Diesel power is set to be Britain’s choice when it comes to the new BMW model, says Frederic Manby. He found the 530d’s engine serene and the automatic gearbox seamless.
BMW says its 5-series is now complete with the arrival in showrooms of the Touring estate model. It follows the niche-seller GT fastback of last year which left me puzzled and this year’s saloon, the volume seller, which left me impressed. Just a point: the estate costs some £2,300 more than the saloon.
The 2010 version of the Touring is the fourth since 1992 in a 5-series that accounts for a quarter of the carmaker’s sales in Britain.
They have got longer. The body is stretched more between the wheels, giving it added elegance in the side view, which is flattered by a more rounded tailgate—retaining the practicality of a pop-up rear window for snappier loading of shopping.Inside it there is a little extra luggage space, ranking second in class to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Other load lugging rivals for your money are the Audi A6 and the Volvo V70. Saab is expected to have an estate version of its all-new 9-5 sometime next year.
The Touring rides on self-levelling rear suspension, which gives a controlled andconstant posture whatever your load. The rear seats foldaway in three parts, with the narrowest in the middle.
They can be flipped forwardusing latches located inside the load area which is convenient when you realise you need that extra cargo space. While there is a choice of tasty petrol engines they are bit players to diesel power.
Brand manager Michelle Roberts expects 90 per cent of Britons will choose diesel, from the 520d, 525d, 535d twin turbo and, making its debut, the single turbo 530d, simultaneously offered in the saloon from today. This is a 245hp 3-litre straight six, developing 398 lb-ft torque.
Officially, with the speed automatic gearbox it records 165g/km of CO2 and about 45 miles a gallon. Making its debut on the Touring 520d model are easy rolling tyres for improved economy.
With brake regeneration and stop-start ignition and the manual gearbox it records 54mpg and 139g/km CO2, with a quick enough time of 8.3 seconds for 0-62mph. It costs about £30,000 and is the cheapest of all the new Touring models, another reason why thirstier and dirtier petrol is losing favour in this class of motoring.
Standard equipment includes Dakota leather seating, Bluetooth communication, front and rear parking sensors and aluminium roof rails.
Today, is also launch day for MSport models in the Touring and saloon, a package which brings 18 inch wheels, sportier cosmetics and gripper front seats and a lowered sports suspension, though drivers who prefer a more cosseting chassis can delete this part of the kit. M Sport is big business for BMW GB, with 80 per cent of six cylinder models specified with it, and 50 per cent overall. The price increase is £3,200.
At a pre-launch preview on excellent Bavarian roads I tried the 530d SE, which at £39,400 carries a competitive H-band road tax and benefit in kind company taxation of 25 per cent. Popular extras will include voice activated navigation in a £1,960 BMW media pack. The sports automatic eight-speed gearbox added £1,605 and another £5,000 could be spent on adaptive suspension and a dynamic handling pack. I really wouldn’t bother unless I was going to drive it at speeds which are unrealistic on most British roads.
My demo car had all this plus 19 inch wheels (another £1,850 please), a panoramic glass roof with opening front section (£1,200), xenon lights with auto dipping (£1,210) and some other helpers such as head-up display on the screen (£940). Its official stats are 44.1mpg and 691g/km of CO2, with a rapid 0-62mph time of 6.4 seconds and maximum of 151mph.
BMWuses an advanced laboratory in Munich to develop its cars for the world’s roads. It can simulate toiling up Colorado’s Pikes Peak to a height of 4,200 metres or plunging 100m below sea level in California’s Death Valley at 40C.
It can throw in extremes such as man-made snow, headwinds, side winds, and a whole panoply of conditions in which its cars are expected to performwithout fail. Its Mini and Rolls-Royce brands also use this centre. The facility means that it can test in seasonal climates all year, and it saves 50 per cent of travel costs but the cars are still tested in the real world.
One can’t avoid the fact that they are well-suited for German roads and the 530d Touring is a superb highspeed car. The engine is serene, the latest in an engineering dynasty which started with aero engines in a wooden barn on the Munich site a century ago.
The automatic gearbox is one of the best in the industry, with what you can call seamless shifts. However, I’ll wager that novices will curse the selector lever, which requires a sequence of button squeezing to engage gear.
This awkwardness will have been signed off as acceptable in the massive R&D department at Munich, effectively a BMW suburb with, nearby, its public arena where the new cars are displayed along with the antecedents, the aero engines that powered civilian planes and others in two world wars, the motor bikes that put it on the road in the 1920s and the Austin 7-based light cars that followed.
The history lesson is inspiring, with a range of cars which were always visually stimulating and in many cases rather gorgeous. As a prequel we were driven around the streets of Munich in a variety of these “historics” and the effect on the citizens was vivid. I was in a rakish 502 cabriolet from the 1930s, painted sage green, with a small block V8 motor: just marvellous.
Today’s cars are more prescriptive. They have to meet severe environmental and safety legislation. On the day of the visit to its Energy and Environmental Test Centre Dow Jones Sustainability Index announced that the BMW Group was the automotive industry’s Supersector leader for the sixth consecutive year, and therefore the world’s most sustainable car maker.
BMW employs some 96,000 people, of which 6,000 are on site at the Energy and Environmental centre. Their tasks include developing advanced systems with which the driver can control the ever more complicated instrumentation and mechanical gubbins. One device continually cuts off the vision of the lab technician for a second or so, in order to see if, say, the navigation can be operated without distraction from driving the car.
It seems to me that this is a vicious circle. More kit, more distraction, more analysis, more kit, etc. It is costing BMW a fortune to run in this techno rat race. In comparison, a mobile phone actually seems less distracting than trying to fathom BMW’s I-Drive communications unit.
• This report has appeared in the Yorkshire Post