If you don't want to blend in with the crowd driving yet another SUV, why not consider a wagon? A great-looking wagon. Paul Maric gets behind the wheel of the BMW 530i Touring, but does it fit the brief?
I'm a wagon man. SUVs may be the latest trend, but more often than not a wagon offers more cargo capacity, will drive better, and you won't blend into the crowd with yet another SUV.
That's where the 2019 BMW 530i Touring comes into the mix. It gives you the same type of interior technology you'll find in an SUV, but with the design of a sleek and decent-looking wagon.
Sure, it doesn't have xDrive, but let's not pretend like you were ever going to take your X5 with 22-inch wheels beyond the cobblestone kerb near the five-minute drop-off zone at school.
Before we get stuck into the finer details, let's take a minute to appreciate just how good looking the 5er Touring is. From side on you see the long bonnet and flowing lines that culminate with a neatly proportioned cargo area over the back wheels.
It's a similar story inside. The interior is beautifully presented and makes this feel like a real luxury cruiser worthy of its price tag. Central to the cabin is BMW's exceptional 12.3-inch infotainment screen that now features iDrive 6 and touchscreen functionality. It's very clever, easy to use and quite intuitive.
Wireless Apple CarPlay is available, but you'll need to fork out a hefty $623 for the privilege. Pretty strange considering it's standard on a large chunk of the sub-$20,000 vehicle range in Australia, yet optional on this $100,000+ luxury car.
The standard 16-speaker stereo is a cracker, but if you lust after stupidly good sound, you'll want to spend $6400 on the Bowers & Wilkins diamond surround-sound system. Go on, treat yourself.
Without doubt one of my favourite and useful features – well, actually, there are two of them – is the voice-recognition functionality. You can just bark commands at the car and regardless of how ambiguous you think the street name is that you've asked for, it will hit the internet and figure out what you're talking about before entering it into the search. It also does the same for contact names and a variety of other car functions.
The second feature I love is the adaptive LED headlights. The automatic high-beam functionality is sensational. It allows a high beam to wrap around the car in front of you and it's reductive, which means it eliminates portions of the high beam as cars approach.
5er pricing kicks off from $89,900 (plus on-road costs) for the 520i sedan, with Touring pricing starting from $94,900 (plus on-road costs) for the 520d. The 530i Touring seen here starts from $111,900 (plus on-road costs), making it the same price as its sedan sibling.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
On the combined cycle, the 530i Touring consumes a combined 6.5 litres of fuel per 100km. On test we didn't quite match this, coming out with 7.9L/100km with a mix of city and highway driving. It's worth noting that the car requires a minimum 95RON premium unleaded petrol.
Driving the 530i is interesting. In the 'old days', the 30i range represented a big step up in terms of performance and normally meant at least six-cylinders living under the bonnet. While the new 2.0-litre engine is turbocharged and features all the latest whizzbang technology to pump out a reasonable 185kW of power, it's not quite the same as a silky smooth six-cylinder engine.
The 0–100km/h dash of 6.4 seconds seems quick on the face of it, but if you do get stuck into the throttle, it all kind of happens in a mad rush with a whole lot of noise – and not the good six-cylinder noise.
Peak torque spans from 1450–4800rpm, so there's a good slab of torque there, but it's just not quite as emotive as you would expect a BMW to be. And, unfortunately, the only other engine available in the Touring is the entry-level 520d, which is a small-capacity diesel.
If you put performance and sportiness to one side, the engine does a great job of offering a quiet driving experience and enough torque in each gear without needing to row through gears constantly. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is a charm and doesn't go down the trendy path of dual-clutches just for the sake of efficiency.
Outside of the engine and gearbox combination, you're going to love the ride. It's smooth, silky smooth.
The front end uses an aluminium double-track control arm with a separate lower track arm level, while the rear uses a lightweight five-link aluminium construction with double elastic bearing and air suspension with automatic self-levelling.
Even with the optional 19-inch alloy wheels it manages to cope well with the likes of speed humps, corrugations and cobblestones. The standard type of stuff you'll come across around the city.
As you venture out on the highway, it remains smooth thanks to the adaptive damping technology that comes standard with the 530i. If, for some reason, you do feel like getting a sportier set-up, assistive rear steering can be optioned, which counters steering inputs at speed to improve handling.
While you're on the highway, you can also use the built-in semi-autonomous driving function. The vehicle uses a set of cameras and sensors to keep the vehicle within its lane and control steering inputs to go around shallow-radius bends.
For the most part it works well, but it's nowhere near as precise as the system you'll find on the Jaguar range and light-years behind the Tesla AutoPilot system. My biggest gripe with the system is that it will disable without any warning. So, while you're still holding the wheel, it will get spooked by something and then relinquish control and you'll find the car veering over the lane before you realise the system is off.
After testing a number of these systems in various cars, it's starting to feel like they shouldn't come with these features if they can't consistently supply the same level of car control, or at least warn the driver when they finally throw the towel in.
Despite its size – 4942mm long – the 530i Touring is easy to drive and easy to park. The surround-view camera provides a fantastic overview of the car's surroundings. There are even cameras built into the front edges that allow you to see out of tight junctions with limited visibility.
Cargo capacity comes in at a generous 570L with the second row in place. The second row then folds in a 40/20/40 split-folding configuration that expands cargo capacity to 1700L. If you need to tow, the 2000kg braked towing capacity is also adequate for most towing situations.
Leg and head room in the second row are good, but not amazing. Toe and knee room can be a little tight if the driver or front passenger has their seat pushed back, but there is plenty of shoulder room and the seats are comfortable.
The two outboard seats have ISOFIX anchorage points and there's a centre armrest with two cup holders to keep your passengers comfy.
It's a BMW, so it's going to cost a motza to service, right? Not quite. Buyers can pre-pay for five years (or 80,000km) of servicing for just $1695, which occurs in 12-monthly, 16,000km intervals.
While the servicing package is affordable, BMW is light-years behind the top 10 vehicle sellers in Australia in terms of warranty. While every manufacturer in the top 10 currently offers a five-year warranty, BMW still only offers three years with unlimited kilometres, which is pretty disappointing.
Either way you cut it, the BMW 530i represents a beautiful and viable alternative to a lumbering SUV. It's practical, fun to drive and great to look at.
If you're not really a car person, the four-cylinder engine will be fine. But, if you want that excitement a BMW promises, the four-cylinder petrol engine falls short of 'the ultimate driving machine'.
It's something you'll have to get used to if you want to stick with the wagon gang.