Some people buy a BMW to show off the propeller roundel when handing over the key to a valet jockey while their snooty friends watch with envy. To these people, nothing I write here like fuel economy, cost of maintaining the car or second hand value will make any difference. When their car celebrates the 2nd birthday, they are out shopping for the next Mercedes or Audi. However, the thing about sturdy, solid German build quality and engineering is that they are surprisingly long lasting. Long enough for the car to depreciate in value for the rest of us to afford one.
I bought this 2006 BMW 523i (e60) little over a year ago and am happy to report that it lives up to my expectations. Though build quality is not as good as can be found in the early model 3 series (e36 & e46) or the predecessor 5 series (e39) you can still expect superior experience to owning, say, a mid to low range popular japanese or korean car. With the N52B25 magnesium engine, you get 400km to the tank in the city while on the highway it becomes a thrifty 600km per tank luxury comfort experience.
2.5 litres may not be a lot for real motoring enthusiasts but trust the pinnacle of German engineering (at the time) to squeeze as much as possible out of the engine. Mated to a 6-speed steptronic gearbox it churns out 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque. The variants of this model come with 3.0, 4.0, 4.5 and 4.8 litre engines while the M5 packs a 5 litre V10 engine with more power than you would know what to do with. Yet, I never longed for a bigger or more powerful engine, probably because I don’t drag race on weekends.
The car also comes with electronic everything – from seats to rear window blinds. The basic audio system is not great, probably tuned to play snooty classical music like Bach rather than Maroon 5, which is what working adults like me listen to. That is where the problem starts for working adults like me, we tend to think that we can fix anything and minor maintenance work on our cars is a sign of manliness. Everything is that little bit more complicated, given the high-tech electronics. Even to customise a simple door lock option you have to take it to the dealer or run a less-than-user-friendly software on your laptop. It’s only going to get worse. New BMWs will probably come with a joystick or mind-reading helmets instead of a steering wheel.
This particular model I owned did not have many faults or breakdowns in my ownership, probably well looked after by the previous owner. That, is then, quite essential in the whole second-hand BMW scenario. Buying a lemon with a blown piston ring or broken gearbox may very well be a nightmare. Most of the money I ever spent were to install the m-sport bodykits, performance shocks and respraying the car. Being a mature technology from nearly 10 years ago, many cheap aftermarket parts and upgrades are readily available for this model.
However, when they do breakdown, be prepared to pay above average parts cost and if you bring the car to an authorised service centre, a hefty service cost as well. The only comfort you find in this is that the premium parts you pay for is likely to last another 10 worry free years. These days you can save a lot of money by finding much cheaper OEM parts online, if you are willing to wait for the ship to sail in from China, where ALL things are manufactured nowadays. But be prepared to compromise cost for quality.
So, there you have it. I was looking for the Ultimate Driving Machine in a well known automotive brand and got a good, lovable car with tonnes of memory in it. What I look for in a car today is not what I looked for 10 years ago. Cars evolve and people evolve but the love-hate relationship between man and machine will live on. Do some research and test the car you plan to buy. No matter what I write here, even with my PhD in car review, the BMW 523i is a car you should at least take for a test drive.