New BMW 5-series is a step forward, but perhaps not as big as we expected
Wheelbase has been extended by a significant 80mm
BMW trumps Merc and Jag in power, economy and emissions stakes
7-series suspension is used front and rear
Performance is as strong as ever; 0-62mph in 6.3sec
The perfect companion for long distance cruising
Driving environment is more grown up
For the first time, the BMW 5-series will seat four adults in comfort
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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.