What is it?
Vital, apart from anything else. You don’t need me to tell you how important the 181bhp 520d is. Not only for BMW but also for the many thousands of drivers that face the next few years behind its thick-rimmed steering wheel. Company car sales alone are likely to account for up to 8000 units in the first year if 2009 figures are anything to go by.
What’s it like?
The good news is that the four-pot engine, which manages a class-leading 129g/km of CO2 and 57.6mpg, is a pleasant motor to use. It can become gruff if pushed very hard but in general it has plenty of punch for overtaking and never feels overwhelmed by the 1625kg kerbweight, settling into an easy lull for cruising around at motorway and urban speeds.
You’ll have to work the gearbox a bit for fast progress – many will opt for the £1495 eight-speed automatic - but the manual has the typically tight BMW shift so it’s no chore to use.
Nor is it a chore to sit back and relax in the 520d. Our test car rode on 18-inch alloys and run-flat tyres, and also came fitted with £965 worth of adaptive dampers, which adjust continuously but are also affected by the four ‘Dynamic Drive Control’ settings. With all this fitted the 5-series never feels uncomfortable. A tad fidgety in Sport mode, yes, but it never loses its composure and in default ‘Normal’ setting, occupants are well isolated from the road’s surface and the 5 settles into a happy blend of balanced body control and pliant damping.
The only real disappointment is the steering. It isn’t something that is likely to bother those looking to the 520d purely for its practicality, but it is too inconsistent and vague to satisfy the many hoping for a sharp steer. It’s weighted well enough that it won’t prevent a driver from enjoying the 520d, but it certainly lacks any real sensation.
Should I buy one?
Yes. It may not be about to set any new benchmarks for driver reward, nor is it particularly exciting.
But this is easily one of the most appealing cars in its class, not only because of its low emissions and tax rating, but also because it is competitively priced and equipped, has a great interior, pleasant handling and excellent refinement.