I remember getting my first ride in a BMW 5series way back when. The 540i with its powerful V8, dashboard with more buttons than you could shake a stick at but an incredible amount of torques. Fast Forward to 2012 and hello BMW 535d, and your incredible amount of torques…620 of those torques to be exact. The closest rival to the M5, and an oil burner at that.
It’s no secret I’m not a fan of the Bangle years. The EXX 5-series was the first BM that really caught my eye again saying “Hey, that’s actually a good looking beemer”. Softer and less angular lines and lighting on all the corners has the 5 now possibly showing a wider appeal on design. I have nothing against it, and in M-Sport guise it looks great. Albeit a little understated. One thing though, don’t order it in dark colours, it does nothing for its “weight”, spec a light colour.
I had the luxury of spending time in the 535d both in M-Sport guise as well as an extremely specced out version. The specced out version no doubt so one could try out the new toys BMW has glued to the 5, so let me run you through those. Driver aids are the new black and the 5 didn’t lack any of them. Hit the highway and there was active cruise control. Very basically you select the cruising speed (a-la-cruise control – above 70km/h) but
now the 5 makes sure you keep a respectable (And adjustable) following distance from the vehicle in front, and it will accelerate and brake to a complete stop should needs be, without any pedal interaction from the driver. I found it incredibly simple to use, worked like a charm except even at its closest setting left quite a bit of space for the Joburg highway hoppers to squeeze in,(As we do in SA), leaving the car to brake and widen the gap again. A vicious circle really.
Change lanes intentionally and Blind Spot Assist will flag a little orange triangle in the arm of the side mirrors to tell you there is in fact a “Think Bike” there so you shouldn’t change (not worth the money in my view).
Unintentionally stray out of your lane and the steering wheel vibrates on the strayed side (this particularly helpful if you text and drive and stray out of your lane), this only active above 50km/h.
Much like Volvo’s City Safety, there is also a crash avoidance system which at city speeds will stop the car should you be about to rear end someone in crawling traffic.
Even though BMW has particularly effective Bi-Xenon Active (the see around corners) headlamps, there was night vision, which I’d never tested. It uses a … well … night vision camera mounted in the bumper of the car … to display the image on the central screen. Most importantly the radar tracks for pedestrians and brings up a warning when it sees them – very useful in good old South Africa. Unfortunately it doesn’t display in the Head’s Up Display (HUD) on the windscreen a-la-Mercedes Benz, so can be a little distracting, but does the job. One last very useful tool was that the vehicle could read (or by use of GPS) the speed limit of the road you’re in, and that was displayed in the HUD. Very useful as signage or attention span for speed limits could be lacking. Other notable amenities were massaging seats, rear seat entertainment system and what must be the most comfortable seats of any BMW…ever. Everything I’ve spoken about above is optional. Of course.
To quickly touch on the interior of the 5, it’s superb quality materials, leather, chrome and matt soft touch plastic on use throughout, with the split dash configuration really does give it an open and airy feel. It’s not AS well put together as Audi but definitely has more “personality” than the interior of the E-Class.
What is NOT optional, is that technological masterpiece in the form of the 6cylinder, bi-turbo diesel engine delivering 230kW and 630NM of torques. I had heaps of fun trying out all the technology, but even more fun driving a version with the bare minimum of optional extra’s (only a M-Sport pack) and that engine. It was there that I truly fell in love with this engine. Press the start button and it purrs into life with an incredibly well damped cabin you hardly hear it all, only under full throttle does a familiar PETROL 6cylinder sound come through. It doesn’t sound like a diesel at all, not inside, not outside. Tick!
The engine is mated to a 8speed ZF gearbox which does an excellent job at swopping cogs. In manual changes are done fast enough but I found leaving it in sport is actually the best way to get performance in this diesel. There is no turbo lag to speak of, mainly due to the addition of the smaller turbo, which helps boost at low revs. Take it for a real drive through the twisties the Sheer Driving Pleasure mantra rings true. The back wheels can break traction very easily in Sport+ mode, and at speed sweeping through the bends makes it feel a lot tighter and smaller, instead of lumbering. Interestingly enough, BMW recently released the 550d (only available in left-hand drive), which has more torque than the M5 and thus required 4wheel drive. The size only becomes apparent when slowing it down or making your way over the bumps. The active steering in the uprated model wasn’t to my liking, it just feels a little too detached at low speeds.
The real clincher here is the fact that the 535d offers blistering performance, rivaling the M5 for in gear acceleration and then offers the same balance on economy. BMW claims 5.6l/100km but some brisk driving means I got around 8.6, which still isn’t bad at all considering. The 535d offers an executive guy the best balance between performance and economy without sacrificing on driving pleasure. It’s not directly as performance oriented as the M5, but comes so close it’s scary, and that’s excellent in my books. Here’s the spanner – the 530d is cheaper and only 0.5 seconds slower to 100km/h, so is the 535d worth it?
Although ticking the option box can get expensive, the 535d offers an exceptional engine that the competition can’t beat. The 5 has always been the most dynamic and fun to drive of the executive saloons, and the new model doesn’t disappoint, but rather compliments with an extremely well balanced engine.
At R780 000 starting price for the 535d, it’s not about any of the competition, but rather the question within the BMW stable … As much as I love the engine, my head says go for the 530d at R670K and spec R110 000 worth of options instead.
My heart says … Please can I have that white 535d back?