The new BMW 520d M Sport is arguably the ‘Ultimate Diesel Driving Machine’. There, that got your attention. A little over-egging it perhaps, but the fact is that things don’t get much better than this executive express.
The irony of this assertion will not be lost on most of you, because the knives are out for diesel. All I can say is that I hope there is a stay of execution so as many new car buyers as possible can enjoy this phenomenal car.
It’s hard to believe, but this is the seventh generation of BMW’s sports saloon. As is often the case with BMWs, the new car’s differences externally are subtle to say the least. In fact, over the years it’s grown in size to the extent that today’s car is actually bigger than a 7 Series from the late ‘80s.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the headlights now flow into the iconic kidney grille for the first time and all models in the range now sport dual exhaust pipes (circular for the SE and quadrilateral for M Sport).
Inside, the epic cabin is dominated by BMW’s infotainment touchscreen which has been upgraded from 6.5 inches to 10.25 – plus there’s a 12.3-inch digital display in the binnacle ahead of the driver. In short, it’s a special place to be and just hints at what’s to come when you hit the Start button.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty of clever tech not obvious to the eye. For instance, the kidney grille is now “Active Air Stream” which opens and closes depending on how much cooling the engine requires.
Thanks to its steel, aluminium and magnesium structure, BMW claims it’s lighter than any of its rivals, which include the Jaguar XF, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
xDrive (BMW’s all-wheel drive system) is available on the 5 Series for the first time, plus tech innovations including remote control parking and gesture control (which allows the driver to perform tasks with the wave of a hand).
My focus here is on the 520d M Sport, which starts at £38,920 and is one up from the entry-level 520d SE. The exact model I tested had a £48,495 price tag because it was loaded with options, including the £1,495 Technology package and £1,995 M Sport Plus package.
Other noteworthy tech available includes Remote Control Parking which has to be seen to be believed. Using the BMW Display Key (a smart key fob), it’s possible to get out of the car and park it remotely – ideal if only a tight spot is available or you have a small garage. The same process in reverse allows you to start and drive the car out of its space.
The 520d will end up being the most popular model with fleet and private customers – and I can see why.
On paper it sounds good, but not sensational. Its 2.0-litre four cylinder turbodiesel develops 188bhp, it can reach 62mph from standstill in 7.5 seconds and go on to a top speed of 146mpg. Crucially, this engine/car combination has fuel economy of up to 68.8mpg and emits just 108g/km of CO2.
Those hard stats are impressive, but here’s the thing – the 5 Series (even at this basic end of the range) is a cracking car to drive.
Not only is this diesel superbly refined, but it’s smooth and effortless. Now factor in remarkable handling and you have a compelling proposition.
We drove the car on sweeping country roads, plus twisty hill sections and it behaved impeccably. Totally planted with enough power for even the keener drivers amongst us, there was barely a hint of body roll.
Working in perfect harmony with the slick ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox (now standard on every 5 Series) and responsive steering, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re driving a relatively big car with a 2.0-litre diesel engine.
The ride is superb, but this is partly because our test car was fitted with Variable Damper Control (VDC). A £985 option, it offers three driving modes (Comfort, Sport and Adaptive), along with a more forgiving ride. Ultimately, there’s an overwhelming sense of composure and agility.
On a practical level, the cabin feels modern, oozes quality and feels spacious. There’s definitely room for taller passengers in the back, though anyone sitting in the middle will have to straddle the transmission tunnel.
The boot is enormous, boasting a 530-litre capacity with a small loading lip and wide aperture. Opt for the folding rear seats and the space is even more useful. With a central cubbyhole, cup holders, door bins and a glovebox, there’s also plenty of space to store smaller items.
Frankly, the BMW 520d M Sport is hard to fault, which is saying something when it’s up against quality rivals including the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XF and Audi A6.
Verdict: BMW has set a new benchmark with the seventh-generation 5 Series. No other car in its class can offer the same combination of driver engagement, state-of-the-art tech, build quality, performance and economy.
Review: Gareth Herincx