What is the criteria for a ‘great’ car? How many ‘great’ cars are there?
Over the years, many, of course, and we can keep adding to the list. On this list I would put this diesel engined, BMW 530d Touring xDrive MSport that we tested for a week, it simply didn’t put a foot wrong.
Trying very hard to find the slightest fault was an uphill battle; the over-the-shoulder rear view wasn’t great; starting from a standstill was ever-so-slightly juddery, as though the car had settled a bit on its haunches; and, and as far as I could make out, the weather map didn’t manage more than some not very local temperatures. And that’s about it.
So: the engine. Diesel six-cylinder engines are a true match for other power units. In this BMW’s case, you get 282bhp as well as 479 lb/ft of torque from 1500 to 2500rpm. End result — zero to 62 mph in a mere 5.6 seconds. That’s crazy for such a utilitarian car as an estate…or Touring, in BMW nomenclature. Yeah, crazy, but, ‘great!’ And you just don’t feel any of whichever of the first two or three gear changes in the 8-speed Steptronic are at work.
Now, we don’t necessarily need that sort of rocket take-off, but, out on the road, if you are in a genuine hurry, the immense pull available if you want to safely shoot past a slower vehicle is an important safety factor. OK, and I admit it, the noise is ‘great’! Not loud, mind, just, well, ‘Oh yes!’
WLTP fuel consumption figures vary over the 5-series range; over 260 miles of varying traffic conditions, the test car’s trip recorder finished up at 41.4 mpg (giving a range of up to 600 miles); much of this followed exploring a myriad of muddy, single-track country lanes, where the BMW felt totally secure and at home. Why? Because the xDrive system and the excellent brakes cope with typical such challenges, not that I drove actually to challenge them full time.
BMWs tend to have rather fat steering wheels, perhaps because within them are all those other control systems for audio, info and so on, including, as an option, steering wheel heating that detects the ambient cold weather and switches on automatically.
But the wheel feels comfortable, a bit soft and forgiving: when it comes to subtleties in expensive cars, this is one of them.
The steering response itself is accurate; that particular steering feature known as turn-in, that some might not feel until they experience it at near its best, is well up there. Let’s not forget that, to get this into a car with an unladen weight of two tons — 100 kg lighter than the previous version — is an achievement. The end result gives the driver a further sense of security…as does the suspension set-up that keeps the car right on line (along with xDrive if any slippage is detected).
The car’s ride remains comfortably supple, dealing with poor surfaces as well as any: the worst potholes, those unexpected ones, can cause a big thump, but the car feels strong and well in charge.
BMWs with mode selection (ride and performance characteristics, some able to be individually organised to personal choice, as with other manufacturers) automatically default to ‘comfort’ when the ignition is switched on; this is perhaps the go-to mode in any case. Should you go to ‘sport’ or ‘eco-drive’, the instrument panel shows the variation. If you want, you can select route history to display when the modes were in use, plus the version of stop/start you get with BMW’s mild-hybrid electric power. With the brake on auto-hold, the car will sit still at red lights or on slopes without any driver input.
The seats are very comfortable all-round, lumbar adjustments and all, with only one thing missing in our test-car (that totalled £67,450 with all its options): cooling in hot weather…although the temperature during the test week never rose above five degrees.
All the controls felt top quality, with very smooth actions and pleasantly tactile.
Night-time driving was never compromised by limited visibility.
Almost £10,000 in optional extras provides so much in extra ‘packages’ that it’s challenging to discover the car’s total abilities in just one week; immediately appreciated, however, were such features as the 12-inch screen and intuitive controls, although delving into the minutiae requires, as ever, a feel for current technology and how to use it.
Anyone who buys a Touring version does so because the family needs plenty of carrying ability.
Although not quite the most massive in the premium sector, the car’s boot can still get a large amount in, with plenty of versatility: the boot floor includes a rail system able to be shortened or lengthened; hangers; lashing eyes; and underfloor sections. The rear seats can fold 40/20/40 and there are heater controls and a USB point for passengers in the back.
The rear window, apart from the whole tailgate, can be opened, in order to load in smaller stuff.
The Touring version has self-levelling suspension.
I found the info controls more intuitive than some.
Technology is huge: one feature, my favourite, that drivers who make regular journeys will appreciate, combines the satnav with BMW’s ‘Panoramic View’: let’s say that there are a few points along the route that can be a bit difficult, for example, a T-junction with poor side views. You can enter these ‘Activation Points’ into your satnav route. The car’s cameras will automatically display a better (a few feet further forward than you) view for any oncoming traffic.
The Park Assist Plus package is as sophisticated as any, including identifying spaces at the roadside that can accommodate the length and turning ability of the car. Also, although not available on the particular key fob, the test car came with remote parking. You can leave the car and direct it within specific parameters, into a tight space such as a narrow garage.
It’s true that there are BMW competitors, and even some less ‘premium’ cars, that have many of these features, but this 530d bottom line still contains the word ‘GREAT’!
Tom Scanlan has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, particularly the Reading Evening Post for ten years, having got into motoring journalism in 1973 via the somewhat unlikely back door of the British Forces Broadcasting Service. BFBS produced a weekly radio motoring show for the services overseas and Tom produced it, as well as interviewing experts and eventually reporting on cars.
He is into classic cars and has owned Porsche, Ferrari, pre-war Alvis and Rileys and currently owns his fifth old Alfa Romeo, a 1984 GTV 2.0.
In his spare time, Tom is a professional cricket coach.
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