29th Mar 2009 7:00 am
The new BMW 530d gives a new meaning to the words ‘diesel’ and ‘torque’.
Diesel versus petrol. Torque versus bhp. These never-ending debates have once and for all been settled (in my mind at least) after a long hard drive in the BMW 530d. Power freaks like me can rattle off bhp figures of most cars from memory. But torque? I have to admit I couldn’t remember a single figure – until now.
Fifty-one kgm — now that’s a figure I won’t forget in a hurry because it not only makes the 530d the torqueiest saloon produced in this country but the quickest as well. But what does it for me is the effortless manner in which this diesel delivers its continent-devouring grunt which even the most powerful petrol motors, that scream to dizzy revs to produce their top-end energy, can’t hope
It’s the easy access to performance that makes high-powered diesel the way to go — even for enthusiasts. Unlike the equivalent 530i petrol, you don’t have to wring out the power or work hard to enjoy it.
At the heart of it all is the 3.0-litre, straight-six diesel with third-generation common-rail diesel injection and a variable vane turbo that propels the 5-series to 100kph in seven seconds flat and goes onto hit a max speed of 241kph. But the kick in the kidneys every time I floor the delightfully sprung floor-pivoted throttle pedal makes the 530d feel even faster than the figures suggest. This is a shockingly quick car, whisking you to ludicrous speeds from as little as 1500rpm in one hard, linear shove. Like most diesels, the action is concentrated in the lower reaches of the power band and unlike high-performance petrol motors which go on and on revving, this diesel ends play after 4500rpm. With such few revs to play with, all the gears are in constant use and that’s where the brilliant six-speed Steptronic auto ’box comes in. It makes the most of the engine’s relatively narrow power band and nicely smoothens out the tidal wave of torque that is unleashed every time you put your right foot down. In ‘sport’ mode, it hangs onto revs longer, kicks down faster and in short does almost everything a manual can with the ease only automatics can offer. With an engine like this which is blessed with such masses of torque, it can make any auto ’box look good.
This hot 5-series makes the driver look good too, thanks to its incredible handling and poise. The 530d retains 50:50 weight distribution, a BMW benchmark and the root cause of the sublime chassis balance most Bimmers are endowed with. The pin-sharp steering which bests the E-class and A6 with its fine combination of weight accuracy and feel, the stiff chassis and finely tuned suspension all unite to offer a driving experience no Merc or Audi can hope to match. It’s this sense of supreme control the 5-series conjures that makes you dive into corners at ludicrous speeds. The grip from the 245/40 R18 tyres fitted on optional 17-inch alloys is astonishing, but with all that torque flowing through the rear wheels, a hard dab of the throttle can get the traction-control warning light to blink furiously. Press the DTC button for a full three seconds to completely disable the traction control and it’s easy to get the 530d sideways without even trying.
While the 530d won our hearts with its stunning performance and dynamics, it shocked us in equal measure with its bad side. Ride comfort or the lack of it is the key issue here. The cabin just isn’t isolated or cushioned in a way that should befit a luxury saloon. Both the E-class and the A6 feel like they ride on a cushion of marshmallows after the 530d. The main culprit for the 530d’s teeth-rattling ride and constant fidgeting on bad surfaces is the low-pro run-flat tyres. The extra sidewall bracing needed in a run-flat can cripple ride quality. Besides, the suitability of such tyres on our roads is in question and I seriously recommend switching to conventional rubber and buying a spare with some bungee cords to strap it down inside the boot (there is no wheel well to store the spare).
The other letdown is the rear seat. For one, you shouldn’t be buying this car to sit there. But if you do end up sitting behind a chauffeur who gets seduced by the 530d’s prowess, don’t forget to stuff a puke bag in the seat pocket. It’s not just g-forces that will make you sick but the claustrophobic feeling you get at the back. The front seat’s massive back rest swoops backwards to block out your view and is inches from your face. The high waistline and slightly sunken-in seating position only make matters worse.
The interior is better loaded than lesser 5-series models with a TV and cruise control as additional features. The iDrive is standard and, after all these years, still doesn’t feel intuitive to use. Quality, of course, is top notch and what was amazing is that after 14,000km on the clock, most of which we can safely presume is hard driving, there was not a squeak out of this 5-series. It’s pretty refined too and apart from a clatter when starting from cold, there’s a deep thrum from the engine that, while not E-class quiet, will not offend owners.
Priced at Rs 48.11 lakh, the 530d is Rs 6.61 lakh more expensive than the next-in-line diesel, the 520d. Is it worth the extra cash? Not if you are going sit at the back miserable, while your chauffeur has all the fun. However, if you love driving and performance don’t think twice about it. This car will permanently alter your perception of diesels and you’ll never go back to a petrol car again.