The starting point in BMW's 5 Series line-up is the 518d, a variant that now gets clever TwinPower Turbo technology to boost its four cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine to 150bhp. The result certainly works well on the balance sheet but there's a lot more to it than that, as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
When it comes to choosing a BMW 5 Series, the 518d might initially look like the short straw. There's only 150bhp under the bonnet and the economy and emissions aren't any better than the much more powerful 520d. Thanks to clever TwinPower Turbo technology, there's more to it than you might think and with an aggressive asking price that undercuts key rivals, it looks as if this model could well be a big hit with fleet buyers.
In a previous life, I worked in a big nationalised industry. I remember my old fleet manager, a man you'd never mistake for a ray of sunshine. Like most petty bureaucrats somewhat inebriated on a nip of power, he liked to dispense his gifts grudgingly and, after having run him over in a prank involving a mobility scooter, I found myself on the blunt end of his largesse. While my colleagues all received keys to shiny BMWs, I found myself staring disconsolately at a brown Daewoo Espero. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that these BMW 518s had the power-to-weight ratio of Homer Simpson and thereafter, I've tended to view any 5 Series titled with an eighteen with considerably disdain. Fast forward a number of years and once again we see a 5 Series bearing that most unaspiritional of model designations. Problem is, this one is actually a bit useful. It's taken that long for me to be rehabilitated and the eighteen badge on the back of a Five has taken just as long to come good.
You might well wonder quite where the 518d chimes with BMW's claim of producing the 'Ultimate Driving Machine', but there has to be a first step on any ladder and this diesel 5 Series is a smart introduction. Thanks to the brand;s TwinPower Turbo technology, power has risen from 143 to 150bhp and, more importantly, there's 360Nm of torque at just 1,750rpm - a good deal more than a petrol-powered BMW 528i. It's no sluggard off the line, stepping to 62mph in a crisp-ish 9.5 seconds, the Touring estate version tacking another six-tenths to that time. You don't buy an entry-level 5 Series diesel to win traffic light grands prix though. Instead, it's a car that you'll enjoy punting about on that lazy wave of torque, enjoying the slick, wristy feel of the six-speed manual gearbox or the technical genius of the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Given the 518d's relaxed natural gait, it's important to get the specification right. The car rides far best on 17-inch wheels and acceptably on 18-inch rims, but don't go for the 19s. The optional Variable Damper Control is well worth the money. Don't be tempted to tick the Active Steer box as the standard steering system is just fine.
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. There's a maturity and elegance to the F10 generation 5 Series, a certain understatement that speaks of confidence. It's not the attention-seeker its predecessor was and it's all the better for it. The most recent styling changes to the 5 Series and 5 Series Touring include a revised front air intake in the bumper and sharper-looking tail lights. The interior hasn't changed dramatically but then it didn't need to. It was already one of the best in class and BMW has updated it with a few equipment updates. Take a seat in the rear however, and you'll find where the design priorities lay. There's significantly more leg and shoulder-room than the old E60 model and were it not for a prominent central transmission tunnel, you'd probably have reasonably comfortable room for three adults. At the wheel, there's a high dashboard angled slightly towards the driver and dominated by a large information screen which serves the iDrive control system and its functions for the control of sat nav, stereo, 'phone, trip computer, suspension settings and much more. Pay a little extra and you can get a touch-pad on top of the rotary dial. This can be used to input letters and numbers without having to scroll through the seemingly endless on-screen menus. Yes, Audi got there first with that trick but sometimes a good idea is too tempting not to adopt.
Market and Model
The 518d opens, and will chiefly be bought, in SE specification, this coming in at a whisker over £30,000 for a manual saloon. Standard equipment includes Business Navigation, xenon headlights, a head-up display and BMW Emergency Call and Teleservices. BMW also offers Modern, Luxury and, rather optimistically, M Sport specification. How does this pricing compare with key rivals from Audi and Mercedes? An entry-level A6 diesel will set you back somewhere in the region of £31,000 while offering significantly more power, while a 170PS Mercedes E220 CDI is knocking on the door of £33,000. So you seem to be getting what you pay for with the 518d. Less engine equals a lower asking price. Other equipment highlights include leather trim, a high quality stereo and a Bluetooth telephone kit. Six speed manual gearboxes come as standard but many will look to the options list and choose the eight-speed automatic which tacks around £1,500 to the asking price. You probably don't need the additional £300-odd paddle shift option here.
Cost of Ownership
Here's the quandary. Do you stick with the 518d or pay another £1,800 and get the 520d? Yes, you do get another 40bhp at your disposal by going for the 520d, but you also, somewhat counter-intuitively, get identical economy and emissions. The 518d will now manage 65.7mpg and emit 114g/km in base SE trim, figures matched by the much quicker 520d. Go for a 518d with a bigger wheel and tyre combination, such as the Modern, the Luxury or the M Sport versions, and the efficiency figures dip a bit, so you'll be stepping up a tax band there as a result. So how does a 518d SE get better economy and emissions figures than a 1.2 litre Kia Picanto? It's helped to this by a whole raft of EfficientDynamics measures, not least of which is an impressively low 0.25 Cd 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.
In its own way, the BMW 518d is as focused as the car at the other end of the 5 Series range, the iconic M5. It's just that it targets a different set of priorities, and ones that are arguably harder to satisfy when pricing is such an overwhelming priority. Offering a 5 Series diesel with sat nav and leather as standard for just over £30,000 isn't bad going at all and BMW is keenly aware that some companies will impose a nominal thirty grand ceiling for company car purchases. Consider that you can buy a Volkswagen Golf diesel and see no change from £27,000 and you'll begin to appreciate the value proposition here. If you thought of a 518 as a bit of an embarrassment to the BMW name, it's time to reassess. Here is a car that offers all of the 5 Series qualities bar outright straight line speed. It handles superbly, it rides well, and the diesel engine's torque means that it will rarely feel lightweight under the bonnet. It's a car that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.