only puff out 170g/km CO2; despite its 1655kg kerbweight, it’ll still hit 62mph in 6.8 seconds. More importantly, it’ll pile on thrust through the mid-range, making overtaking dawdlers a doddle.
The manual shift itself is pretty good, typically BMW with a real mechanical feel, though those used to finger-light Audi shifts might find it a little arthritic.
Our car was equipped with the M Sport pack, which adds a fancy gearstick and steering wheel, sports seats, 18-in alloys, sports suspension and a bodykit. It’s a £3065 extra, and but although we like the bulging body addendum and seats, we much prefer the standard suspension (it’s firm enough with those run flat tyres) and thinner non-M steering wheel.
>> Click 'Next' below to read our review of the BMW 520d
And the BMW 520d?
If you didn’t know it already, this is the most popular 5-series – and pretty good it is too. Our car wasn’t optioned-up, so it was strange to sit on cloth seats, but a pleasure to hold the lovely thin wheel.
With less weight over the front wheels, the 520d is slightly lighter on its feet than the 530d, but both cars share the nicely weighted steering that inspires confidence when you want to leave behind your businessman persona and blast down a back road.
It’s just about quick enough, too. A mere 175bhp and 258lb ft might not sound like much, but it’s enough providing you think ahead and are prepared to use the gearbox. Unfortunately, the four-pot lacks the six-cylinder engine’s howl, but it makes up for it by returning 55.4mpg and emitting only 136g/km. It’s yours for a rather tempting £27,430.
Tell me about the interior
BMWs have never been the biggest cars in their respective classes and the 5-series is no different. But it’s still spacious enough for a big family of four, or there’s always the Touring. Or there’s always the forthcoming PAS quasi MPV we’ll see later this year if you’re feeling brave.
The cabin itself features iDrive, which works okay, but still isn’t wholly intuitive and is nowhere near as good as the latest system in the new 7-series and the facelifted 3-series. For those that can’t stand iDrive, don’t worry; you can still adjust the radio and air-con without delving into its inner brain.
The dashboard is also starting to look a little dated, and with most of the major functions controlled by iDrive, the clean and uncluttered modern look actually appears bare. The Audi A6 is nicer inside, and the new E-class is smarter too.
The previous generation 5-series was the best car in the executive class for its entire lifecycle. The current Five has never enjoyed such domination, and has faced tough opposition from Jaguar’s charming XF. Yet as a car to drive and own it’s still number one, despite being blunted by time and ubiquity.
>> Will the new BMW 5-series be the class best? Would you still have a current 5-series over and above the new Audi A6 and Mercedes E-class? Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say