What is it?
Our exclusive test drive of the new 5-series a few months ago sent Shapur Kotwal back to the office, excuse the pun, beaming. He loved the vast array of new tech, he loved the car’s return to dynamic form and he loved that the comfort and luxury weren’t compromised in all of this. But more than anything else, he loved the engine – BMW’s 265hp, 3.0-litre straight six diesel. So what happens when you take that motor away and replace it with a 190hp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel? This is, after all, the version that accounts for the majority of sales.
For a start, while the six-cylinder 530d that Shapur drove is only available in M-Sport trim, the 520d, for now, is only available in the two lower trim levels – Sport Line and the one you see here, Luxury Line. The name reflects the car’s exterior appearance, with more subtle-looking 18-inch alloy wheels, lots of chrome on the front and rear bumpers and more of the shiny stuff on the grille. The simpler, subtler body kit allows you to appreciate the new 5’s lines more than in the aggressive-looking M-Sport, but it also highlights that it isn’t much of a departure from the previous car. Thanks to tighter ‘skinning’ of the bodywork, larger head and tail lamps, and a wider, slimmer grille, it doesn’t really look larger than the old car, even though it is. And because of a steeper-sloped roof that stretches further forward and backward, the classic BMW ‘cab rearward’ proportions are all but gone, and in their place come a more conventional swooping sedan shape.
What’s it like on the inside?
Equipment-wise too, while a little bit shy of everything you get on the M-Sport trim, you do at least get more than what’s available on the Sport Line – and BMW has made sure it’s really quite a lot of kit. The 520d Luxury Line gets you the fully-loaded i-Drive system with touchscreen, gesture control, touch pad and click-wheel operation. There are digital dials, 360deg surround cameras, hands-free parking, four-zone climate control, ‘Dakota’ leather seats (not quite as high a grade as the ‘Nappa’ leather on the M-Sport, but still real leather), paddle shifters, adaptive LED headlamps and a sunroof. You even get the gimmicky, yet cool, remote parking feature that lets you move the car while standing outside it. What is disappointing, however, is that the front seats, though electric and offered with a memory function on the driver’s side, have very limited adjustability in the Luxury Line variant; not even lumbar support. Still, they’re big and comfortable on long journeys and look particularly good in this tan shade with blue contrast stitching.
The rear seat remains superbly judged, as before. You no longer sit as low down as you did in the previous 5-series, yet you still get a great combination of knee-room, headroom and thigh support. It’s also quite plushly cushioned, although some might find the backrest a little too upright over long journeys. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that ever since the long-wheelbase E-class arrived, the bar for rear seats in this segment has been brutally reset when it comes to space and comfort, but judged on its own, as a standard-wheelbase car, the 5-series back seat is really very good. And, as with the 7-series, BMW now packs in a space-saver spare tyre into the boot, in a specially-built recess rather than just sitting in the middle of the luggage area. Yes, this does still take up a lot of what would have been 530 litres of space, but at least the loading area remains flat, and you can still get in a couple of suitcases for an airport run.
What’s it like to drive?
This motor is the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel unit first introduced in the 3-series facelift and new X1, displacing 1,995cc and producing 190hp and 400Nm of torque. However, this is the quietest we’ve ever experienced it, whether at start-up, idle or on the move; certainly an improvement on the previous 5-series. It’s not entirely silent, of course, and that familiar BMW diesel clatter can be heard once you’re past 2,000rpm, but drive in an unhurried manner and it remains pretty hushed, the eight-speed automatic shifting up early and silently. Road and wind noise too are very well kept in check.
As for performance, overall it feels pretty brisk, albeit nowhere near as smooth or strong as the 265hp, 620Nm, six-cylinder 530d, of course. There are driving modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Adaptive – which do as their names suggest. Special mention must go to the ‘Adaptive’ mode, which does a genuinely good job of reading your throttle and steering inputs and adjusting the car to the current driving style. Yes, the powertrain feels a bit sluggish in Eco Pro mode, and the middle ‘Comfort’ mode does give you enough pep for a sudden overtake, should you need it. What’s nice is that Sport mode never feels too aggressive, so you can use it to drive a bit quicker than normal without the powertrain shunting you around. If you do want aggressive, simply tap the gearlever to the left, and that seriously livens up the responses and the gearshifts. This is the full-on ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ experience. The engine revs out all the way to its redline, and you can even take control via a set of paddle shifters. As ever, it’s very rev-happy for a diesel engine and it packs in a solid kick in the mid range.
A welcome surprise was learning that all models of the 5-series will come with adjustable/adaptive suspension as standard, a feature usually only reserved for top-spec models, if at all, in this segment. Comfort mode certainly does result in a bit more float and bounce at higher speeds, and a bit more cushioning from rough patches of road at lower speeds, but once again, what impresses is the Sport mode, in which the ride never feels uncomfortable. It does tidy up the car’s movements, however, and it’s only once you start hammering the car around really hard that you'll feel the benefits of the adaptive suspension to handling. Now for the big question: is this a return to form in the handling department? Almost, but understandably, not quite. It’s not quite the scalpel the two-generation-old E60 5-series used to be, but it’s far better than the last-gen F10 5-series. The steering is a lot quicker and sharper now, and the adaptive suspension means you can opt to have more than just marshmallow softness from the suspension. However, we said ‘understandably’, because this is ultimately a luxury car in which a lot of owners will be chauffeur driven, and though it’s a bit more agile, comfort is still the priority here.
Should I buy one?
Unlike Mercedes, BMW hasn’t gone the ‘long-wheelbase’ route with its new 5-series. It will instead bring in its 6-series Gran Turismo next year to tackle that space in the market. So with the 5-series, the focus is on bringing some driving pleasure back to the brand (and the segment) and giving owners a heavy dose of equipment and technology, and these things it delivers in spades. The equipment list is truly impressive (those basic seat adjusters aside), borrowing much from the 7-series flagship. And all this tech hasn't bumped the price up too high, with this mid-range luxury line model costing a reasonable Rs 53.60 lakh (ex-showroom). As for the driving dynamics, they have been drastically improved, the addition of adaptive dampers no doubt helping. And though it might not seem an important criterion for most owners, they will definitely appreciate it on the odd occasion they drive themselves back home from dinner on traffic-free roads. The back seat is rather great on its own too, and if you don’t feel you need the limo-like legroom and reclining seat function of the long-wheelbase E-class, it’s a fair bit cheaper too. So the new BMW 520d is a great all-rounder that can satisfy all your luxury needs, and also put a smile on your face if you get behind the wheel.