Road test review: BMW 520d is all you need to impress

FRUGAL PERFORMER: Offering outstanding dynamics, the BMW 520d also returned consumption figures of 5.2 litres for every 100km.
FRUGAL PERFORMER: Offering outstanding dynamics, the BMW 520d also returned consumption figures of 5.2 litres for every 100km. Mark Bean

TRY too hard to please everyone and the results can be unpleasant. BMW's newest 5 Series takes this approach and just about gets away with it.

It is the most driver-focused prestige sedan in town, the interior is decidedly more upmarket than the previous model and the electronics approach artificial intelligence.

By way of example the adaptive cruise control uses 17 sensors and six cameras to scan the road and keep the car in its lane with "autonomous" driving for up to 30 seconds at a stretch.

Really clever "look at me" features, such as the remote control parking, still require a few ticks on the options sheet but even the entry level 520d tested here has a head-up display, 10.2-inch infotainment screen, surround-view camera and the ability to use a smartphone app to heat or cool the interior before the driver gets into the vehicle.

All that tech isn't cheap as the 520d starts at $93,900 before on-road costs, against $84,800 for the previous model. I'd invest another $2150 in the adaptive dampers and that's about it.

Those who insist on being seen with all the toys should drop $2100 on the Innovations pack, bundling a display key (it has an in-built screen), gesture control (which works intermittently) for such functions as the audio volume and accepting/ending a call, along with the remote parking. They're party tricks you'll use occasionally to impress friends rather than essential features but it gives you an indication of how seriously car brands research the latest tech to try to gain a competitive advantage.

The 530L boot is built to take numerous golf bags and all seats are comfortable places to perch with decent head and legroom.

On the road

The 5 Series isn't as isolated from its environment as its direct rivals and for some, that's a bonus. It doesn't iron out the bumps so much as modulate them, giving the driver more feedback at the expense of minor movements in the cabin.

Performance from the 2.0-litre diesel is impressive and akin to a tugboat shifting a freighter - it doesn't seem possible but happens anyway.

The eight-speed automatic shares bragging rights here, seamlessly shifting up and down regardless of the load on the accelerator and contributing to the 520d feeling more sprightly than its 7.5-second run to triple figures suggests. It's no sports sedan - the 540i and M5 fill that role - but the balanced chassis makes it an engaging car to pilot.

Turn the 5 Series into a corner and the steering conveys every twitch from the front tyres. Grip is great - you're going to be really unlucky or ragingly overconfident to run out of adhesion.

Thirst, or the lack thereof, is a big part of the 520d's appeal. We logged 5.2L/100km with some solid driving, against an official claim of 4.3L.

Cabin insulation is a highlight, with the diesel rarely intruding on the chat on freeway drives. The build quality is everything you'd expect from a BMW costing nearly $100K. The interior, though refined, can't match the latest Mercedes E-Class. The latter's info screen, embedded in the dash, is rather more slick than the Beemer's tablet-style display.


As an entree into the 5 Series range, the 520d is all you need to impress, particularly if driving dynamics are the priority. It's not going to tear up the tarmac but you will exit the car with a satisfied smile.

Topics:  motoring review road test

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