With extra luxury bundled in, does the 2015 BMW 535i have what it takes to make it to the finish line...
With an all-new car due to be unveiled at the 2016 Frankfurt motor show, the recently updated BMW 535i is somewhat of a last hurrah for the sixth-generation 'F10' 5 Series.
Over one million BMW 5 Series units have rolled through the world’s cities since the E12 launched back in 1972. For some fun BMW trivia, it was officially the first ‘Series’ car, with the 3 Series not following until 1975.
Gracing local roads since 2009, the F10 5 Series carries its age well and is still arguably one of the best BMW designs for decades. Our test car’s Mediterranean Blue metallic paint (a $2000 option) and M-Sport package ($4700) both helping in this regard.
The squared-off nose and long bonnet, broad ‘shoulders’ across the front arches and wide hips at the back give the 535i an athletic yet still businesslike stance. A stockbroker in a tracksuit if you will.
Maintaining looks is an impressive feat in this ever-changing market, and considering the F10 arrived before the first iPad, and has seen five changes of Australian Prime Ministership, is even more of a testament to the quality of the coachwork.
To help the $117,900 535i make it to the finish line, BMW have created a new ‘Exclusive’ package to further enhance the appeal of the car.
For an additional $3800, BMW bundle a host of goodies (worth $16,300 retail value) into the already well equipped large car.
The leather-topped dash and soft, Nappa leather seats do an excellent job of lifting the overall appeal of the 535i’s cabin. The seats are also heated and have full electric adjustment with memory function.
There are soft-close doors and a power boot lid, as well as integrated sun blinds and rear screen for rear passengers.
BMW’s ConnectedDrive 'Freedom' package and Driver Assistant Plus system are also included, which helps the six-year-old 5 Series compete with more up-to-date cars in its segment, as well as provide the level of technology that is rightfully expected at this price point. And what results is a much more complete luxury, executive saloon.
The seats are deliciously comfortable and of particular note is the multi-toned wood inlay of the dashboard above the glovebox. Even BMW’s ‘typical’ climate control and radio-preset buttons seem to work more cohesively and, as a whole, the interior does a lot to conceal the car’s age.
For rear passengers, the Nappa seats are just as cozy as those up front and there is excellent legroom, just 30mm less than in an X5. For convenience there is a centre armrest and ski-port, plus 60:40 rear seats fold flat to help with longer loads.
The boot, though, feels unfinished compared to the cabin. It’s functional and big enough at 520 litres, but the exposed metal hinge arms and rather clumsy load hooks and folding rear-seat releases do remind you that this was a car conceived almost a decade ago.
Still a neat touch, however, is the fold down safety-kit on the inside of the boot lid. There’s no full-feature tool set here any more though, just the requisite safety triangle, first-aid kit and towing eyelet.
On the move, the 535i is smooth and quiet, recording just over 60dB at 100km/h on the freeway.
Touring roads are the 5er’s specialty, and while cabin noise increases on coarser road surfaces, the big-six under the bonnet effortlessly eats up the miles.
And as well it should. With 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque, the turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder is a familiar powerplant in the BMW lineup, albeit running in the lowest-tune spec in the 535i (in the M235i for example, the engine outputs 240kW and 450Nm version). It might not be quite as exciting as the smaller and lighter ’35 cars, but the 1690kg 535i never feels short on power.
Tip the eight-speed automatic transmission across to 'manual' mode and you can use the alloy-faced paddles on the wheel to get the most out of the big 5. Like the engine, the transmission's response isn't brutal nor lightning quick, but it still provides for a tremendously rewarding drive.
Transposed from its native Bavaria, the BMW is quite at home devouring the B-roads of Central Victoria. Terrific if you commute to Dalesford via Romsey each day, but cage the 535i up in the confines of the urban sprawl and the shine dulls a little.
Around town, where most driving will likely be done, with the transmission in automatic and the car’s dynamic mode set to the default 'Comfort' setting, the BMW 535i can feel a bit lazy.
The twin-scroll turbocharger allows for better response at low revs, but driven this way, the 5 tends to feel heavy and somewhat reluctant to do anything quickly. Even the steering feels slow, the car seeming to need more effort than normal, particularly when negotiating tight roundabouts.
Changing to 'Sport' mode lessens this sensation, but makes the throttle more sensitive and encourages the car to hold gears longer - neither trait being particularly suited to urban driving.
None of this makes the 5 a bad car, mind you. It's just that because the package presents with so much promise on the surface, as if the ageing model has somehow dipped a toe into the fountain of eternal youth, when you do find the occasional grey hair, it only makes you search to find more.
Yes, the cabin is modern and ergonomic, but the iDrive interface, and even the new digital instrument cluster, while clear and easy to use, just don’t feel as special as they should.
We’ve seen the new version of iDrive in the recently released 7 Series and while the system in the 535i, including the excellent Connected Drive functions, is still good, there’s nothing really ‘cool’ about it any more.
Take the audio system's equaliser functions for example. Mercedes-Benz offers a simulated metal amplifier interface, where the BMW just shows the frequency ranges and their adjustments. Again, it’s not terrible, as it gives a more accurate adjustment, but it doesn’t seem or feel as modern. And once you start scratching... other things quickly start to reveal themselves as not being as 'cutting-edge' as you might want them to be.
Getting on in years or not, the F10 5 Series has held up extremely well. But the cup of eternal life remains an Indiana Jones Macguffin and it's definitely time for a new car. That said, on the run to the finish line, the latest BMW 535i is in the best shape of its life.
The added equipment and luxury appointments as part of the Exclusive package make the 2015 BMW 535i the luxury car it needs to be, still. Plus, when you get a chance to drive it properly, the big turbo-six is a smooth and willing participant for every cross-country jaunt you can throw at it.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 BMW 535i images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.