BMW 520d review

BMW improves the 520d with the fitment of its latest TwinPower Turbo engine for more power and better economy. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

The BMW 520d has long been a vehicle that featured almost unfeasible fuel economy figures. The latest TwinPower Turbo engine now means you get up to 68.9mpg from an executive car that packs a 190PS punch.

Background

Every technology matures and eventually reaches a point of plateau from which further big steps forward are difficult and in some ways unnecessary. Take Apple, these days being continually criticised for not innovating, continually polishing its iPhone by tiny incremental amounts. Yet this is because its original innovators hit upon a form factor that just works. BMW offers another case in point with its 5 Series executive range. This car was first introduced in 1972 and there were huge differences between the first and second generation versions, but things have progressed, the changes between generations five and six have been harder for people to grasp. Furthermore, the upgrades that have taken place since the sixth generation model appeared in 2010 are more subtle still. That's not to say they're entirely negligible. Business buyers loved the BMW 520d EfficientDynamics model for its combination of power and economy but now that variant has been replaced by something even better. It's still a 520d, but this time powered by a TwinPower Turbo engine. What's on offer here is just another incremental step towards perfection.

Driving Experience

Were you looking for a fun steer, you probably wouldn't start with a two-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, but it's hard not to be impressed by a powerplant that delivers peak power of 190PS and a massive 400Nm of torque. That power output is up 6PS on the old EfficientDynamics model, while torque climbs by 20Nm, resulting in the saloon model scuttling to 62mph in just 7.9 seconds. That's hardly slow and as you're doubtless aware, it'll be even more impressive when kept in the fat part of the torque curve. Choose the heavier Touring estate model and that figure extends to 8.1 seconds, but that's still hardly tardy. This generation 5 Series features much improved ride quality, the issue of unsettled comportment with run-flat tyres being long resolved. The electric power steering is better than some of the old recirculating ball systems that previous 5 Series models were saddled with, but still never feels as natural as it could. This current car weighs 1695kg and you'll inevitably feel that in tighter corners. Just as well then that the electronic driver aids are some of the industry's best.

Design and Build

It's fair to say that the styling of the previous E60 generation 5 Series model was something most of us got accustomed to but few loved. This current F10 5 Series is a genuinely elegant thing that makes the Audi A6 appear lumpen and the Mercedes E Class deeply conservative. A slightly revised version of this design was introduced in 2013 and here, the low profile nose is subtler, while the deep bonnet contours and swage lines cut into the flanks bring tension to what is a very assured piece of vehicle styling. As ever, the wheels are pushed right out to the corners of the car, creating very short overhangs front and rear and a planted stance. The expanded wheelbase is made to count inside where there's lots of rear passenger space, including an extra 13mm of knee-room compared to the previous generation model. The seats split 40/20/40 and fold down, but even without them lowered, 520-litres of capacity is on offer in the boot. The design of the cabin brooks few surprises, with much of the switchgear being similar to items seen before on other BMW products. Quality is very good and the minimal design is appealing. There's still a button for all the important functions, with only the more involved processes accessed through the iDrive menu system. Those of you deterred by iDrive should note that the system has been rehabilitated. It's actually fairly easy to navigate these days.

Market and Model

In removing the distinction between a 'normal' 520d and an EfficientDynamics model, BMW has made the range a bit easier for most people to comprehend and stymies Audi, who had just copied BMW by bringing out their own efficiency line, badged 'ultra'. BMW is, in effect, saying that you don't need to buy a special eco version of its cars now. Efficiency is fitted as standard. The range starts at just under £32,000 for the SE saloon, with the desirable ZF eight-speed manual tacking on another £1,500. The top of the range M Sport auto retails at just over £36,000 while the Touring estates are another £2,300 or so. The entry-level SE trim nets you 17" alloy wheels, DSC+ stability control, leather seats and Bluetooth connectivity. The mid-range trim is badged Modern and comes with 18-inch alloys, electrically-adjustable sport seats and extra metal finish. At the top of the range are the Luxury and M Sport trims. The 'Luxury' trim level features equipment like a 20GB hard disc drive, BMW Connected Services, the iDrive touch controller, BMW Professional navigation and voice control amongst other things. 'M Sport' trim nets you double-spoke M-Sport 18-inch alloys, a body styling kit, M Sport suspension, seats and steering wheel, an anthracite headlining and aluminium hexagon interior fabric..

Cost of Ownership

As recently as eight years ago, the little 118d was BMW's low emission poster child. It emitted 150g/km of CO2, its engine made 122bhp and it would return 50.4mpg. That all looks a bit quaint now that you can buy this beefy BMW 520d that cranks out 190PS, yet in automatic form, the saloon achieves 68.9mpg and emits just 109g/km. With a manual gearbox, those figures ease out to 65.7mpg and 114g/km. Choose a manual Touring estate variant and you're looking at 61.4mpg and 122g/km. Still leagues better than the old 1 Series. That one of BMW's biggest cars is now cleaner than its smallest was just eight years ago demonstrates that although the form factor remains similar, what lies beneath is anything but. As well as Auto Start-Stop, Optimum Gearshift Indicator, Brake Energy Regeneration and Active Aerodynamics, the BMW 520d also features an ECO-PRO Mode. A driver-activated switch promotes economical and comfortable driving at low speeds by adjusting the engine mapping, throttle sensitivity and the amount of power consumed by electrical items such as climate control and heated seats. It's all about working smarter rather than harder.

Summary

The conspicuous lack of fanfare that has accompanied the introduction of the improved TwinPower Turbo engine in the 520d line up rather sells this car short. It's rare that you're given more car and not be made to pay for the privilege but here, you get more power and better economy without a significant rise in pricing. The 520d has quietly morphed into one of the star turns of the 5 Series range and it's one that business users will be very keen to get their hands on. It manages to pip the Audi A6 ultra on both economy and emissions, as well as being a quicker car. That's a slam dunk for Munich. For those who feel a 520d still smacks of puniness, mull on this. For the first 19 years of 5 Series manufacturing, no model had the torque developed by this car, with the uprated 3.8-litre M5 of 1991 finally cracking the 400Nm figure. That's something to feel rather smug about when you spot your trip computer bettering 60 miles per gallon.