Yet if offered the keys to a Vauxhall Omega or 5 series BMW, I suspect like most people, I would be away with the 5's keys before you could say B..
If the 3 series doesn't set your heart racing then a 5 series will provoke the same lack of emotion as it looks like someone has simply upsized it . You can't say that it's an ugly car, actually it's quite handsome but it's a very definite Germanic square-jawed type rather than some exotic Latin beauty.
The white paint of this particular car wouldn't have been my first choice either, only serving to emphasize its vastness, there are some much better shades in BMW's colour chart so God knows who chose this one.
This model wears a TD badge on its rump, the luke warmest of the 5 series range. Strangely, BMW offer this motor in two states of tune - the not-bad-for-a-tractor TDS version and the fit-for-selling-to-Vauxhall TD version. It's doubtful whether there are any real differences other than something like a fuel pump and turbo boost pressure settings. Obviously, BMW wants to keep the best version to itself as it has done with the new diesels shared with Rover, but why it bothered to use the low pressure version is a mystery as it can't really be any cheaper to make.
After the disappointment of not seeing something like a 528 badge on the flank, I consoled myself with the thought that beggars can't be choosers and anyway, you can't see the badge from inside.
Strange but true:
The second surprise was the cabin - yes it's well built, yes it's made from quality materials, yes it's ergonomically perfect, but where the hell have they hidden the radio, the sunroof and the air con and who's pinched the electric-adjust leather seats? Ah well, guess I'll have to suffer the hell of basic motoring one more time; at least they left a few bits of wooden trim when they stole the rest of the interior.
Having overcome the culture shock of swapping loaded Jag XJ6 for Spartan BMW, I settled back and soaked in the sombre surroundings. Dark, dark and dark is the overwhelming impression, but not too gloomy, although this may be a function of the sheer size of the beast. A sunroof would definitely be a good addition to a car with a dark interior.
The driving position is very good and the big steering wheel falls nicely to hand with a nice tactile feel to boot. The seats, despite low rent (comparatively) velour trim, are excellently supportive and grip your body nicely with good lateral support and, despite having to manually adjust the seat, I still managed to find a nigh on perfect seating position.
Having found the plodder motor under the bonnet I was surprised to see an auto-box in this car. Surely, it can't afford to waste the pitiful amount of horses it can muster? The auto-box is at least multi-mode:
I'm sure some sausage eating boffin can quote statistics which show just how much more economical economy mode is but I could tell the difference. Still, it's another button to press and the dashboard display changes to E, so you can proudly display that you're doing your bit for the environment.
The auto-box did have one little foible in that the diesel ticks over very low indeed and the torque converter doesn't start shifting the car till around a petrol car's tick over. This means you can give the throttle little blips, before anything happens in the motion department, it's not really a fault, just something. It does have the feature that you will learn to drive around within ten minutes of getting in the car for the first time. The car also displays a throttle with immensely long travel which suits me fine but some might deem the car to be very sluggish due to how far you have to move the pedal to get acceleration. Again, though, it's only really an acclimatisation thing. Anyway, press the throttle, press some more and off it creeps, press a little more and we're under way. Around town the engine is fine, the auto-box in normal or economy mode keeps the revs down unless you're heavy footed. It might be a big car but it's easy to guide around. It doesn't seem to have any real blind spots and the view is fairly panoramic, without resorting to the current vogue for driving positions out of a Transit van. The steering feels sharp but is light enough not to become a pain at low speed. The brakes feel solid and powerful, the suspension eats up all but the worst road bumps and potholes. All in all, it's as good as you could really ask for around town and in traffic.But just being good around town isn't going to win the BMW 5 series any prizes. When the road opens out, it's gonna need to be good too. First surprise is how much acceleration it can muster: big car, diesel, detuned, auto-box... doesn't sound very promising. But nailing the throttle pushes the car around the clock at a more than reasonable rate. 0 to 80 is quick enough to be respectable on the Queen's highway and the acceleration is still strong at that point back to back you could probably notice the difference between this and the TDS through the mid and top end but just jumping in blind, I doubt that too many would notice or miss the extra ponies that the TDS has. In every day use with revs between 2-3000 for most of the time, there is probably little difference either way.
The auto-box also shines on faster roads, you can play merry tunes with the mode switch. Normal is fairly lazy, needing a healthy boot to get it to shift down, but sports mode is really sharp for an auto and with this car's relatively modest power output makes a real difference to the driving experience. However, it would still be far more entertaining if the shift buttons were mounted on the steering wheel for a bit extra instant urge - racing car style - without removing your hands from the wheel. And keeping your hands on the wheel is something you really will want to do, not because of any imminent problems or dangers, just because it feels so damn good.
It's really quite difficult to describe how the steering feels to those of us who spend our lives running much more mundane machinery than this. But in the BMW it's as if you can feel through the wheel what the road surface is like. It talks through the wheel, communicating the levels of grip on offer. Lots of things contribute to this: the steering is relatively high-geared turning the wheels more for a given driver input, the power assistance is beautifully judged in weight, avoiding being excessively light. It being rear wheel-drive means the front wheels are expected to steer and not deal with the effects of torque steer and such. Rear wheel drive almost always means a better dynamically balanced car weight-wise but in the end it's really down to the basic correctness of the chassis design. There are lots of little things all adding up to a whole in perfect harmony.
The same goes for the ride as for the handling: the springing and damping is just ... so, never feeling overly firm, yet never feeling soft or wallowy. The car always corners flat with total precision, yet can happily take a mid-corner bump without budging from its line.
It's really a no-brainer, this - who really wouldn't have one of these and what else could you buy anyway?
As a practical prospect, the 5 Series is really a very attractive car, large and roomy, comfortable, big boot, with the promise of reasonable fuel figures. Looks really tempting. Main dealer parts and servicing costs will be no laughing matter, mind, so make sure a local independent can look after it for you.
Build quality is superlative so your purchase should last a good long time, and it's going to have to because the real stinger is the entry price, these cars are really quite heavily sought after and quite rightly so. Used examples fetch much, much more than most of their market competitors even in lower spec levels like this one.
Wanted for long term relationship: "Handsome, rear-wheel drive, 6 cyl turbo diesel, auto, made in Germany, but with sensible entry prices, decent spec and reasonable service costs" .... Oi where's that Vauxhall Omega gone?..........
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