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.