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BMW's iconic 5 series finally re-clothed in a decent suit. By many people's measure the 5 series has long been the best car in the world.
Contemporary Road Test waxed lyrical about how the BMW 5 series had matured into nigh on driving Nirvana. After years of Ho-Hum conservative styling, BMW at last got it spot on, the slab sided blockiness was gone, replaced by a smart, elegant design of understated perfection.
BMW was at the pinnacle of 5 series design, so what did they do? Yes, you guessed it. Re-styled it again into the ugly, contorted, over-complicated thing they now offer.
Not that it worries us just yet. It's going to be a while before the ugly designer pig wings its way to UKCAR and in the mean time we can content ourselves with these oh-so-lovely previous models which, with a little luck, all those mad car snobs will be desperate to dispose of in an attempt to saddle themselves with the new look car.
Like I said, the slab sidedness has gone, along with any suggestion of overt square ness.
Not that the previous incarnation was a real stinker in the looks department but its Teutonic face was more imposing than pretty.
The new BMW looks three feet longer and two feet lower. Altogether more racy, the bonnet looks infeasibly low considering the big sixes held below.
The boot and rear window slope down in a stylish swish rather than appearing just to be cubic feet enveloping boxes. That oh-so-carefully executed crease splits the side view and lengthens the car to perfection. Bumpers integrate beautifully - they are not just a spray can of colour matching afterthought.
Its best aspect is the frontal one (see pictures further down). Even ignoring the tricky dicky headlamps, the slightly oddball idea of running the bonnet over the top of the integrated lamps like eyebrows sounds odd but works superbly, giving a sort of slightly squint eyed intense look to the car as if its eyeing up the opposition.
Corporate alloys are fitted and look stylish. They suit the car perfectly, if not quite as flash as the seven spokers on some models. If we are being trivial, the only thing that could do with a makeover are the mirrors, they work fine but could do with a touch more style. They are at least colour coded to match the colour coded bumpers and exterior side mouldings
Inside, the BMW 525 has received attention along much the same lines as the exterior. It's vaguely reminiscent of previous models and keeps similar sombre colour schemes, but it's much more swoopy throughout. Its fantastically executed, have no doubt, just look how all the buttons line up with military precision! But, for me, it's just perhaps a little to fussy around the centre console and wheel which is particularly over-endowed with switches and clashes with the dash's classic black and white simplicity.
Wood! As you can see, there is lots of it or lots of plastic that looks like
it. It is very shiny, perfectly fitted and smoothly contoured but frankly, for me,
I would have preferred carbon-look or aluminum-look. Not that
I am averse to the occasional plank or two, it's just that in this car it doesn't seem to quite sit right.
The gear knob is rather lovely, though, but you may
think differently and that's fine. In that case you will love it.
Lots and lots of small buttons everywhere
Fit and finish are, of course, to the absolute highest standards wherever you can see, feel or imagine.
Just check out these headlights - are they wondrous or what? Having driven in the dark I have to say they are bright, as bright as any other I can remember. Do I want to explain how they work? (errr, No) Do they look great? (errr,Yes!) Are they a gimmick? (errr, Probably!)
Still, there are many other things in this car, honestly.
Adjustable steering column, drivers seat lumbar support, height adjustable drivers seat, head rests (front & rear), centre arm rest front and rear, height adjustable seat belts all hit the right spots on the spec sheet but it doesn't really tell you about the excellent driving position and the firm supportive seat.Cup holders, front door bins and bins in the centre consoles combine with the 12V Accessory Power Point to make a fairly practical interior without degenerating into a cupboard-fest like many so-called MPVs.
Air conditioning, climate control, pollen filter, tinted windows, electric windows (front & rear), electro chromatic rear view mirror, electric heated mirrors, illuminated passenger vanity mirror, heated rear window are all the creature comforts you really need to keep you happily enclosed in either good or bad weather.
Remote radio cassette buttons festoon the steering wheel so you can play merrily without taking your hands off the controls.
Now, if you really wanted a sporty BMW you would buy a 3 series would you not? So let's not get hung up about this model being powered by a diesel. Sure, the straight six petrol is BMW's masterpiece but the Turbo Diesel straight six is up there in its own class and as all European car makers know, diesel will be the future of motoring, at least until fuel cell technology costs less than a million pounds a car.
Yes there is an engine and a complex one under all that plastic
Start this 525 Turbo diesel and it chokes into life with a very slight diesel clatter and then settles to a smooth low idle.
Total horsepower peaks at a creditable 163 shoving the big car to 136mph and thumping away from the lights to sixty miles an hour in a most untaxi-like 8.9 seconds.
Yet it can return a scrooge-like 53.3mpg at the cruise.
Compare that to the 523 petrol which shoves out 170bhp goes 140mph and sprints in 8.5 seconds and for a petrol returns a credible 38.2mpg.
That's a thirty percent economy improvement for little loss of performance. More importantly, on the road the diesel's mighty mid range will more than span any gap. Its a fair bet that across mixed roads that the TD would be quicker and easier to drive.
Give it stick from the lights and you will find out just how much mid range there is as the turbo overcomes the traction control with consummate ease.
Red line is set at just 4600 rpm and there is no real need to explore it further. It stretches on to 6000 though you would have to be very numb between the ears to go anywhere near it. 99% of the time you troll about with few revs on the clock. Being a straight Six of course it is naturally smooth, very smooth, diesel or not.
The gearbox is standard BMW fair and hence excellent in use, though you do have to use it less. Top gear is a nice balance between subdued cruising and stunting the in-gear response. Most of the time you can just leave it in top gear and let the engine pull.
The clutch seems quite fierce at first, though it's just a reminder that this is not a Toyota Yaris and demands just a little respect.
It's rear wheel drive that's why it handles so well, that's what they would all have you believe. Of course, that explains why my Volvo 740 estate is the second greatest handling car in the world.
Of course it's just not as simple as that. It's about balance, suspension geometry and travel, spring rates, damper settings, tyre size, steering response.
Let's not get into the front, rear, four wheel drive argument , lets just remind ourselves that the previous 5 series was one of the sweetest handling Medium/Large saloons on the planet if not the sweetest.
So this car started with the advantage of being built upon the best there was to be had. For most people a few tweaks here and a few touches there would have sufficed. If BMW had just taken advantage of newer tyre designs to sharpen the chassis then most all of us would have been very happy.
And to start with I was. And at the sharp end of the bends I was happy too. But inbetween something appears to have happened to BMW's feel-laden sensitive steering.
The BMW 525 rides as well as ever, perhaps even better though it's hard to tell without back-to-back comparison. It shrugs off imperfect roads with nonchalance, suspension keeping the tyres glued to the road for a vice-like grip. BMW are constantly improving the suspension, especially the rear to control oversteer from the rear wheel drive chassis and the rear seems to ride and grip better than ever before.
But the steering seems to have been dumbed down from its previous feeling-laden, squirming, wriggling self.
Only around the straight ahead portion of its travel does it get some lock on it starts to generate good vibrations back to your hands. Whether this is a geometry change or a function of the power assist or the rack I don't really know. Perhaps BMW are trying to engineer that Mercedes motorway sleepy stability into the chassis. Around straight ahead the steering feels slow and dead only waking up as you generate some G force with a touch of lock. I cannot and will not believe that it's to help keep the tail in check as that's what the traction control is there for and the previous 5 was hardly Tail End Charlie on real roads anyway.
Still, ignore the pleasure killing dead spot and you are rewarded with delightful cornering prowess. The car feels balanced and corners flat. The thundering torque may threaten to break the rear end loose given a leaden right foot but the traction control will kill that suggestion albeit not to subtly.
The 5 is a real pleasure to hustle down winding roads, the suspension's flexibility masking imperfections and shaking off dips and troughs with nary a twitch from the helm.
Motorways are boring and the BMW 525 is as boring as anything else. It is at least quite and refined, stable as we have said and traverses expansion joints mid curve as if they do not exist. The grunt of the TD means you get on one slip road, get into top and stay in top until you come off the next slip road, there is no incline steep enough to force a gear change anywhere above 35-40mph.
The all round disc brakes are ably ABS assisted though I never noticed the ABS cutting in as the tyres kept a tight grip all by themselves on some hard stops. This is good as a pulsing ABS is a pain in the proverbials. The hand brake lever is surprisingly springy but seems to work just fine.
A four star safety rating is good and at least indicates that BMW is not just playing to the flash end of the market.A good list of Safety and Security Features are included:
Even Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts which help to sell the car to more, shall we say, rounded buyers with concerns beyond there own immediate status.
Side Impact Protection, Front Side Air Bags, Front Twin Airbags, High level brake Light, Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts all help keep you safe along with of course BMWs legendary engineering
Security Alarm, Remote Central Locking, Visible Identification number,
Deadlocks, Engine Immobiliser are frankly the least you should expect in a car
|Fussy oh so fussy|
Okay, so let's be honest.
It looks great, goes great, makes you feel great. But is it really worth the extra you are going to have to shell out?
BMW owners will argue that lower depreciation will offset the cost in the long run. But frankly that's a load of b***s as the total money loss will still be greater. Add to that expensive insurance and unavoidably high service cost and you will still need to justify it as a want rather than an economic need.
But it's okay to want one, why should you not? Let's be honest, at the price we pay for cars you should enjoy owning it and driving it.
Do you find a saloon more up market than a hatchback. You do? Are you mad? You are not alone! Prestige hatchbacks are a real pain to sell for some reason. Maybe that's just because nobody really wants a prestige Citroen or Renault or Rover or Ford. Maybe Saab have that small market wrapped up, or perhaps it's time for Mercedes, BMW and Audi to debunk the myth with a big hatch.
I personally cannot see why it would be any less desirable and hatches are just so much more useable. Still, the boot you do get is big and cleanly shaped so, hatch access aside, there is little complaint.
I can not complain about the attempt at interior room either, just look at the work BMW put in the rear of front seats to generate legroom. The 5 is certainly not the biggest car in its perceived class but it still feels roomy and its relatively compact dimensions certainly help it dynamically.
On the big plus side, despite the motoring cognoscenti being avid diesel haters, when you come to sell this BMW 525 there will be a big queue of people looking for a prestige motor with a paltry thirst. So getting rid will not be a problem.
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