BMW has high hopes of its improved 5 Series Touring. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Big estate cars have come a long way from their utilitarian roots and the latest BMW 5 Series Touring is a good example of just how far. Air suspension at the rear increases composure with a big load onboard and you'll be able to fit plenty in one in thanks to a 560-litre capacity. The engine range is now even more efficient and the smartened styling, though formulaic, has definite elegance. It may even be sharper than the saloon's.
BMW paints a not unrecognisable picture of the executive estate market before the arrival of its 1991 first generation 5 Series Touring. Before that car, big estates were pared-back workhorses to their sportier and more sophisticated saloon counterparts. After it, they were positioned more equally with equivalent design and driving dynamics. Today, many even see the estate as a more stylish alternative to the straight-laced saloon, with its extra practicality coming as a handy bonus. The current 5 Series Touring is an updated version of BMW's 'F10' fourth generation version and just like most of its predecessors, it has the Audi A6 Avant and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate to contend with.
Under bodywork that's generously extended to the rear, the 5 Series Touring as usual shares its mechanical make-up with the saloon version. It offers a large 2,968mm wheelbase and the usual 50:50 weight distribution is intact, until you hoist that flat-packed wardrobe into the boot. The power steering is electronic and speed-dependent, varying the amount of assistance to provide security at speed with a light touch around town. The suspension uses double wishbones at the front but unlike the saloon, the estate gets self-levelling air-suspension at the rear, helping it cope with those weightier loads. Although it doesn't instantly smack of the Ultimate Driving Machine, there will be quite a few fleet buyers who will welcome the introduction of an entry-level 518d diesel. With 150bhp on tap thanks to clever TwinPower Turbo technology, it's no weakling and will bring the entry level price for a BMW 5 Series diesel onto the radars of many who were maybe considering a 3 Series instead. The 190bhp 520d gets basically the same engine with a bit more power. The there's the 218bhp 525d before you get to the six cylinder 24v diesel variant that most customers choose, the 258bhp 530d. This sits just below the top 313bhp 535d version. Conventional petrol Fives start with the 184bhp 520i. Using the same 2.0-litre four cylinder engine is the 245bhp 528i, arguably a better choice than the 272bhp six cylinder 530i. Really quick 5 series motoring starts with the 306bhp turbocharged 535i and the 407bhp 550i.
Design and Build
You'll need to look quite carefully for the cosmetic updates to this latest car and believe me, that's a good thing. Styling changes include a revised front air intake in the bumper and sharper-looking tail lights. Overall, the package remains a shapely and elegant one with the longer roofline of this Touring version making it appear lower and sleeker than the saloon. Short overhangs, even at the rear, contribute to an athletic stance on the road, ensuring that the estate is in no way the frumpy cousin of the four-door car. Chrome-lined side windows and matt aluminium roof rails are standard to further embellish the estate. To many eyes, the Touring will be a more attractive car than the saloon but most buying decisions will still hinge around what extra practicality that boot space can offer. At 560-litres, the Touring has 60 litres more luggage capacity than the saloon and its space is accessed through a wide, high lifting tailgate. The rear window also opens automatically in a feature we're more used to seeing on 4x4s. This means smaller items can be dropped in without raising the big back door in its entirety. The rear seats are split 40/20/40 and drop down flat to the floor for a 1,670-litre capacity. There's also extra versatility courtesy of the Extended Storage option which includes rear seat backs that can be positioned more vertically to add an extra 30-litres behind. This option pack also adds rails, nets and other load securing options inside.
Market and Model
Prices start from just over £32,000 and there's a premium of around £2,350 for Touring ownership over the cost of an equivalent 5 Series saloon. The days of poorly specified entry-level BMWs appear to be at an end with all 5 Series Touring models a decent kit quota. The opening rung on the trim walk up, the SE version, now gets features such as a head-up display, satellite navigation and xenon headlights, which does draw into question the wisdom of forking out for the 'Modern', 'Luxury' or 'M Sport' versions. What BMW gives with one hand, however, it takes with the other as prices have risen by around £1,100 model for model. Still, that's about in line with its key rivals from Audi and Mercedes, and when viewed in the context of long-term running costs, the value proposition remains strong. All models get leather trim, a high quality stereo and a Bluetooth telephone kit, while six-cylinder variants gain a USB audio connector and ambient lighting around the cabin. Six speed manual gearboxes come as standard but many will look to the options list and choose either the eight-speed automatic (standard with the 550i) or the Sport automatic which also has eight speeds but features steering wheel paddle shifters.
Cost of Ownership
BMW has made some big gains in fairly unexpected places when it comes to efficiency to keep its leadership in the class when it comes to cost of ownership. There's an entry-level 150bhp 518d diesel variant now available but the pokier 190bhp 520d version does better. This is a car that weighs over 1700kg, will sprint to 62mph in only just over eight seconds, seats five in comfort and develops almost as much torque as the latest Porsche 911. Despite that, it'll emit just 122g/km (whether you choose manual or auto) and return 61.4miles per gallon on the combined cycle. In case you're wondering about a perspective on that, well you're talking better figures than you'd get from an automatic 1.25-litre Kia Picanto citycar. The 5 Series is helped to this by a whole raft of EfficientDynamics measures, not least of which is its impressively sleek aerodynamics figure. That's on top of features like Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration and the ECO PRO function to aid with economical driving. Advanced ancillary units, such as the on-demand coolant pump and the electronically controlled oil pump, further enhance intelligent energy management. It's helped the 530d cut its emissions to 139g/km.
Why would you choose the estate version of an executive car over the saloon? A few years back, you'd have wanted the additional boot space and would have been willing to make some compromises to get it. Today, cars like this improved BMW 5 Series Touring combine the technology and driving experience of the saloon version with real additional versatility and sharp looks that many will actually find preferable. Whichever way you look at it, the latest 5-Series 5-door has an array of capabilities that few cars of any description can match.