Test drive: BMW 520d M Sport Saloon
Leading motoring journalist Steven Berry test drives the BMW 520d M Sport Saloon.
The new BMW 5-Series is so refined and offers such good driving dynamics that it had me convinced that this car could be all things to all people – whether you’re a business user who needs a tax-efficient luxury saloon or a family user who fancies driving something that not only feels special but provides better-than-average space for the whole family without costing a fortune to run.
It has some stiff competition in the Mercedes E-Class and there is also the excellent Audi A6 and Jaguar XF to consider. The Mercedes is slightly more impressive inside while the XF feels a tad more sporty when driven enthusiastically but it is the BMW that ultimately retains its crown as best luxury saloon on the market because it beats the opposition in every other department and feels the most rounded package.
It’s also comforting to know that a BMW 5-Series can be had for not a great deal more than a mid-spec 3-Series with the entry-level 520d SE costing just £36,025 OTR – which isn’t bad for a large luxury saloon which comes with an excellent 8-speed auto gearbox and paddle-shifters as standard.
The 2.0 litre diesel version will be the most popular as it offers good performance (190 bhp and 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds) with low running costs (68.8 mpg combined – on 17in wheels) and only 108g/km of CO2 – the Efficient Dynamics version does even better so should appeal more to the business user.
The 3.0 litre diesel has a whopping 265 bhp and will hit 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds while still managing 60 mpg but in the real world it doesn’t really outshine the 2.0-litre enough to justify the extra cost.
There are also two petrol engines available; the 252 bhp 3.0 litre and the range-topping, 340 bhp 4.0 litre which will whisk you to 60mph in under 5 seconds but, rather optimistically, claims an impressive 39.2 mpg on the combined cycle.
BMW’s excellent 4-wheel-drive system, xDrive, is available on all but the petrol-driven 530i and would be my choice on the 520d as it improves handling even more and provides confidence in wintry conditions. Expect to pay an extra £2,000 though.
When it comes to trim levels BMW keep things simple with just the entry-level SE and then the M-Sport but most people will be happy with the SE as it is very well specced and includes – as well as that auto gearbox – 17in alloys, dual-zone air con, ambient lighting, BMW ConnectedDrive Services, Cruise Control with braking function, Drive Performance Control, LED headlights, Sat Nav, front and rear Park Distance Control, auto lights and wipers, heated front seats, Bluetooth with voice control and a leather Sports Steering Wheel.
The M-Sport model gets 18in alloys, left and right exhaust tailpipes, exterior Shadowline high-gloss trim, LED foglights, M aerodynamic body-styling, M badges, M Sport specific pedals and steering wheel as well as upgraded interior trim which includes Aluminium Rhombicle with Pearl Chrome highlights.
What all the cars get, though, is BMW’s lighter, more frugal TwinPower Turbo engines and a re-designed chassis for better comfort and ride which keeps this 7th generation 520 ahead of the competition.
As it is now based on the 7-series platform it is also larger than the previous model with more interior space, but crucially, thanks to the widespread use of lightweight materials, it is a full 100kg lighter.
Outwardly, there are no sweeping changes and the 520 maintains the sleek, purposeful look of the previous model with some design cues taken from the ultra-luxury 7-Series. However, the real changes are mostly invisible and concerning airflow optimization – like the front kidney-shaped grille which can open its louvers when more cooling air is required, but otherwise keeps them closed to optimise aerodynamic efficiency.
Inside is very classy indeed and BMW have got it just about right in the sporting vs cossetting stakes with a driving position that makes you feel “hunkered down” in the cockpit while having excellent visibility all round.
Materials and finish are top-notch – I particularly liked the ‘Dakota’ Ivory White leather in my 520d M Sport model which made an already spacious cabin feel more-so and with extensive seat-adjustment available you can make the most of an excellent driving position.
Much praise is heaped on BMW’s infotainment system and the means to control it and after familiarizing myself with it for a few minutes I have to agree that it is the best there is. The rotary control with surrounding large buttons is a doddle to use and is much safer than aiming a digit at the screen while on the move.
Rear space is very good too, being not far off the 7-Series for leg room. There is more head room than in the previous model and 2 adults can travel very comfortably indeed. A third passenger will have to contend with quite a large transmission tunnel although that is also the case for rivals.
The boot is also increased in size at 530 litres although it’s a pity that BMW charge extra for split/folding rear seats.
Out on the road the BMW 520d doesn’t disappoint being both agile and comfortable whether cruising on the motorway or darting around A-roads. The M Sport model is a little harder sprung but never felt unsettled – although the £985 Variable Damper Control option probably helped here.
I think I would avoid the larger 19in wheels which can harshen the ride somewhat – especially as they tend to be shod with run-flat tyres. However, on 18in rims the BMW gave no cause for concern and was very quiet indeed on the motorway.
On the A-roads the BMW shines with its direct steering and quick responses which allow the driver to make the most of the superb chassis and an auto box that hardly ever gets caught out. It is possible to induce a little understeer if pushing a little too hard but it’s very predictable and easy to correct – anyway, the car’s own driver-aids will ensure that the majority of drivers never experience a problem in the first place.
The BMW 5-Series is still at the top of its game and continues to frustrate the opposition. It can be sporty when you want it to be but is also effortlessly comfortable on longer journeys. Add to this excellent refinement and fuel-economy and it’s easy to see why it was voted Which Car? Car of the Year 2017.
AT A GLANCE:
BMW 520d M Sport Saloon
OTR Price: £39,025
Engine: 2.0 turbo diesel
Power: 190 bhp
Transmission: 8-speed Automatic
0-62mph: 7.5 secs
Top Speed: 138 mph
Combined Economy: 65.6 mpg