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BMW 530d SE

Click to view picture galleryFive million sold worldwide in
  nearly 40 years but today the
  5 Series has never faced such stiff
The sixth generation
drive 5 Series BMW is
  good — but then it needs to be
  because in a shrinking market the
  competition is growing stronger

DELIVERIES TO UK CUSTOMERS of the sixth generation executive 5 Series saloon are about to start but the most popular version — the 520d with Auto Start-Stop as standard — which accounts for 70% of all 5 Series sales, does not go into production until June (2010). All versions of the new Touring estate models follow three months later in September.

The 5 Series is, in reality, the icon of the BMW brand with around 8,000 saloon sales this year and 12,000+ expected from 2011 onwards. Touring models add around 4,000 to these annual totals. However, in a shrinking market the competition is growing stronger: the Audi A6 is good (although past its best sell-by date), the Mercedes S-Class is a stunner, the Jaguar XF very highly rated by customers and early drives by my fellow motoring scribes suggest the new Jaguar XJ is brilliant as well — all tough competition in tough market conditions.

Prices for the new 5 Series saloons show an average three per cent increase but the added value — 2,600 to 2,790 — these new models offer shows just how competitive the range is. There are four petrol and three diesel engine options and a new eight-speed automatic transmission — the choice of nine out of ten users.

As standard equipment, all models have leather upholstery, BMW Professional radio and sound system, Bluetooth telephone preparation, electrically operated windows and door mirrors, Dynamic Stability Control+, cruise control, automatic air conditioning, front and rear Park Distance Control, 7-inch control display screen, an iDrive central control unit and of course BMW's award-winning EfficientDynamics fuel and CO2 saving measures which lower CO2 emissions without any loss in performance.

Prices range from 28,165 up to 50,528 and of course there is a huge list of extra cost options. Touring estate models will cost around 2,200 more than comparable Saloons. M Sport versions are expected to be added in the distant future but the M5 is less certain at this stage due to the economic situation and relatively small sales numbers.

Enthusiastic drivers
can really ‘load up’
the front end with
confidence during high
speed cornering
The core sales model, the 520d SE saloon with its 184bhp diesel engine and with CO2 emissions of just 132g/km and a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 56.5mpg, is priced at 28,165 on-the-road. This represents a price increase of just 130 over the outgoing version but in fact the added value of extra size, equipment, EfficientDynamics technology and so on is valued at 2,280.

So what else is new about the latest range? The new 5 Series uses a shortened version of the new 7 Series platform which means a longer wheelbase — at 2,968mm, the longest in its sector. So good news for rear seat passengers where legroom is important.

The styling remains deeply contoured with sculptured lines but less controversial than the previous generation. The elongated four-door 'coupe' side profile and wide stance gives the executive car a purposeful appearance. Inside, the fixtures and fittings are all high grade and the greater space will be enjoyed by all except the rear middle seat passenger who might find the wide transmission tunnel obstructive for foot space. A large 520-litre boot completes the package.

The suspension has a new double wishbone design at the front and a multilink layout at the rear, just like the 7 Series. The new front end suspension layout means that enthusiastic drivers can really 'load up' the front end with confidence during high speed cornering as there is massive grip, and then use the ample engine power to accelerate very hard out of corners through the rear-wheel drive system. This means the balance of the car is exceptional.

The double wishbone system also seems less inclined to move from the desired path due to ruts in the road caused by heavy transport. However, the new electronic-assisted power-steering, either with the front steer or active four-wheel steer layout, doesn't feel quite as sharp or offer as much feedback as the 5 Series has previously been famous for.

Optional Variable Damper Control or Adaptive Drive packages are available where the driver can tune the chassis responses for ride comfort and handling with Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ settings.

Driven hard and fast
over adventurous
roads the 530d
returned a healthy
real-life 36.6mpg
Having tried the standard and optional suspension's handling configurations last week over the mountainous and winding routes crossing the Pyrenees, my choice would be to stay with the standard car and save yourself around 5,000. In its standard suspension form and without the new four-wheel steering option, the 5 Series is sure- footed, responsive, extremely well balanced and compliant as well as comfortable despite the standard-fit run-flat tyres. I'd also stick with the standard 17-inch alloy road wheels as larger ones only increase the potential for an unsettled ride over potholed roads.

With three diesel (520, 525 and 530) and four petrol engines (523i, 528i, 535i and 550i) available to order from launch and more to come, there is a wide choice to fit all budgets in this executive sector.

The 'bread-and-butter' unit, the 520d diesel with 184bhp and 280lb ft of torque, has a top speed of 140mph, a 0-62mph time of just 8.1 seconds, a combined cycle fuel economy of 56.5mpg and 132g/km CO2 emissions — so the road tax from April will be an attractive 110 a year with a low 18 per cent Benefit-in-Kind company car user tax rate. No wonder this will be the best selling model: all the looks and the useable performance needed for today's driving conditions but none of the high running and taxation costs.

During the first-drive press event last week only 5 Series saloon models with the 530d in-line six-cylinder single turbodiesel and the new 535i six-cylinder direct injection twin-scroll single turbocharger petrol units were available for test driving as the 520d is not yet in production.

As you would expect, both units are refined, strong, quiet under load and very powerful. Both were tried with the new eight-speed automatic transmission (with Steptronic manual shift function) which was silky smooth with seamless changes. Driven hard and fast over adventurous roads the 530d returned a healthy real-life 36.6mpg against the official 44.8mpg figure and the 535i did less well with 23.7mpg at best and not at all close to the official 33.2mpg. Both are great engines for sure and they allowed us to explore the full potential of this new benchmark 'executive persons' favoured method of business travel.

Against: Electronically-assisted power-steering dulls feedback to the driver, some wind noise, large centre transmission tunnel limits legroom for one rear seat passenger. For: Looks good, roomy, full of technology, lots of safety features and improved residual values forecast. The new 5 Series needed to be good to see off the competition; and it is very good and still the benchmark for the sector. But only just. — David Miles

BMW 530d SE
| 37,100
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.3 seconds | Overall test MPG: 36.6mpg
Power: 245bhp | Torque: 398lb ft | CO2 160g/km