At first glance, there may not be a whole lot to set the 2021 BMW 520i apart from its immediate predecessor. This version carries BMW’s LCI, or ‘Life Cycle Impulse’, tag – extravagant branding for what equates to a midlife freshen-up.
There are no changes to the sheet metal, but lights, bumpers and grille get a new look. The squared-off daytime running light signatures are the easiest to spot, though everything else looks typically BMW enough to not stand out too much.
That’s in stark contrast to arch rival, Mercedes-Benz, and the refreshed E-Class featuring new front panels and distinctly different styling both front and rear.
Back to the BMW 520i, though, and the range-starter just scrapes in under $100K, from $99,900 before options and on-road costs, meaning the list price reality is north of six figures once you add an option or two.
The car shown here, with $2000 metallic paint, a $3000 sunroof, $2400 of laserlight headlights, and a few smaller add-ons, tips in at $106,380.
With a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, the 520i has 135kW at 6500rpm and 290Nm at 1350–4250rpm. Not massive outputs for a solidly sized sedan, and a little down on torque compared to the 320Nm on offer in a base Audi A6 or E-Class.
|2021 BMW 520i|
|Engine||2.0-litre (1998cc) four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||135kW at 6500rpm, 290Nm at 1350–4250rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.9L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars, tested 2017|
|Warranty||Three years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XF|
|Price as tested||$106,380|
The reality is, anyone for whom the 520i is appealing is unlikely to find the car lacking. It feels wieldy enough to roll through busy urban traffic, and can still tap into solid acceleration for overtaking, without pinning passengers aggressively into their seats.
Because it is a little larger and heavier than mid-size cars that use the same engine, the engine does get a bit vocal if you try to uncork all of its ability. Best to just amble along at a relaxed pace.
Behind the engine is a conventional eight-speed automatic, which makes it smooth and steady for low-speed parking and peak-hour. It's also well matched to the engine outputs, and responsive enough to keep the car in the right gear for the driving situation.
Even with the M Sport package, and its M Sport suspension, the ride is Euro-pliant, in that it shrugs off most of the little road-surface imperfections that litter local roads, but still keeps a connected feel without shocking or shuddering.
Out of town, the 520i loves long open roads, and settles in as a quiet and efficient tourer. While it may not have the muscular grand-touring abilities of a 535d or M550i, it can just sit back and relax, reeling off endless kilometres and depositing fresh-feeling occupants afterwards.
It does feel dynamically adept, with classic rear-wheel-drive handing when pushed. The chassis's capabilities aren't really matched by the performance package, though, so it's safe and stable rather than outright scintillating.
Cabin noise is low, while wind and road noise are satisfactorily managed. It’s very well suited to such a low-stress task.
The cabin, while not BMW’s most modern or contemporary, is a good mix of technology and user-friendliness.
There’s still a scattering of real buttons and shortcuts inside. Unlike the X5, 3 Series, 8 Series and 1 Series, which all use variations of a modular interior architecture, the 5 Series still has its own unique climate and gear selector panels and it feels more special for it, though its age is definitely showing in some respects.
The BMW OS7.0 infotainment system works well and is easy to understand. Navigation, connected news and traffic services, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all packed in, plus vehicle settings and menus via voice control, iDrive rotary controller or touch interface.
In other words, there’s something for everyone, and a variety of ways to interact with the system to suit user preferences.
The main display measures 12.3 inches (up from 10.25 inches in earlier versions), while the driver faces a 12.3-inch digital instrument display. Rather than adding in a range of display and user options, BMW locks the screen format and offers only limited information through the instrument screen.
Quicker and easier to use is the crisp, clear head-up display for at-a-glance speed and sat-nav prompts.
Front seat occupants certainly get the best time, with firm but comfy seats, leather seat trim, powered seat adjustment, dual-zone climate control, and no shortage of space in which to get comfy.
The rear seats, despite the size of the 5 Series overall, aren’t as spacious as you might expect. There’s plenty of width and another serving of big comfy seats, but leg room is severely lacking, and unless you can ask the front passenger to slide themselves forward, the rear doesn’t feel like an all-purpose solution for adults.
The boot is a handy 530L, but with sculpted sides, the actual flat floor space is a fairly small patch, and utility feels compromised as a result.
Standard equipment holds up, with the aforementioned features along with LED headlights, leather steering wheel, sports seats, wireless phone charging, adaptive cruise control, active parking assist with 360-degree camera, keyless entry and start, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The 5 Series range holds onto its 2017 five-star ANCAP rating, and packs in seven airbags, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, speed sign recognition linked to the speed limiter and cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and front and rear cross-traffic alert, auto high beam and autonomous emergency braking for forward and reverse.
Impressively, all of the driver-assist tech works incredibly well, and rather than detracting from the experience, or fighting driver inputs, it just works intuitively. That’s not always the case in every car, but in this instance it’s nice to see BMW put so much effort into driver-assist features that really can assist a driver.
It’s also good to see moderate fuel consumption from something so big and comfortable. While BMW claims a dubious 6.8 litres per 100km on the mixed cycle, the real world returned 8.9L/100km in mixed driving, or 10.4L/100km around town – decent figures for the size and weight of the car.
Ownership sees BMW’s slim three-year warranty applied as more and more makers switch to five years' warranty. Service packages are available with up to five years or 80,000km priced from $1950 covering all scheduled filters and fluids over that time.
Though it may err on the conservative side of what BMW is capable of, the 520i is every bit the luxury sedan.
For those not particularly seeking speed or outright dynamic thrills, the comfortable and quiet interior, and handsome and high-quality exterior, are the ideal fit for traditional luxury car buyers in search of a traditional luxury car.
With two on board, and the open road stretching out ahead, the 520i does everything it needs to with poise and composure.