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BMW 530d xDrive long-term test: in it for the long haul

Published: 20 March 2018

► BMW's 530d xDrive on CAR's fleet
► Sporty, fast, awd and not an SUV
► CAR's test diary with the latest 5-series

It's all happened very, very quickly. Two years ago I attended the international press launch of the then new 7-series: the G11/G12 if you speak model codes; the one with remote parking and gesture control if you don't.

Back then, the 7-series was everything I wanted it to be. A timeless luxury saloon fortified with all of BMW's very latest technology, not least carbonfibre elements in critical areas of its structure to cut weight. Up front, our test cars ran 3.0-litre turbodiesel sixes, naturally, for a seductive blend of performance, character and something approaching economy. I was smitten, and couldn't wait for the slightly smaller, slightly more affordable 7-derived new 5-series that would surely follow.

Thing is, by the time it did, everything had changed. The carefully cultivated respectability of diesel engines had been ransacked, the trend of trading convention for high-riding SUV had firmly taken hold and silent, serene Model S Teslas had become part of the landscape, certainly on and within the M25. All of which would have left the G30 5-series feeling positively archaic were it not for the inescapable truth that it's magnificent: superior in many ways to the 7-series that inspired it, and certainly one of the finest day-to-day cars I've ever had the good fortune to call mine.

BMW 530d mode select

The 5-series presents three big decisions when you launch the configurator: powertrain, saloon or estate, and to xDrive or not to xDrive.

Upgrading from the 2.0-litre diesel to the 3.0-litre brings a not insignificant price increase but on the evidence of this tenure it's one worth stomaching. Peak power of 261bhp alone doesn't make for a quick car but more than 450lb ft of torque, a fabulously capable eight-speed, twin-clutch transmission and unimpeachable all-wheel-drive traction do, and with the six in its nose the 5-series gains a suitably effortless turn of speed, one that works as hard as the massage seats and the astonishingly quiet cabin to help melt away stress and distance. Economy? Mid- to high-30s, despite my fairly thirsty, motorway-shy commute and general impatience. (Range is a fantastic 500 miles or so, thanks to a cavernous 66-litre tank.)

Saloon or estate? The saloon's boot is enormous – its capacity and endless depth never defeated in my time with the car – but we have a dog, so I'd go estate. Easy. And believe it or not the answer to the xDrive dilemma is just as straightforward: take it. There are penalties (in price, on-paper economy and your subsequent inability to knock off all the electronics and hang the tail out like a Hollywood cop car in hot pursuit), of course there are, but the big win is an astonishing all-weather, any-road competence that works with the 5's fine chassis, blissful refinement and gorgeous engine to breed a confidence and sense of satisfaction that make the monthly payments that much easier to swallow.

BMW 530d badge

With xDrive the 5-series effectively gains 100bhp, so early can you accelerate on the exit of every corner and roundabout. You steal five car lengths on everything around you from every green light, and wheelspin – and that dreaded stuttering yellow traction light on the dash – simply never troubles you.

Huge mechanical grip helps here too, of course, our Michelin-equipped M Sport car riding on vast 20-inch wheels with contact patches like helipads, but all that torque would still over-rotate the rears on wet days were it not for the four-wheel-drive system. Knock the stability control back, explore how the system works under duress and it's pretty neutral, preferring squat-and-drive to slightly crossed-up Group B shenanigans. Perhaps the M5's best-of-both-worlds switchable all-wheel drive/rear-wheel drive will reach the rest of the range in time.

Complaints? Very few. The A-pillars are huge, body roll is pretty significant for a car billed as a sports saloon, and gesture control and steering control assistant just don't work well enough in these days of super-slick Tesla Autopilot, but in the round the 5-series is almost certainly the car you're looking for: a supremely capable rock in a fast-changing world of uncertainty.

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 805
Total miles 7770
Our mpg 36.4
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £129.01
Extra costs £5.50 (screenwash and forecourt air line)

Count the cost: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Cost new £66,150 (including £16,110 of options)
Dealer sale price £44,252
Private sale price £42,105
Part-exchange price £40,750
Cost per mile 13p
Cost per mile including depreciation £2.67


Month 7 living with a BMW 530d: a day in the life of our exec

7.40am

If I'm half-asleep in the mornings, our teenage boys are firmly comatose. In this daze the 5-series is a joy, swaddling backsides in seats that feel like a lie-in and a cabin that, thanks in no small part to the Ambient Air fragrance system I initially disregarded as gimmicky, still feels special half a year on. Display key allows for climate pre-conditioning but I never, ever use it.

8.14am

Handsome BMW treads the school-run car park line beautifully; handsome enough for the boys not to request a covert drop around the back, not so ostentatious as to raise eyebrows.

While they're disembarking (the boot doesn't bat an eyelid at any amount of oversized luggage, even cricket bags), I can smugly watch my phone charge wirelessly and check the weather and news headlines via the 5-series' Connected Drive. Again, I never thought I'd use it; I was wrong.

8.16-8.42am

The run to work has it all: sinuous backroads so bumpy they'd break a steamroller, fast stretches of dual carriageway and traffic. With the dampers set to Comfort the BMW's ride is gorgeously pliant, even on our car's big wheels, and while it always feels nicely hefty, the 530d does a fine Golf R impression on twisty roads.

BMW 5 Series interior

Winter's soundly seen off by xDrive all-wheel drive, an all-wheel-drive system so sweetly resolved it renders the car's stability and traction control systems entirely redundant.

6.10-6.42pm

On the interesting route home the 5-series is, the vast majority of the time, perfectly judged, soothing away the day with its immense refinement and equally immense engine. BMW has built more exciting sports saloons in its time but few this versatile, this effortlessly capable.

Particularly good are the HUD, voice recognition to switch radio stations, the sheer grip the car summons in any weather and the adaptive LED headlights with faultless high-beam assistant. Meanwhile gesture control remains pointless – it's hit and miss – where the thumb controls on the wheel always hit.

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 805
Total miles 7770
Our mpg 36.4
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £129.01
Extra costs £5.50 (screenwash and forecourt air line)


Month 6 living with a BMW 530d: it's all relative

My 530d M Sport isn’t a true sports saloon (the M5 will be along shortly to scratch that itch) but as it’s a BMW wearing M Sport badging you’d expect a degree of enthusiasm. And to an extent that’s what you get.

Configure the 5-series to Sport everything and the powertrain switches from smooth to jumpy while the body control tautens noticeably, ready for some more ambitious corner-entry speeds. But you still drive the 5-series like a traffic cop; fast, smooth, undramatic. Something about its size and heft makes you adopt this unsmiling style and it is satisfying, if not tingly-palmed thrilling.


For that you need a true sports saloon, like Phil’s Alfa Giulia QV I borrowed it for a week, failed to wash it and went through whole oilfields of super unleaded. But I also had a blast. After the Giulia, with its B-road-friendly size, wildly fast steering, monumental engine and incredibly communicative chassis, the 5-series feels enormously grown-up. It feels pretty enormous too, an impression heightened by the 300kg weight difference. Not worse, just different. And roughly the same money…

Personally, I’d find it a really tough choice. Being a size smaller, the Alfa’s obviously more cramped inside, particularly in the back, with a far less useful boot (480 Italian litres versus 570 German ones), but how often do you use all four seats? When they’re back there, our two teenagers didn’t grumble in the Alfa, though the dog was understandably reluctant to use its boot. Maybe the lesson here is to go one way or the other – full Alfa sports saloon or ten-tenths family car, otherwise known as the £52,305 530d M Sport Touring.  

 

Month 5 living with a 2017 BMW 5-series

Turn this all off!

I've taken to disabling many of the G30 5-series' assistance systems. Active Cruise Control is accomplished, and you can leave it in charge down to a standstill, but Steering Assistant is unsophisticated, Lane Change Warning is irritating and the Approach Warning klaxon goes off constantly, even when it's set to 'Late'.

BMW 530d xDrive seat

Watch the throne

Our 7-series wasn't blessed with seats that suited me. But the 5-series' are seriously good, as an eight-hour trip proved. Falling into the £1265 comfort seats elicits groans of pleasure every time. The massage function is good, though there must be a quicker way to activate it than my 30-second iDrive input marathon.

BMW 530d xDrive head up

Thumbs up

The head-up display neatly integrates sat-nav and the adaptive cruise control, showing both your speed and the new speed limit (picked out with unfailing accuracy by the car's stereo cameras and mapping data), so that all you need do is click up or down on the cruise speed control to go straight to the new limit.

BMW 530d xDrive engine

The masterpiece

As Ben Barry discovered on his epic Morocco adventure earlier in the year, the 5-series is a fine car in 520d form. But you'd be unlikely to regret the £8k push for the 3.0-litre diesel six, which is returning high-30s mpg. One day I'll summon the patience to do some grown-up driving, and hit high-40s, if not BMW's 53.3.

By Ben Miller

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 1008
Total miles 6183
Our mpg 36.2
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £150.44
Extra costs £5.50 (screenwash and forecourt air line)


Month 4 living with a 2017 BMW 5-series: wedding wheels

I managed to pry the 5-series' fat key out of Ben Miller's hand this month for a whole week. The time was spent doing everything from wafting up the A1 to visit my mum in Newcastle to showing off the tech wizardry to my friends, but the week peaked when it was dolled up with ribbon and bows and used as a wedding car for my big sister and her new husband. It was an honour to chaufffeur the happy couple, and proof that the Big Five can do almost everything you need a car to do with ease.

By Jake Groves

Logbook: BMW 530d M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 
8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 
5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price 
£49,335
As tested 
£66,150
Miles this month 
984
Total miles 
5175
Our mpg 
34.5
Official mpg 
53.3
Fuel this month 
£156.96
Extra costs 
£0


BMW 5-series CAR magazine long-termer

Month 3 living with a BMW 530d xDrive: have we found perfection?

Not long after the 530d arrived, my Caterham racing life presented me with a decision: book a hotel near Aintree, venue for one of our sprints, or do the event in one day – up there from Peterborough in time for signing-on at 7.30am, home 13 hours later if I was lucky. That's 160 miles, and three hours 20 minutes each way. Nothing grabbed me during the briefest of hotel searches so I set the alarm for 4am and packed my gear into the 5-series' vast boot.

Next morning and, 20 minutes in, I was having a blast. 
Figuratively speaking, whole sections of my brain may have still been back home on the pillow, but fortunately the 530d has a brain of its own, plus so much innate ability you don't need to bring a whole lot of yours to the table.

The first section of my route comprised flowing B- and A-roads west from the A1 to Derby and thence the A50 on to the M6. With two big towns to contend with and plenty of traffic, this journey's a nose-to-tail 50mph (if you're lucky) convoy at peak times. The rest of the day it's navigable at speed by motorcycle or, if you get a good run, by quick-ish car. At 4.30am it's one of the greatest roads I've ever driven: quick, deserted, largely rural and with enough corners to keep you interested. The 530d was mighty, its powertrain effortlessly bringing the speed while xDrive and the big Pirellis' sheer grip surgically removed all risk from roads still damp from overnight rain.

From Derby, the drive was dual carriageway and then 
M6 motorway north: considerably less fun but good for highlighting the BMW's rolling refinement: its regal ride quality with the dampers set to Comfort and the way in which you're almost completely isolated from the kinetic fury of 80mph cruising – I imagine an unpowered pod in space has harsher NVH.

The adaptive cruise control and nav systems work brilliantly, with the former taking the car right down to a standstill if needed and the latter displaying key turns on the HUD, so there really is no excuse for missing your exit. So it's a shame that the hands-free lane-keeping just isn't adept enough to be your natural choice: when it's engaged, the car gently ping-pongs down the lane like a drunk in an alleyway.

On balance, though, the BMW is one hell of an any-roads tool. That day it was just a towbar (handily Caterham transported my race car) and perhaps another 50bhp (so greedy) shy of perfection.

By Ben Miller

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 1805
Total miles 4191
Our mpg 38.5
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £269.62
Extra costs £0


Month 2 living with a BMW 530d xDrive: sporting intentions

Unless waters are breaking in the back and you’re 25 miles from hospital, Sport is a committed setting in the 5-series.

The throttle response is crisp but the dampers set semi-solid and the shift map treats the turbodiesel like a 50cc two-stroke. So now the customisable Sport Individual setting is my Comfort: Sport throttle, Comfort everything else.

And because it’s a Sport setting, engine stop/start is disarmed. I’m also left with full-blooded Sport up my sleeve should we really need to haul.

By Ben Miller

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 996
Total miles 2386
Our mpg 36.8
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £146.04
Extra costs £0


BMW 5-series CAR magazine long-termer

Month 1 with a BMW 530d xDrive: hello, what on earth are you?

CAR’s Georg Kacher is one of the most fearless automotive writers in the game, one rarely found on fences.

Back in the January issue he pulled together one of the most important two-car tests of the year; Mercedes-Benz’s handsome, tech-laden E-class and the then brand new 5-series in 530d xDrive guise: 261bhp, 457lb ft, 0-62mph in 5.4sec, 53.3mpg, six cylinders, all-wheel drive and almost all of the 7-series’ toys, including gesture control, semi-autonomous capability and a key the size of a house brick.

Very late spoiler alert: the BMW won – ‘The Mercedes comes second in vehicle dynamics and high technology. The BMW wins on merit, and because it has learned to beat its arch-rival at its own game.’

The car Georg drove in Germany was an SE but this being the performance-obsessed UK, we’ve naturally gone for an M Sport example. Time was, that meant surrendering anything resembling a pliant ride for vice-like body control, nice wheels and a few clicks more visual impact. Our car’s adaptive dampers promise control without the gritted-teeth payoff.

Right now, the 5-series saloon range kicks off with the 520d and tops off with the 540i, with the 530d and 530i the interim engines. Lovely though the 540i (and four-cylinder 530i) are, the 5-series and a three-litre turbodiesel straight-six are a timeless combination.

BMW 5-series long-term 530d xDrive interior

Choose the same engine with M Sport trim and the base spend is a shade under £50k. (The 520d starts at just under £40k). Our car adds £16k of options, so we’ll be able to test almost everything a brave option junkie can add to BMW’s 2017 take on the big sports saloon.

At the top of the list is the £2145 M Sport Plus package, which adds 19in M double-spoke 664M wheels (our 20-inch BMW Individual V-spoke 759s are £1200), tinted windows and Harman Kardon audio. Also making easy cases for themselves are the VDC variable dampers (£985), the Technology package (£1495) with the Display key (set the climate control and check the state of the locks and windows remotely), head-up display, gesture control (adjust volume by theatrically twirling a finger in mid-air), wireless phone charging and wi fi), the Visibility package (£1295) with adaptive LED headlights and high-beam assistant and three no-cost M Sport no-brainers: body styling, steering wheel and the high-gloss Shadowline exterior trim. 

Much of the rest of the spend is non-essential but intriguing stuff. When do you really need rear and side window blinds worth £410? Or soft-close doors at £435? While a powered bootlid, massage seats and a choice of two ambient air fragrances sound like nice ideas, wouldn’t you rather have £2170 in your back pocket? We shall see. 

And now here it is, looking every inch the stealthy any-roads weapon in Sophisto grey metallic, black leather and not a flash of chrome. We know it’s good – Georg already said so, and BMW hasn’t fluffed a 5-series in some time. But what, and who, is it for? Why build a car with massage seats and Comfort suspension capable of out-wafting an E-Class only to stick it on wafer-thin Pirellis wrapped around 20-inch wheels?

BMW 5-series long-term 530d xDrive connected drive camera

Why would a family car buyer eschew an SUV (£66,150 buys an extremely well-equipped Discovery, Q7 or X5) but take the weight, price and CO2 hit of four-wheel drive in your low-riding, non-off-road saloon? And while the new 5-series has driver assists including adaptive cruise and lane departure with active steering, is any of it good enough to trust day-in, day-out?

We’ve an indulgent six months to get the measure of this most indulgent of 5-series, and if we haven’t managed it by autumn then there really is no hope for us – Georg fell for the Five in just two days. 

By Ben Miller

Logbook: BMW 530d xDrive M Sport

Engine 2993cc 6cyl turbodiesel, 261bhp @ 4000rpm, 457lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive  
Stats 5.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 138g/km CO2  
Price £49,335
As tested £66,150
Miles this month 1390
Total miles 1390
Our mpg 35.0
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £266.85
Extra costs £0

Check out more BMW reviews here

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three

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