2010 BMW 520d Road Test Review
IT'S THE ENTRY-LEVEL model to BMW’s mid-size 5 Series range and one of the most fuel-efficient sedans in the marque’s sedan line-up.
For 2010, new technology has been added to make it an even more enticing buy for well-heeled, environmentally-aware motorists. Fuel consumption has dropped to a claimed 5.6 l/100km – a good result for a big, luxurious sedan.
But the 5 series is a model that’s rapidly approaching the end of its lifespan, so does the 520d still cut it? More importantly, is it worth splashing out the $76k asking price for one now, or would buyers be better advised to wait for the car’s upcoming (and all-new) successor?
Styling is unchanged for the 2010 model. The 520d will continue to wear its Chris Bangle-designed bodywork for another six months before its all-new replacement arrives later this year.
But while the 520d’s shape has been around for seven years now, it’s aged well. Quite possibly the most sober of BMW’s modern designs, the 5 Series’ conservative exterior features straight creases, subtle curves and a lack of fussy styling features.
Perhaps the only polarizing elements of the 5 Series’ design are the curious shutlines around the bootlid that seem to merge the top of the boot with the taillights. It’s not as severe as the “Bangle Butt” of the 6 Series, but it’s a feature that some may find hard to warm to.
As the base model of the range, the 520d’s body is unencumbered by things like spoilers, body kits and other addenda. A pair of foglights are housed in the lower corners of the front bumper and linked by a single chrome bar, while chrome window trimmings and a chrome oval exhaust outlet comprise the rest of the car’s brightwork.
Metallic paint is a cost option on the 520d (and 523i), and the standard wheel design is a simple five-spoke 16-inch alloy. An M Sport package can be optioned, and adds a sportier bodykit, lower suspension, 18-inch alloys and black chrome window trim.
It may be the cheapest 5 Series in the showroom, but the 520d’s interior carries a premium feel.
High-quality black plastic covers the dashboard and tops of the door cards, but is offset by your choice of aluminium, piano black or three types of polished woodgrain trim.
The trim pieces span the width of the dashboard, run along the doors and surround the gearshifter, and our tester looked very luxurious with its stained Poplar woodgrain. Dakota leather upholstery is standard, and covers not only the seats, but the doors, centre console and steering wheel.
The front seats offer good support and feature electric adjustment for backrest tilt and squab height. Slide adjustment is manual, and both front seats are fitted with two-way adjustable headrests.
The cushions are rather flat on both the front and rear seats, but they don’t compromise long-distance comfort. Legroom in the rear is good for outboard passengers, but the sizable intrusion of the transmission tunnel makes sitting in the centre seat a pain.
Generally speaking, the 5 Series feels a size smaller on the inside than what its generously-proportioned exterior would have you believe. The centre console is tall and broad, and the thick doors almost feel a little too close.
Front legroom is good, but the dashboard juts out over the knees of the front occupants and hems them in further.
It's not claustrophobic by any means, but it is a surprisingly compact cabin for a car the size of the 5 Series.
At 520 litres, the boot is deep, flat-floored and boasts tie-down points and mesh pockets for small items.
Unfortunately the rear seatbacks don’t fold down, meaning long items must be either carried on the roof, in the cabin, or not at all. A ski-port is available as a cost option, however.
Equipment and Features
In base form, the 520d gets a good level of standard equipment.
Basic sat-nav, a six-stacker CD sound system with USB input, trip computer, 6.5-inch LCD display, climate control, auto-dimming mirror, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control are all standard.
But all that pales in comparison to what could be fitted, for the inch-thick tome known as the BMW Options List can be called upon to spec even the humble 520d to a fairly luxurious state.
Our tester came fitted with BMW’s Professional Package, which adds an 8.8-inch LCD display, TV tuner, voice-activated controls, parking sensors and a heads-up display.
A Professional Navigation system provides added functionality over the standard nav system, and can render terrain in 3D while displaying turn-by-turn instructions on the heads-up display.
Other options that can be added to the basic 520d package include an alarm system, active cruise control, a night vision camera, Lane Departure Warning system, active Xenon headlamps, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, insulated glass, keyless entry, sunblinds for the rear seats, ventilated and heated seats, a heated steering wheel and keyless entry/ignition.
Safety equipment is comprehensive, and comprises dual front airbags for the front seats plus side and curtain airbags for both front and rear. Three-point seatbelts are fitted to all seats, with the front two equipped with pretensioners.
A host of modern electronic safety aids assist the driver with keeping the 520d on the tarmac, with stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist all standard.
The 520d’s 2 litre turbo-diesel inline four is essentially the same as that from the 2008 model. It comes however with a number of small improvements designed to eke out improved power and even more fuel economy.
Power output rises 5kW to 130kW, and maximum torque is boosted 10Nm to 350Nm. Peak power arrives at 4000rpm but, perhaps more crucially, all 350Nm of torque is available from just 1750rpm.
For the update released earlier this year, BMW added regenerative braking, a smart alternator system, active aerodynamics, drag-reducing undertrays and lightweight components to help improve fuel consumption, an product of the company’s EfficientDynamics initiative.
Thanks to the changes, claimed fuel consumption drops from 6.0 l/100km to 5.6 l/100km on the combined cycle.
With a fairly even mix of urban and highway driving, we managed get within 0.1 l/100km of the factory claim. However, when driven more frequently through urban traffic snarls, our average fuel consumption rose to 6.4 l/100km.
At 1520kg the 520d’s kerb weight isn’t especially portly by modern standards, but hauling it through urban stop-start traffic requires more juice and makes it ill-suited for commuter duty.
The only transmission offered is a six-speed automatic, which also features a tiptronic mode for manual gear selection. Like all non-SUV BMWs sold in this country, drive is taken to the rear wheels only.
The 5 Series rides on MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear.
A sports suspension setup can be optioned for the 520d, and features stiffer springs, harder damping and a 15mm lower ride height.
Ventilated disc brakes are fitted on all four corners, and are gripped by aluminium sliding calipers.
The 520d is the only model in the range to not be fitted with BMW’s polarizing Active Steering system as standard, and instead makes do with a conventional hydraulically-assisted rack.
It may be near the end of its life, but the 520d delivers solid performance.
The rear-drive dynamics that BMW has made its calling card are evident. While powered by a ‘lowly’ 2.o litre diesel and rolling on high-profile 225/55 rubber, the 520d is still an enjoyable car to drive.
There’s none of the harshness of earlier 5 Series models fitted with run-flat tyres, and the ride is comfortable and body movements well controlled by the damping.
It will roll slightly when cornering, but offers 'typical BMW' precision at the wheel (and loves to be hustled through the curves). With its conventional hydraulic steering rack the 520d is a pleasure to steer - a quality that some feel is missing from 5 Series models equipped with the variable-rate Active Steering system.
The suspension is well isolated from the cabin, and road noise doesn’t intrude much. Indeed, both wind and engine noise are nicely suppressed, and the 520d’s interior is a peaceful place to be for both short stints and long trips.
The engine may not have the specs to shred the rear tyres, but it’s no slouch and perfectly adequate for urban driving or a swift highway run.
Smooth, quiet and tractable are all words that describe the 520d’s turbodiesel four-pot, and that six-speed automatic is the perfect partner for this powertrain. The transmission features an even spread of ratios and shows a preference to keep the engine revving low in the meat of its torque band.
The engine will readily rev to its 5000rpm redline if the throttle is pinned to the firewall or if gears are held manually via the tiptronic system, but there’s no point to doing so. Instead, let the automatic do its work and use restrained throttle inputs to keep the tacho’s needle pointing to the left.
At highway speeds the diesel drinks under 5.0 litres of fuel per 100km, and there’s enough torque on tap to maintain momentum up gentle hills without dropping down a ratio. Overtaking isn’t terribly brisk from 100km/h and above, but the transmission intelligently selects a gear that allows the 520d to make the most of its modest output.
The brakes pull up hard and we couldn’t make them fade during a prolonged downhill run. The Pirelli P7 tyres offer a satisfying amount of lateral and longitudinal grip, and the 520d feels planted in most conditions.
Push too hard or hit a slippery surface and the usual result is nice, safe understeer – if the stability control is disabled, that is. Oversteer can be provoked from the 520d, but you’d have to be very deliberate and very determined to make it happen.
If you’re the type that doesn’t seek big performance from a 5 Series (and judging from the low number of 550i’s and M5s getting about, that’s most of the 5 Series-buying population), you would be well-served by the 520d.
It offers the same packaging, the same luxury, and the same premium image as the rest of its family members, and what it lacks in outright performance it more than compensates for with its admirable fuel economy.
At a starting price of $76,400, the 520d is the cheapest 5 Series you can buy, but that doesn’t make it the lesser car. A capable handler that boasts a high degree of ride comfort, it’s only let down by its (comparative) thirst in the cut-and-thrust of peak hour jams.
It is, however, not without its competitors. Also hailing from Germany is the newly-arrived Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI, which boasts 50Nm more torque than the BMW and a brand-new look.
It costs $4500 more than the BMW however and uses slightly more fuel, but some may see that as an adequate trade-off for more grunt and a box-fresh interior and exterior design.
There’s also the Audi A6 2.0 TDI, which has the same torque as the 520d, 5 kW less power and a claimed fuel economy figure of 5.8 l/100km – only 0.2 l/100km off the BMW’s number. Most importantly, it retails for $1900 less.
Of course, for some, the BMW roundel may hold more allure. And in our view, the 520d’s RWD dynamics are more desirable than the A6 2.0 TDI’s front-drive layout.
Should you wait for the new 5 Series to arrive, though? With the brand-new 5 Series flaunting a new and shapely body, a more opulent interior and improved technology all around, it’s a little hard to recommend getting the current model only six months before the arrival of the new one.
If you lack the patience, go buy one now. You won’t be disappointed, the 520d is an enticing drive.