2008 BMW 520d Road Test Review Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | Dec, 19 2008 | 6 Comments

It?s been fact now for twenty years or more: if you want respect in the company car park, there are only two choices ? the three-pointed star or the Bavarian. There is something about those two badges, when sitting on the nose of the car, that ?cuts it? with the executive classes.

That?s not to say that Mercedes-Benz and BMW have an easy gig keeping themselves clear of the pack - it?s getting a helluva lot hotter in the luxury segment. There are now some serious contenders throwing the elbows about and each would like nothing better than to knock the shine off the dominant Germans. Like Lexus for instance. And Holden?s Statesman. And Jag; what wouldn?t it give to reclaim its lost foothold in the luxo-express market.


Those marques snapping at the heels of BMW and Mercedes Benz are getting better in every way, and any gap, real or imagined, is narrowing. But, for now at least, it?s still the German marques on top. Just. For sheer engineering excellence, for the dynamics at the wheel and the satisfying totality of the package, they?re very hard to toss.

(Perhaps being forced to wear lederhosen and slapping the thighs vigorously while singing jolly songs turns young German chaps into great engineers. Perhaps it?s just the beer, cake and accordions?)

So, yes, back to you: if you?re throwing your weight around on the corporate ladder, having the right car has become a bit like having the right office. It establishes who?s who in the zoo when they?re gridded-up downstairs.

Which brings us to BMW?s 5-Series.


In the car park, this Beamer cuts it. We?re not talking about styling here ? we?re talking about presence. This is no ?wallpaper? car; when it?s there you know it?s there, and it commands attention.

Whatever might have been said about the Bangle lines, you can?t ignore them. And in the 5-Series, arguably, they work best of all. Not all agree with this of course; some find fault with its heavy flanks and slabby rear quarters.

But few would question its sporting heritage, nor that there?s a purposeful air to its strong lines. Sitting on muscular arches, with wide low front (accentuated by hooded ?eyes?) and hefty rubber, this car is begging to have its skin driven off. Which most Germans will happily oblige (a caution: don?t ever get caught dawdling in the wrong lane on an Autobahn).


The German marques, and BMW in particular, lean on the dynamic capabilities of their cars and the way they reward the keen driver. That?s you, and us (after all, this is a site for keen drivers). So, though the 520d has been on sale here for nearly a year now, we were not going to pass up an opportunity to borrow the keys for a week.

BMW, it is well recognized, has mastered diesel technology in its road and race cars. It was no surprise then to find that ?ours?, the 520 diesel, was very willing at the wheel.

If you?re not yet convinced about diesels, take this one for a spin. It is a fabulous engine. While just 2.0 litres and moving a not-inconsiderable 1520kg bulk, the 520d pulls strongly away from the line, managing a claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 8.6 seconds. And it will pull very happily all the way to the red-line without ever sounding like it is tripping over itself. Of course, there is never any need to rev the grommets out of it ? the real urge, 340 Nm, where all the action is, falls between 1750 and 3000 rpm.


It?s only at idle that there is any clear evidence of the diesel under the bonnet. When on the move, from inside, it sounds like an expensive luxury car should: emitting a tuneful, rising groan under load which then retreats to a distant hum at highway speeds.

It is mated perfectly to the six-speed automatic transmission, and, befitting its sporting BMW heritage, you have the option to take things in hand and paddle it through the Steptronic. But there?s little gain: in auto mode, kick-downs, or changing up, is as good as instantaneous.

Inside, it is plush Germanic style (which means mostly leaning to the pragmatic rather than excess). ?Ours? came with soft beige leather, high-gloss wood interior trims, multi-function leather steering wheel, i-Drive, control display with 6.5" colour monitor and radio navigation, Bluetooth preparation, USB/audio interface, on-board computer, dual automatic climate control, automatic anti-dazzle interior mirror and a glorious sound system.


When on a longer drive, the near-total banishment of road-roar and harshness means you can enjoy the cabin ambience, and the subtleties of your fave CDs, without making your ears bleed with the volume control. It has also got an absolutely cavernous boot (for all that Louis Vuitton ?holiday-drive? luggage one expects).

The 520d is an executive express: comfortable, quiet and swift whether on a long dash up-country or taking a looping hop back through the foothills. (Of course, the secret to any BMW is the way it engages with the road.)

Perhaps it rode softer than we expected, and felt a tad hesitant to alter its line quickly when being hustled along, but over even the worst of our secondary by-ways and broken shoulders it remained unruffled and tracked arrow-true. And, of course, backing up its on-road ability, the 520d comes with ABS, dynamic stability control, and eight airbags should the unthinkable occur.


This Beamer, the 5-series, is a car for grown-ups. Wealthy ones. That?s why it pampers as well as providing a rewarding drive. At $75,888, it is nearly $4000 less than when first introduced. It is the least expensive in the 5-Series range, $10k less than the $86,530 523i and buckets less than the $118,413 grunt-laden 530d.

So, that?s our take on the BMW 520d. You could buy it for the badge, or for its pampering luxury, or for the way it swallows highways ? but, for us, it?s the diesel that?s the ace. It?s an absolute cracker.


It?s no barnstormer, it?s carrying a little too much weight for that, but the 520d is a swift, impeccably mannered and serenely comfortable drive. In Europe, diesels account for over 50 percent of all light vehicle sales with good reason ? they?re smooth, strong and sip fuel like they hate the stuff.

BMW?s 520d will return 6.0 l/100km. Abstemiousness of that order wins favour with both bank managers and greenies ? wealth, and a conscience: now there?s a sexy combo.

The Insider?s Big Statement

When things get tough, as they are for car makers everywhere, those with the strongest brands will survive best of all. It?s the law of the jungle; and brand is everything. While worldwide sales for BMW are down thanks to global recession, don?t read anything into that - few brands, and companies, on the planet are as ?bankable? as BMW. Something else you can bank on is that BMW will never dilute or undermine the value in their products by running ?out they go? heavily discounted sales.

The Insider likes:

  • Smooth, strong diesel engine
  • Well-matched six-speed auto
  • Serene, refined interior ambience
  • Vastly improved iDrive system
  • Miserly fuel consumption

The Insider doesn?t like:

  • Heavy-handed styling not to everyone?s taste
  • Turn in? not as sharp as expected
  • Hefty price on road
  • Handing the keys back



Engine 2.0 litre all-alloy diesel engine
Capacity 1995cc
Fuel System Common rail fuel injected, variable-geometry turbocharger
Power 125 [email protected] 4000rpm
Torque 340 [email protected] 1750 to 3000 rpm
Performance 0-100km/h 8.6 seconds (claimed)
Transmission Six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic
Front Suspension Double-joint tiebar spring strut axle, aluminium; anti-dive
Rear Suspension Integral-IV multi-arm axle, aluminium, multi-dimensional suspension with anti-squat and anti-dive
Brakes (F and R) Single-piston swing-calliper disc brakes
Economy 6.0 (L/100km)
Price $75,888 (standard excluding options, plus delivery and statutory charges)
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