The 2011 BMW 5 Series – 530d Review

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A DRIVER-ORIENTED COCKPIT

BMW has returned to a driver-oriented cockpit (something abandoned in the previous generaton 5er) and the cabin ergonomics are perfect.  Everything is placed exactly where the driver needs it to be.  Although there are some differences, the dash looks as if it came directly from the 7er.

Indeed, the 5er Series gets the 7er’s high-resolution 10.2” Central Information Display, which doesn’t wash out in direct sunlight.  The new, more intuitive menu structures, improved menu navigation, and ergonomic iDrive controller with shortcut buttons carry over directly from the 7er.

Although I wasn’t in the passenger seat for more than a few hundred kilometers, I did find less knee room than I hoped for, possibly thanks to the configuration of the glove box.  (I found the 3er coupé, in which I was a passenger a few days later to Italy to have far more room in this respect.) On the other hand, rear passengers benefit from a few extra inches thanks to a three-inch (7.6 cm) increase in the wheelbase.

The 5er Series gets some features that even the flagship 7er doesn’t get, most notably automatic parking.  Now possible thanks to electric power steering, the system uses ultrasonic sensors to see a parking spot and determine if it’s large enough.  If the space is 1.2 meters (4 feet) larger than the car, the push of one button starts a process that automatically provides the necessary steering inputs while the driver modulates vehicle speed.  I only tested this feature twice but it worked perfectly each time.

While I wasn’t a fan of the previous 5er’s active steering, the new version includes rear steering that shortens the turning circle and (according to BMW) improves high-speed stability, a claim I would not doubt.

Optional Dynamic Driving Control allows the driver to choose from Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport +, thereby selecting settings for the adaptive shocks and the controls vary jounce and rebound characteristics independently and steplessly, throttle response, and active anti-roll bars.

Driver assistance systems are particularly well-integrated into the car and the more I spend time in cars with these sophisticated systems, the more I become convinced that they are a necessity, not a luxury.  Everyone is subject to a car’s blind spot, so, unless you are driving a convertible, blind-spot detection (a light blinks if there is a car in the blind spot) has universal appeal.  Ditto for the lane-departure warning system that makes the steering wheel vibrate if the car wanders out of the lane.  Far too many accidents take place when drivers momentarily lose their focus (or worse, fall asleep) at the wheel.

Equally useful are an active cruise control system that can bring the car to a complete stop and resume when appropriate and the swiveling adaptive headlights, reminiscent of the Citroën DS, which move along with the steering wheel.

While I can’t argue that night vision with pedestrian detection adds a layer of safety, and I like BMW’s implementation of it in the Central Information Display compared to the way Mercedes-Benz places it in the instrument cluster, it’s still too expensive to have mass appeal or impact.

One fairly inexpensive but useful feature is the High Beam Assistant, which detects light sources (such as taillights or the headlights of oncoming traffic or street lamps) in the vicinity and dips the headlights according to traffic conditions.

Cameras abound in the new 5er. 
Not only are there two in the front bumper and one adjacent to the rearview mirror, but each exterior mirror gets one as well and one is mounted near the rear number plate.  The Top View system (introduced on the new 7er Series) combines these images into useful displays that give additional guidance (beyond the excellent Parking Distance Control system) when parking in cramped quarters.  Side View displays images from the front to monitor traffic before entering a street.

The diesel starts up with a purposeful growl.  Once underway (which can take a few moments since the safety detents on the gear selector require a ritual sequence of button pressing in order to change gears), the three-liter engine, introduced last year, delivers massive amounts of torque.  The car weighs a mere 30 kg (66 pounds) additional compared to its petrol equivalent but it goes from 80 to 120 km/h in just 5 seconds (the petrol-powered 528i takes 7 seconds for the same exercise).  Indeed, it’s hard to reconcile this amount of power with its miserly use of fuel.

Although the fuel consumption that I saw in 1400 km with the car wasn’t bad – an average of 8.9 l/100 km (26 mpg) on my first leg – it was still not as good as I had expected and nowhere near the 5.3 l/100 km  (44 mpg) fuel usage BMW reports from the EU test cycle for highway driving.  It was also not as good as the fuel economy I saw driving the larger and heavier 730d 18 months ago, which used only 7.4 l/100 km (32 mpg).

This could very well have something to do with how this particular car was broken in – and the fact that I averaged 180 km/h on the German Autobahnen and 140 km/h on the Dálnice 5 and encountered stop-and-go traffic enroute several times (my drive in the 730d was somewhat slower given speed limits of 130 km/h  in Austria and Slovenia).

I’ve owned two 5er Series, the classic E39 5er Series and the controversial E60, and my current daily drive is a BMW 335d.  To me, the new F10 is the best of all worlds.  It combines the essence of the E39’s classic lines, takes in the lessons learnt in the integration of electronics and suspension, and provides the blistering torque and fuel economy of BMW’s new clean diesels.

2011 BMW 530d
Base price/price-as-tested €48,300/€79.350
Drivetrain Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 3.0 liter/245 hp/ I-6  diesel
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Curb weight (lbs) 3938
Wheelbase (inches) 113.7
Length x width x height (inches) 191.1  x 72.7 x 57.8
0-62 mph (seconds) 6.3
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 29.4 / 44.4

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