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BMW 5 series
BMW "5"series

Head-up Display (HUD)
Will Magnificence Of The Machine Outweigh Risky Looks?
Great Driver’s Car, Impeccable Quality, Leading Edge Technology
Competition closing in

“Beauty is only skin deep”. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. “Everybody’s beautiful, in their own way”.

I sometimes wonder whether Chris Bangle, designer of the new “5” series BMW, ever has any self doubts in the dark recesses of the night, and runs phrases like these through his mind for a bit of reassurance.

Because, unlike its simple, sleek and universally admired predecessor, the new “5” series’ eye-popping looks are causing some critics to wonder whether they might overshadow the considerable merits of the car.

Some, myself included, think the car looks ungainly, over-designed and downright ugly. Angles clash with other angles. From the side, the car looks all bits and pieces, with the rear end looking as if it was borrowed from some other vehicle. The BMW “7” series perhaps, which borrowed its boot from the Renault Laguna II?

The overall look reminds me of the new Honda Accord, or at least how the Accord might have looked if Honda’s designers hadn’t stopped when they had a perfectly fine looking car on their hands.

Love It Or Hate It
But a not very scientific straw poll of friends, and strangers at petrol filling stations, drew a mixed response, with one thing in common. They were all passionate lovers or haters.

BMW has no doubts.
“Subtle convex and concave surfaces are matched with elegant sculpture lines running from the front to the rear of the car. The effect is of an automotive canvas on which light and shadow interplay, emphasising the car’s strong personality, dynamic ability and sheer road presence,” says BMW.


No Russian Dolls Here
BMW goes on to say that the point of its latest designs is to escape from what it calls the “Russian doll” school of design – small, larger and larger still but from the same mould – and offer distinctive and individual cars.

BMW is used to arguments about the way its cars look. The range topping “7” series came under similar fire. The Z4 roadster, with its “flame surfacing” styling, inspired gasps of disbelief when it was unveiled at the Paris Car Show in 2002. At this point I must admit to my own feet of clay. I was one of the Z4 critics at the Paris show, but reversed myself after seeing the car in the metal and driving it. What a fabulous machine.

Apparently, neither the “7” or Z4 has suffered when it came to the big test on the dealer forecourt.

There can be no doubt that the BMW “5” is distinctive.

There will be no arguments about its dynamic quality.

It is a truly magnificent car to drive. It reeks of quality. Once inside, you forget all about the controversial bodywork and soak up the quality environment. In the case of my test car, the 530d (for diesel) SE, included optional extras that added £10,125 to the list price of £30,950. These included Satellite Navigation (£1,185), powered seats (£1,315), six-speed automatic (£1,350), (and floor mats £90!).

The dashboard is simple and maybe even a bit on the drab side. The instruments are plain and clear. Even the “Idrive”, which controls the navigation system, communication, ventilation, and entertainment, seemed easy and relatively intuitive to operate compared with the clunkier version on the “7” series.

The electric seats whir and rumble until you have the ultimate comfort setting. Press the button marked DSC, and a light on the dashboard saying DTC comes on and the seat massages your rear end. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I took some comfort there.

Switch on the engine – (after first depressing the foot brake – why?) and the 3-litre in-line six cylinder motor is obviously a diesel. But the clatter soon subsides as it warms up, and the engine becomes smooth and quiet. The performance is simply breathtaking.
BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series

BMW puts it this way.
“The most revealing on-road performance figure is 50-75 mph acceleration – a typical motorway experience. The 530d SE achieves this in 6.7 seconds in fifth gear and only 5.4 seconds in fourth.”

Responsive Automatic
The steering is sharp and precise. The ride seems on the harsh side, but just what you’d expect really. The six-speed automatic gearbox is smooth when it needs to be and tremendously responsive when called upon to perform.

Drive up behind a truck on a country lane. When a gap appears for overtaking, you select sports mode by tapping the gear selector to the left, floor the accelerator and the car slingshots you past safely and without fuss.

Mileage Muncher
On the highway, the big, low revving diesel comes into its own. This is one magnificent motorway mileage muncher.

This six-speed auto box is a big improvement over the 5-speed version on my own BMW 330d. The 330d automatic isn’t as smooth. And, with the 5-speed box, if you select manual, and try to use the engine for braking, there is a gap from about 80 mph to 60 mph when the next lower gear won’t engage and you need to slow down with the brakes. This “problem” has been solved with the 530d’s six speeds.

Fuel economy is outstanding, but not quite as outstanding as BMW says it is. According to BMW, the 530d automatic will return an overall 36.2 miles per gallon. I managed 33.5 miles per gallon over a test run of over 600 miles. Even so, for a big car, that is a very impressive figure. And being a diesel, economy is likely to improve as the miles build up.

Bigger But Weighs Less
The “5” is bigger than its predecessor, but weighs less, thanks to lightweight construction including an all aluminium chassis and suspension. It looks a lot bigger, maybe because the windows in the latest design are narrower compared with the depth of the doors.

BMW’s previous “5” series was widely acclaimed as the best in its class for driveability, looks, comfort and quality. But the opposition has not been idle and has been edging closer.

BMW seems to have decided that it will use technology to keep the competition at bay.

The new “5” series, on sale now across Europe and the United States, introduces 4 new high technology systems, which enhance safety and make the car easier to operate.
v Active Steering – computerised steering offers drivers extra assistance; makes parking easier, high speed driving crisper.
v Dynamic Drive – stiffens the suspension to control body roll while cornering.
v Head Up Display (HUD) – projects crucial data like speed and directions on to a virtual screen.
v Adaptive Headlights – headlights swivel up to 15 degrees as steering turns to illuminate more of the road ahead.

The Active Steering system uses electric motors at low speeds so that only a small effort is required for parking. Just three quarters of a turn moves the front wheels from centre to full lock. Unassisted, this would take one and a quarter turns. Active Steering means there is no need to cross hands or shuffle the wheel during parking. At higher speeds, the steering becomes progressively more direct, enhancing smooth and precise handling.

Munich Test Track
The test car didn’t have this optional new system, but I was able to sample it on BMW’s test track outside Munich a couple of years ago. The system works spectacularly well. It truly does make the driving experience easier. Women in particular will find parking an absolute breeze, with so little effort needed to move the steering wheel, even for the tightest of angles. And at speed the steering becomes fantastically precise. It’s as though you think “turn” and the car does it for you, the effort is so minimal.

Dynamic Drive
The “5” also has Dynamic Drive, which uses anti-roll bars to minimise sway in bends.

HUD embraces fighter jet technology to project virtual information about six feet in front of the driver’s field of vision so that vital data can be seen while maintaining a view of the road ahead. Adaptive Headlights not only swivel as the front wheels turn; if combined with satellite navigation, the system spreads the headlight beam to light up approaching crossroads and junctions.

If that’s not enough new technology for you, the “5” series has tyre puncture warning, and run-flat tyres which can travel at up to 50 mph (80 kph) for 90 miles (145 kms). The cruise control has an “active”, radar element – it will slow down and apply the brakes if it detects another vehicle is too close, and resume the previously set cruising speed when the all-clear is sounded.

The “5” series is available with a 170 bhp 2.2 litre six cylinder petrol engine – the 520i SE - a 3 litre petrol – the 530i SE, and the 530d SE. Later this year, there will be a 525i SE, and a range topping V8 545i SE.

Neil Winton, October 17, 2003

BMW 530d
Engine – 3.0 litre, 6-cylinder common rail diesel

Power – 218 bhp

Acceleration – 0-62mph/7.3 seconds, 50-75mph/6.7 seconds

Top Speed – 151 mph

Gearbox – six-speed automatic

CO2 – 208 g/km

Fuel consumption – combined 36.2 mpg (test 33.5 mpg)

Length – 4,841 mm

Height – 1,468 mm

Width – 1,846 mm

Suspension-front; aluminium strut axle, rear; aluminium multi-arm

Price - £30,950 (44,600 euros)


For – Unfaultable, magnificent machine

Against – ugly, in the eyes of this beholder

Score out of 5 -
**** (four)

Also consider -

Mercedes E class, Audi A6, Lexus GS 300, Jaguar S type