CAPE TOWN - The new BMW 530d has the odds stacked against it in the current market place. Firstly, sedans are not exactly the flavour of the month as proven by the hordes of SUVs on our roads. Secondly, the 5 Series range now starts at R770 956 (for the 520d) and this specific model surpassed the R1-million mark with its options fitted, which is plenty of money for a mid-model-range executive saloon. Lastly, “Dieselgate” has done the international reputation of oil-burners no favours.
However, do not let the listed concerns prompt you to cancel your order; it is a brilliant vehicle.
Turbodiesel engines are known for a good performance-to-fuel-consumption ratio. In the 530d, the six-cylinder, 3,0-litre mill delivers 195 kW but, even more impressively, 620 N.m. It is this latter figure that lends the vehicle an elastic, mid-range acceleration capability that the 540i (3,0-litre turbo petrol with 250 kW and 450 N.m) we had on test a week earlier simply cannot match. The instant response to throttle inputs in town reminds of a high-power electric powertrain pushing the vehicle along. In this case, though, a meaty growl from the engine department is pleasant to the ear.
On our test strip, the powertrain connected to the slick eight-speed torque converter transmission matched the impressive 0-100 km/h claim from BMW of 5,7 seconds. The fuel consumption claim of 5,1 L/100 km is slightly optimistic, but our fuel route figure of 6,5 L/100 km is still mighty impressive given the performance potential on offer.
The only criticisms against the 530d engine compared to that of the petrol unit in the 540i are the slightly less refined nature and reduced peak performance. The steering wheel vibrates slightly at idle (if the stop-start function does not kick in) and the turbodiesel runs ever so slightly out of puff towards redline in each gear. This is all relative, though, as it still packs enough punch to attempt three-trucks-at-once overtaking manoeuvres…
Ride and handling
The advantage of piloting a sedan compared to an SUV is immediately apparent when the road starts to snake. The low centre of gravity and planted feel of the 530d allows the driver to confidently turn the vehicle into a bend and enjoy the building of lateral force while the vehicle stays in complete control. Yes, the 5 Series may not be as nimble as its more popular smaller brother, but it thrives on long, sweeping bends at high speed.
Sport mode enhances the response of the powertrain further while the dynamic traction control option (one press of the traction control button) elicits a few chirps from the Michelin rubber during enthusiastic driving. Switching off the traction control can result in anti-social behaviour (i.e tail-slides) not in tune with the elegant persona of this vehicle.
Our test unit was sans the adaptive damper option (fitted to the 540i unit) and it is clear that a slight compromise was made in terms of ultimate ride comfort. The standard suspension (in combination with the 19-inch wheels) results in a slightly firmer ride in Comfort mode than expected, especially when a ridge in the road surface is encountered. This was obviously done to enhance the cornering prowess, but we would suggest ticking the adaptive suspension option to get the best of both worlds.
It is clear that BMW has evolved the previous styling rather than risking upsetting potential buyers in an slightly conservative segment of the market. The company has mostly succeeded and it is a good looking car in the flesh, but only keen eyes will spot that it is indeed the new 5.
Inside, the cabin mimics the technologically advanced setup of the 7 Series and it can feel intimidating at first as controlling the infotainment system can be done by various means. This includes the traditional iDrive controller, touchscreen, voice control and also gesture control, with the latter involving hand gestures above the centre console. Best is to use the function you are most comfortable with.
There is no denying that the materials, fit-and-finish and layout speak of craftsmanship of the highest order, but somehow the interior lacks that X-factor offered for example by Mercedes-Benz.
With a increase of 36 mm in length, the 5 Series offers impressive rear legroom (700 mm) and the boot swallows 392 L, according to our measurements. That means there shouldn't be an issue fitting the holiday luggage of a family. In some sense, it makes one wonder whether the 7 Series is superfluous...
Although most potential buyers will probably opt for a luxury SUV, the few that decide on the 530d have made the right decision. It offers almost the space of a 7 Series, is frugal beyond reproach and provides true dynamic driving enjoyment. The fact that it costs a bar in this form will add to its exclusivity ... and ensure access to priority parking at high-end hotels.
See Full BMW 5 Series Sedan price and specs here