Andrew Frankel
16 January 2010

What is it?

Perhaps it would be more relevant to ask in this case what it should be, which is a strong contender for being the best car in the real world.

This is an all-new version of the car that has been our favourite mid-size executive for over 20 uninterrupted years.

And with BMW’s 3.0-litre diesel providing sparkling performance and bewildering economy, the stage is set for the same kind of class-crushing performance we now expect from each successive generation of the 5-series.

.

Based on a shortened version of the 7-series platform, the new 530d offers significantly improved interior space, mild improvements to power, economy and emissions, and the option of an eight-speed automatic transmission that will be taken by 19 out every 20 buyers.

Unsurprisingly given its origins, 7-series suspension is used front and rear, while driving aids of disputable value, such as dynamic drive and active steering, rest firmly on the options list. However electric steering is now standard.

Performance is as strong as ever; 0-62mph takes 6.3sec regardless of which transmission you choose, a fact those planning on buying the more powerful, less torquey and all-but-identically priced 535i should bear in mind. It will only get you to 62mph 0.3sec quicker, but return just 33.2mpg instead of the 530d’s outstanding 44.8mpg (45.6mpg with the auto).

What’s it like?

The good news is that the 530d feels more complete and capable than its predecessor; it would be strange were that not the case. After all BMW, a company not known for sitting on its hands, has had seven years to make its improvements.

The driving environment is more grown-up, the living space more equitably apportioned between those in the front and those in the back, and more roomy for all.

Out on the road, the ride quality is impressive but still not exceptional despite all-new aluminium suspension, but when you start to seriously fling it around you can tell why BMW set it up this way: for a large four-door saloon, its composure under pressure is genuinely outstanding.

And as for that engine, it was the best in its class throughout the previous generation and so it remains. A Mercedes equivalent might be a little quieter, a Jaguar motor a touch smoother, but there’s not much in it, and nothing like enough to counter the BMW’s advantage in power, economy and emissions.

And the eight-speed auto that almost all will have is a triumph. While the Lexus eight-speeder simply feels like it has too many gears (as can Merc’s seven-speed unit), the BMW’s just feels perfect, offering the right gear for every occasion without feeling the need to hunt perpetually through its ratios to find a better one.

But for all its has gained, so too has the 530d lost a little, and you only need to look at the car to suspect what it might be. The new shape is far less distinctive than its predecessor; you might even call it bland by comparison, and it’s an impression that penetrates below the skin of the car.

For all its extra ability, I didn’t quite enjoy this 530d quite as much as the last. With its new suspension and a sizeable 80mm increase in wheelbase, it sets new standards of stability for the class but in doing so a little agility has inevitably been lost. Likewise the electric steering is admirably precise and direct, but I’d have appreciated a touch more response through its rim.

Even so, if fun is not a top priority you will appreciate the car’s smoothness, quietness and driving environment thanks to a dash lifted almost but not quite entirely from the 7-series. Most of all, you’ll notice the extra room in the back provided by that hike in wheelbase; for the first time in 5-series history, four decent-size adults will be able to sit in comfort.

Should I buy one?

If the BMW 5-series had not been around as an entity for the last 38 years and this one landed on the market, we’d now be applauding a conspicuously able contender capable of taking the fight to very best cars in the class.

By any standards it is fine piece of work of which BMW can be rightly proud. All it is not is a class-buster, and that is what most distinguishes it most from generation after generation of hitherto matchless 5-series.

But it seems that attaining such stratospheric standards for so long didn’t just make life difficult for BMW’s rivals; it created one hell of an act for BMW to follow itself. For BMW looking to preserve this track record, it’s hard to escape the feeling that in this case, even very good may not be quite good enough.

Join the debate

Comments
38

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

This car is stunning! Mercedes and Audi should be worried i think they have got it right with this one good engine too this diesel!

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

Autocar wrote:
Out on the road, the ride quality is impressive but still not exceptional despite all-new aluminium suspension
Autocar wrote:
The new shape is far less distinctive than its predecessor; you might even call it bland by comparison, and it’s an impression that penetrates below the skin of the car.
Autocar wrote:
For all its extra ability, I didn’t quite enjoy this 530d quite as much as the last.
Autocar wrote:
it sets new standards of stability for the class but in doing so a little agility has inevitably been lost. Likewise the electric steering is admirably precise and direct, but I’d have appreciated a touch more response through its rim.
Autocar wrote:
Even so, if fun is not a top priority you will appreciate the car’s smoothness, quietness and driving environment

So.

The ride quality is still not exceptional. But it's an executive car - doesn't that mean the ride should be top-notch?

Well, yes, but at least the trade-off is class-leading handling and driving dynamics?

Er, no. Agility is inferior compared to the previous model, and the steering sounds a bit Audi. Don't get me wrong, it's perfectly OK, as long as FUN isn't a top priority.

But I thought this was the ultimate driving machine? Y'know, fun to drive?

Sorry mate. Fun's grown up. Not so much the ultimate driving machine; more the ultimate grandad's car.

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

So is it better than the opposition or not? this sort of commenting without saying anything drives me nuts. Cut the waffle and cut to the chase, get an E class an A6 and a Jag, drive them and see whether they impress in the way you expect and where the weaknesses are. Compile thoughts and results. Report. Job done...This is too vague, now go and get that group test sorted.

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

A class act. Looks good but will probably look great in M sport.

Best engine in class - class leading stability - tremendous gearbox - class leading performance and emissions - more comfortable - more spacious - better interior.

It may not offer the level of driver involvement of the old car, but you can be sure it will still better the opposition - and to be honest given the restrictions on our roads really don't think it matters all that much.

Bmw have moved the game on again.

Is this car loyal to "The Ultimate Driving Machine" tag? Without a doubt.

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

It's still the class leader,others will try,some will get near,but in the end,they will all fail to beat,The Deutsche Marque,that is Bmw and what is the 5 series..

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

DarrenIRL wrote:
It's still the class leader,others will try,some will get near,but in the end,they will all fail to beat

It's a shame that one will probably cost around 90,000 euro in Ireland

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

I'm sorry - that is the most boring design in the world - why don't BMW employ people to work on the design instead of just the dynamics. Its just a sort of blend into the background saloon shape. You spend all that money you want somthing that at least looks a little fancy.

And as always, its a BMW, so it'll ride far too hard, because after all... Thats "Sporty".....

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

Andrew Frankel,

Despite some comments to the contrary I found your reveiw balanced and informative. In fact I rate you above Clarkson especially in the Sunday Times as I can always rely on your reveiws.

Yes Clarkson makes me laugh but he does take the biscuit sometimes when a two page reveiw has been known to have only one paragraph about the car !

As for this BMW it looks like the company car drivers dream. But as mentioned above the crucial test will be lining it up against a Merc and Jag but I am sure that will happen soon and I look forward to reading that test. Hope you will be the one to write it up.

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

It's interesting how this piece was written. It praises the car for what it is and what it achieved, yet, there's just enough negatives to give the Jag the top spot when it comes to the crunch.

We all know that the outcome is predetermined, why don't you just say it?

The new Seven received the same rave reviews after it's first drive. Then, it was trounced with the first road test. Everything that was good in the first drive was awful in the road test just so you don't have to put it above the S class.

Change your mags name to 'Auto colomist'. Then nobody expect you to be objective.

Re: BMW 5-series 530d

4 years 26 weeks ago

Autocar wrote:

It will only get you to 62mph 0.3sec quicker, but return just 33.2mpg instead of the 530d’s outstanding 44.8mpg (45.6mpg with the auto).

Further reasons to quit messing about with a foot-operated clutch and a movable gear selector.

A bit frustrated by this test. Aside from the fact the new 5 is described in complete isolation from its peer group, presumably at the behest of BMW, we hear that

- it's a touch bland

- the ride quality is still not what's expected

- it's less agile, less responsive

- there's less fun on offer

- we probably won't enjoy driving it as much

and while BMW groupies rarely need convincing, it doesn't quite meet the expectations of the introductory paragraph ("strong contender for being the best car in the real world") because from the evidence presented thus far it plainly isn't the best car in the real world.

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Our Verdict

The BMW 5-series offers a compelling blend of all-round abilities, but wants specifying carefully

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