8 / 10
2011 BMW 520d Touring
It doesn’t seem to matter which BMW you get into; diesel, petrol, sedan, wagon, they’re almost always an exciting car to drive. It’s that perfect balance between luxury, technology and sports performance, and very few other car companies do it better than the Bavarian Motor Works.
We were supposed to be road testing the 535i Touring with its 3.0-litre straight-six TwinPower Turbo engine, which puts out 225kW and 400Nm from 1200rpm through to 5000rpm. It’s one wagon you can get excited about.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I had to attend a car launch, which clashed with the dates scheduled for the road test. That meant we would now be testing the less-powerful 520d Touring, and frankly, I wasn’t too thrilled about the change in plans. Would this be the first BMW to end up in the automotive ‘yawn’ basket?
It might be the entry level BMW 5 Series wagon with its frugal four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel, but the 520d looks decidedly sporty, especially with the addition of the comprehensive M Sport Package that this test car was equipped with. There are no engine mods included in the inventory of this ‘M’ kit, instead, there’s a set of 18-inch M light-alloy double-spoke wheels, a superb M leather steering wheel, sports seats for the driver and front passenger, Aluminium Hexagon interior trim, BMW Individual High-Gloss Shadow Line and BMW Individual anthracite roof liner.
That’s not all. The highlights of the package would have to be the M aerodynamics kit, which includes a deep ‘M’ style front apron, and M sports suspension that you can curiously choose to delete if you prefer a more supple ride, but like the ‘M’ look. The cost of the package is $7900 and on an item-by-item basis, it’s a veritable bargain. The M Sport alloys alone would set you back more than $4000 if sold separately, not to mention the sports pews for the driver and co-pilot, which are as comfortable and supportive as anything from Recaro, short of a supercar fit out.
Lined up side-by-side with the previous generation 5 Series Touring, the new wagon presents a considerably slicker profile than its predecessor. Smoother lines and creases all round, long bonnet and sloping roof line, together with a more contemporary front and rear light assembly, give this car a tough, low stance. That’s not something you could ever have said about the previous model. The 2011 5 Series Touring is very much the sport wagon in looks and character.
The 5 Series Touring is very much a large car from whichever angle you look at it, inside or out. For starters it’s got a relatively wide track, so there’s plenty of individual space between the driver and front passenger. Measuring 2968mm, it’s also got the longest wheelbase in its class, which means there’s a tonne of load space in the cargo area, even with the rear seats in use. Lower the three rear seat sections in their unusually versatile 40/20/40 configuration though, and the carrying capacity grows to a van-like 1670 litres, not bad for a sport wagon.
That said, there isn’t enough storage volume in the storage bin in the centre console despite its overall size, so you tend to use the twin cup holders for mobile phone and wallet storage. However, there is a netted sleeve either side of the transmission tunnel, which would have been useful, if only I had known it was there.
Inside a BMW it’s all about the driver – well, more or less. The entire dash is skewed slightly towards the driver, as is the all important drive selector. Our test car was also fitted with the extra-wide LCD screen with internet connectivity, which works amazingly well, as does the Bluetooth hands-free system in the 520d.
While BMWs are of course a luxury car, don’t go expecting lashings of Walnut veneer and soft pile carpet a la Rolls Royce; it’s more of a business class approach to interiors that Munich adopts. Personally, I prefer the aluminium treatment in this car to the old school wood look; it’s more of a match with the sports performance nature of the BMW marque.
That’s not to say that I don’t like the lashings of leather that have gone into the manufacturing of what are some of the most comfortable seats in the business. It’s not just the fact that they seem to cosset your torso like a glove to a hand, but it’s the high level of side bolster and support when you’re punting along through some bends at a spirited pace that you’ll like even more.
It might be one of least powerful diesel engines that BMW produces, and this is a relatively large car, weighing in at 1715kg, but perhaps unfairly, I still expected strong levels of performance and handling from the 520d.
For a 2.0-litre diesel, it’s power and torque outputs are impressive at 135kW and 380Nm respectively. It’s sufficient to push the car along from 0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds, and on to a top speed of 220km/h. The car would accelerate faster if it weren’t for the turbo lag whenever you jump on the right pedal with any aggression. The forced induction is via single variable geometry turbocharger. Peak torque doesn’t kick in until 1750rpm and starts tapering off at 2750rpm.
Behind the wheel though, the 520d feels anything but slow. The mid-range acceleration is plenty rapid if you keep your right foot buried, and will satisfy most, even the enthusiasts. I found the most effective method of getting away the lights, or an intersection, is to feed in the power gently until the turbo spools up and then plant the accelerator pedal.
I also had the opportunity to travel some distance on the freeway and was impressed with just how stable this car was, not to mention the comfort. That’s no surprise either, as another standard feature on board the 520d Touring is a sophisticated self-levelling air suspension system on the rear that maintains the car’s height regardless of the driving and load at the time.
It would be absolutely no issue to cruise at 200km/h-plus in the Touring, if only we were lucky enough to be driving on a German autobahn. Pity that.
Power to the rear wheels is an effortless and smooth affair too, thanks to the superb eight-speed auto transmission that’s standard kit on the new 5 Series. It does tend to hunt for lower gear ratios a little too frequently around suburbia, but that’s only if you don’t subscribe to the ‘gentle power on’ method that I suggested earlier.
Despite this being a rather lengthy wagon, the 520d will out-handle many other well-engineered sedans. In fact, best you treat it as a sports sedan, as that’s how it performs in the twisty bits when pushed a little – and that’s in the wet!
It’s no surprise really. Both the 535i and 520d share the same all-aluminium double-wishbone front suspension, which is why sharp turn-ins at pace won’t do anything to unsettle this car. Few if any in this industry would ever be able to pick this test car for an example of a car with the M sport suspension option deleted. That said, we sure would like to drive a 5 Series Touring with that particular box checked.
You might be excused for thinking such adept handling would compromise the ride quality of the 520d, especially the Touring variant with its additional length and weight. Not a chance. I took the car over some of the worst suburban roads I know of in Sydney. In fact, I purposely aimed the front wheels directly at the largest potholes, and not only did the car remain on track, but these ‘holes’ in the road surface were dispensed with, with no less than luxury car suppleness.
The M Sport steering wheel is another superb bit of kit. It’s quite a thick-rimmed unit and maybe difficult to manage for smaller hands, but it’s as much about the near perfect weight and communication through the tiller that makes this car such a joy to drive (pardon the pun).
For all it’s performance and handling attributes (and there are plenty), the real talent of this small-capacity BMW wagon is just how frugal it is and how little it will cost you in fuel. Try 4.6L/100km on the freeway, or 5.3L/100km combined. For a large vehicle, I’d call it ultra-green too with CO2 emissions down to 139g/km thanks in part to the eight-speed box.
While there are more than a few luxury carmakers that fit their cars with head-up display systems, take it from me, BMW makes the best. For those of you still unfamiliar with a ‘Head-up Display’, this is where your speed is displayed near the bottom of your windscreen, which eliminates the dangerous practice of continually taking your eyes of the road to check your speed. That’s an all-too common practice in Australia with multiple speed zones within short stretches of road.
As you would rightly expect from a car costing $92,800, the 520d comes with a full inventory of all the active and passive safety gear available these days, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the excellent stopping power of this car, and again, that’s tried and tested in the wet.
It might be a large wagon with a small displacement diesel engine, but BMW’s 520d Touring punches so far above its weight on so many levels that against its German competition, it represents a bargain.